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Zenith Watches Rebalanced

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles

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:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles

Or this one:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles

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:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles

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:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles Their tourbillon, quite nice. Read more here.

There’s also the nifty gimballed tourbillon, the Christophe Coulomb:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles 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:

Zenith Watches Rebalanced Featured Articles Available in a variety of dial and case colors, the gray/silver combination really really works for me. Yum.

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.

About the Author

A researcher by day, Paul is fascinated by the engineering and physics of a watch movement and wears the MIH most days. Obsessed with timekeeping in all forms, he has a stratum-1 NTP clock in his office and a 1940s Waltham 8-day aircraft clock on his desk.

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    Nataf & his disgustingly styled & overpriced Defy line deserved to fail. If he knew it was hideous & proceeded anyway, it was horological treason & suicide. If he was so vain not to see its folly, then the emperor lost his clothing & refused to face reality. Zenith deserves infinitely better, & should redeem itself now with an allegedly solid CEO, &
    formidable product line that looks sharp, runs sharp, but does not sharpfully cut into
    everyones’ budgets.

  • Witch Watch

    Zenith: Creepin on ah come up, trust me in the same way that Panerai and IWC suddenly gained the approval of many people in recent years the same is about to happen with Zenith. Oh and Ariel you’ve somehow managed to nail my taste in Zenith watches perfectly as i totally agree on the ones you have picked.

    ps is it just me that finds it mildly amusing that Big Chrono hates Defy’s given that they did…..ummm big chrono’s lol!

  • Paul Hubbard

    Actually, I (Paul) wrote it, not Ariel, but thanks for the compliment. 😉 I completely agree that they are on the cusp of wider recognition with the new designs. Great stuff, and for once decently priced to boot.

  • Ulysses

    While I love some of the overall designs, i’m a little disappointed in the chronograph at the top. When I first saw it briefly in a store I thought it looked beautiful, and it does, but the clipped chrono’ sub-dials appear to make it useless for measuring time. There may be a trick to reading it that i’m not aware of though – feel free to enlighten me.

  • Ivan Y

    Ultra-Thin line certainly looks good, but Paul has expensive taste 😉 The grey model is white-gold and costs about four times more than a stainless steel one with black dial.

  • Witch Watch

    @ Paul. I’m sorry that i mistook you for Ariel it was something i only noticed as i came on site today.

    @ Ulysses. Although i somewhat agree with you that it is a little difficult to be 100% accurate with the subdials as i’m never going to need to be super accurate i could happily live with it.

  • WatchMark

    There are more than ten manufactures that make chronographs.

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