1865 and 1,546.
Those are, respectively, the founding year of Swiss watchmaker Zenith and the number of first-place chronometer competitions they’ve won. Almost unknown in the USA due to sharing a name with a consumer electronics company, Zenith is one of the small number of companies to have their own movements, or manufacture. In particular, their chronograph series ‘El Primero’ powered the Rolex Daytona from 1988 until 2000, as well as Tag Heuer Calibre 36, Panerai OP IV, Ulysse Nardin and others. They also have the ‘Elite’ movement, which is an in-house chronometer-grade timekeeper with date complication. Price for the pieces isn’t bad actually.
(They’ve also negotiated an exemption with Zenith Electronics, allowing them to market and sell in the USA.)
Up until 2001, Zenith made classic Swiss-style watches: dressy, understated, usually less than 38mm, in-house movements with excellent finishes. In 2001, Thierry Nataf took over as CEO and, until early 2009, took the brand in an entirely new direction: Huge, flamboyant watches with big names and brazen designs. Like this one:
Or this one:
Whether you like them or not, they were an experiment, and one that crashed along with the global economy. New CEO Jean-Frederic Dufour has tacked back and is emphasizing in-house movements and classic designs. The ‘striking 10th‘ at the top of this article is probably my favorite – high-beat movement, well-proportioned dial and enough touches of color to provide visual interest.
The Elite movement is used in the lower-cost watches; chronographs have more parts and cost more. I quite the Elite Captain in gold:
A classic dress watch, in the best sense of the word. The blued seconds hand is subtly modern touch, the branding is understated, the hands good lengths, and gold on silvered dial is perennially popular for good reason. I’ve read that Zenith starts just under three thousand, for a gold case expect to pay maybe one to two thousand more.
An article in Watch Time with the CEO mentioned that Zenith is trying for good value in a top-grade Swiss watch. That, combined with a strong recession, should keep Zenith more affordable than you’d expect – hurray for that!
Of course, if you’ve got the money, Zenith has the high-end pieces too:
Their tourbillon, quite nice. Read more here.
There’s also the nifty gimballed tourbillon, the Christophe Coulomb:
Read more here. That’s competing with the likes of the JLC Gyrotourbillon; elite stuff and priced stratospherically.
The Elite line also includes a line even more classic than the one above; the Ultra Thin collection. With 7.6mm thick cases and subseconds at 9 o’clock, the look is understated elegance. I like this model:
Overall I’d say it’s a good time to look at Zenith. The designs are impeccably classic, the prices reasonable, and the in-house movements places them in the rare pantheon of chronograph manufactures, of which there are but ten in the world.