In addition to a slew of many other salivation-worthy watches, 2013 greets us with this new version of the well-known and pretty darn cool Zenith Christophe Colomb. Now a staple of the brand’s “Academy” collection of more complicated watches, the Christophe Colomb has been executed in a number of versions. Zenith enthusiasts will recall that the history of the watch’s gimble-style escapement assembly started a while ago with the Defy Xtreme Zero-G Tourbillon watch that pre-dated the Christophe Colomb collection. When Mr. Dufour took over Zenith a few years ago he re-purposed the unique complication into something much more interesting and desirable.
Zenith will be the first one to point out that the escapement mechanism is not in fact a tourbillon. A true tourbillon is an escapement that rotates on its own axis. Many things which are called tourbillons are not. In this case, the escapement is designed inside of a cage which is meant to remain upright by being weighted down and mounted on a gyroscopic-style gimble to the movement. It playfully moves around as you turn and spin the watch. It is quite cool to look at and a miniature technical marvel that requires many parts to complete.
The second most noteworthy element of the Christoph Colomb is the rather noticeable sapphire crystal bubble that protrudes on both the top and bottom of the case. This of course exists to allow for the escapement assembly to have space in which to move around. The number one question I get about this is whether or not it is comfortable to wear. I was extremely dubious myself at first, but after wearing a few iterations of the watch I can honestly say that you don’t feel it. That is the bottom part of the bubble on the rear of the watch. The top bubble is… well a large bubble. It allows for a fascinating view into a fascinating movement and is simply something to be aware of and avoid knocking into things.
No matter how many times I am fortunate enough to play with this watch I am still amused and enchanted by it. In this newest version it is even better. The design and skeletonization remind me a bit of Breguet aesthetics. I think many of you will find that as well. Called the Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane, this is most certainly the finest of the Christophe Colomb models yet. Why? Well it has to do with how it looks and what goes in to it.
Previous versions of the Christophe Colomb featured a range of features and dial changes. One for example had an equation of time complication, a feature which for me is worthless. Here Zenith goes back to the basics offering features we want, and a movement enhancement that at least I love. In addition to the “gravity module” escapement, the Hurricane has a fusee and chain complication. My interest in the little constant force mechanism made up of a conical cam and small bicycle chain endures… especially in this watch. I don’t know if this is the first time Zenith has attempted the fusee and chain complication, but this is the first time I can think of that they have. Breguet for instance has made a few of them, which is another reason why there is a resemblance for me.
You’ll notice that the fusee and chain assembly are very prominent and actually partially under the time dial. Thus, you’ll get to notice it each time you read the time. In addition to being skeletonized, the assortment of the features on the dial is particularly convenient for visual appreciation. In my opinion, because Breguet has had more experience with these types of open movements and dials, their pieces are slightly better decorated and finished on the movement surfaces. That is to be expected, but the Christophe Colomb is nevertheless a very good achievement for Zenith featuring a beautiful set of features and visual balance.
A 45mm wide, the 18k rose gold case of this limited edition watch is nicely polished and weighty on the wrist. It does not feel overly large though. Inside the watch is a Zenith made El Primero caliber 8805 manually wound movement. Because it is an El Primero, the escapement does indeed operate at a higher 36,000 bph (5 Hz) operating speed. That is interesting, especially since even tourbillons don’t always operate at even 28,800 bph. The movement is complicated and no doubt requires immense skill to assemble. The movement is separated into three main parts which include the main movement, the gyroscopic carriage, and the chain. The number of parts in each is 354, 173, and 585 respectively. Just fathom how long it takes to assemble the 173 part escapement assembly without damaging parts and making the entire thing work.
Functionally, the caliber 8805 is basic but satisfying. In addition to the time dial there is a subsidiary seconds dial, and a power reserve indicator. That is pretty much all you need. The rest of the watch’s features are for mechanical fun. For this reason offering a skeletonized version of the Academy Christophe Colomb makes so much sense. Though I still don’t quite understand the “Hurricane” part of the name.
I tend to wonder what types of people wear watches such as this full time? Are there such people, and does a timepiece such as this have what it takes to survive the daily grind and still serve as a reliable time teller? To be honest I don’t know. Zenith might not even know. I sat with Jean-Frederic Dufour as we discussed the piece and other new happenings at Zenith. He sat wearing a pair of sport watches – one on each wrist from the brand. Zenith is doing quite well and their prices are quite fair for their mid-level watches. All Zenith timepieces contain in-house movements whose designs these days are mostly spot on. I also like to point out that Zenith is among the few brands that seems to consistently make watches with appropriately sized hands.
Zenith will produce just 25 pieces of the Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane watch. They really don’t have the capacity to build too much more given the time involved and price of each piece. With the special escapement and the fusee and chain transmission, this is an incredibly cool timepiece from Zenith who seems to be on a serious roll these last few years Price is $280,000. zenith-watches.com
TECHNICAL specs from Zenith:
ACADEMY CHRISTOPHE COLOMB HURRICANE
• THE CHRISTOPHE COLOMB MODULE WITH FUSÉE-CHAIN TRANSMISSION
• INSPIRED BY THE LEGENDARY MARINE CHRONOMETER INSTRUMENT
• CONSTANT FORCE FUSÉE-CHAIN TRANSMISSION CONNECTED TO THE BARREL
25-PIECE LIMITED EDITION
El Primero 8805, Manual
Unique Gyroscopic system that ensures perfect horizontal positioning of the regulating organ
Calibre: 16½ “` (Diameter: 37 mm)
Thickness: 5.85 mm
Gyroscopic carriage made of 173 components
Chain made of 585 components
Frequency: 36,000 VpH – (5 Hz)
Power-reserve: min. 50 hours
Hours and minutes excentred at 12 o’clock
Self-regulating Gravity Control module at 6 o’clock
Small seconds display at 9 o’clock
Power-reserve indicator at 3 o’clock
Fusée-chain transmission under the hours/minutes dial
Case, Dial & Hands
Material: 18-carat rose gold
Diameter: 45 mm
Thickness: 14.35 mm 21.40 mm
(with domed sapphire crystal)
Crystal & Case-back: Box-shaped sapphire crystal with anti-reflection treatment on both sides and excrescent domes that cover the Christophe Colomb module.
Water-resistance: 3 ATM
Dial: Gold with hand-crafted guilloché motif
Hour-markers: Black lacquered
Hands: Blued steel
Strap & Buckle
Alligator leather strap with protective rubber lining
Reference: 27.00.2218.713 brown alligator leather
18-carat gold triple folding clasp