When Zenith preemptively announced the El Primero movement in January 1969 ahead of Baselworld, it carved its name into watchmaking history as the first manufacture to create an integrated automatic self-winding chronograph. This highly celebrated caliber saw widespread use across the watch industry, most notably powering the Rolex Daytona up until the turn of the century. As Zenith pushes forward, it’s also looking back to ensure that its history is not forgotten. A perfect example of this is the recent unveiling of the 135 Observatoire collaboration with Phillips and Kari Voutilainen earlier this month. Now, the brand wants to share its passion for the El Primero. Excitingly dubbed “The Master of Chronographs,” this exhibit was initially launched this spring in Geneva at Watches and Wonders 2022. The special exhibition is now going on an international tour, starting June 15th in New York City at Phillips.
The immersive 360º display combines an artistic expression of watchmaking with an educational experience of the revolutionary caliber and the brand as a whole. As you work your way through the exhibit, you learn about the inception of the brand and the commitment the 22-year-old founder had to both watchmaking and those he employed. Whether taking a guided tour or meandering through, you are presented with both watches and events critical to the survival of the brand. Special attention is given to the hero of the El Primero, Charles Vermot. After the dawn of the quartz crisis, the owners of Zenith wished to pivot toward quartz watches and abandon mechanical altogether. Vermot had the foresight and passion for watchmaking to take it upon himself to collect, organize, and hide away the necessary parts, tools, and plans needed to make the El Primero. Hidden in an attic in the manufacture behind a false wall, all the means to revive this revolutionary caliber sat waiting. Vermot even went so far as to write a letter to the skeptical brand owners telling them they were wrong to leave mechanical watchmaking behind — and was proven correct nearly a decade later.
The pop-up event is open to the public to celebrate and learn about this historic movement. Zenith ensures the exhibit is for both the horologically inclined and those who are just dipping their toes into the world of watches. Guests will also receive historical tours by none other than Romain Marietta, Zenith’s Product Development and Heritage Director. Romain’s passion for the brand is infectious, and his vision for the future is clear and optimistic. After you step into the modern era of the exhibit, you are presented with the 2022 novelties as well as a few limited pieces.
One of the most exciting offers of this exhibit is the watchmaking clinic. A chance to go hands-on with the El Primero caliber under the guidance of a master watchmaker is hardly an opportunity any watch enthusiast can pass up. As you sit down at a watchmaking stand, Zenith’s master watchmaker goes over the intricacies of the caliber and the unique perspective you are viewing it from. Once your group has a thorough understanding of the basic functions of the chronograph, you shift focus to the horizontal clutch, which is the mechanism you will get intimate with. I won’t spoil the experience for anyone, but you will quickly learn if you’re cut out to be a watchmaker.
Zenith identifies as a brand of innovators starting with its founder, Georges Favre-Jacot, and continues to act as such. This immersive experience is an opportunity like no other to both learn and enjoy the heritage of one of the oldest watch manufactures in the industry. Whether you are an avid Zenith fan or a novice, the Master of Chronographs experience is one worth attending. This exhibit will be open from Wednesday, June 15th, through Friday, June 17th; however, you will need to register to attend a watchmaking clinic via this page on the brand’s website. While the brand states this is the first global appearance of the exhibit, no other dates or locations have been announced yet. For more information on Zenith and the El Primero, head over the brand’s website.