Monochrome visits the Zenith Manufacture and reviews its new Elite collection. Over a year after the line was introduced at Baselworld 2015, Monochrome has finally got the chance to spend some quality time with both the Elite 6150 and Elite Classic Chronograph in steel, worthy contenders amongst dedicated dress timepieces, and both using pretty interesting in-house movements.
Still located in the premises where it was founded in 1865, the manufacture Zenith is now a Unesco listed world heritage site alongside the cities of La Chaux-de-fonds and Le Locle. On the façade of the red brick 1905 main building, the name Zenith and the three initials of its founder Georges Favre-Jacot (G.F.J.) are spelled out between the giant windows.
Legends live forever
There are few names within the tradition of Swiss Haute Horlogerie that are as rich in history as Zenith, embodying over 150 years of heritage during which the brand has registered over 300 patents. Nearly everybody knows Zenith through the El Primero calibre, the first integrated automatic chronograph movement. Beyond the famous 1969 high-beat chronograph, the legend also owes much to a constant focus on chronometry and high precision. For years, Zenith (and the Favre-Jacot company) took part successfully in observatory competitions in particular in Neuchatel, Geneva or Kew-Teddington. Over 2’000 chronometer prizes and several records speak for themselves. The myth was crafted from accurate movements and from the hands of exceptional precision watchmakers known as ‘régleurs’ or ‘Chronométriers’.
A Zenith advertising from the 1950s and the calibre 135 Zenith, one of the brand’s most iconic calibers with a long-standing success story at Observatory trials. (Chronometer 135 pictures ©SteveG watchpics.com)
Over the years, Zenith remained one of the few brands to develop and manufacture its watches and movements in-house. The insubordination of Charles Vermot, who secretely hid the tools and plans to manufacture the El primero movement during the quartz era, enabled Zenith to be among the first to embrace the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking in the early 1980s. This also allowed Zenith to become a prominent ‘engine maker’ in the industry, supplying several high-end brands including Rolex, which was using a modified El Primero for the iconic Daytona (for the 1989 – 2000 period before the introduction of the 4130 chronograph).
Georges Favre-Jacot. founder of Zenith. In 1865, at the age of 22, after marrying Louise Jacot-Descombes, Georges Favre invested his savings and the money from her dowry to create his own manufactory, named ‘Fabrique des Billodes’ after the district of Le Locle where it was located. He was among the firsts to gather all watchmaking professions under the same roof. The company grew quickly to become one of the largest manufactures of the Neuchatel mountains. In 1911, the brand adopted the name Zenith, after one of its movement created in 1898, and embodying horological perfection for Georges Favre-Jacot.
The Zenith Elite collection
Introduced in 2015, the Elite collection is a line of elegant dress watches with vintage inspired flair. It is named after the Elite movement presented by the brand in the early 1990s but actually uses different movements, depending on the functions. This articles reviews a model dubbed Elite 6150, after the brand’s latest automatic movement, and the Elite Classic Chronograph, housing the iconic El Primero.
These new Zenith Elite models have elegant 42mm round cases with slightly elongated lugs, silver-toned, cambered dials and leaf-shaped hands. The Elite 6150 features hour and minute indication with a sweep second hand, powered by a new calibre making its debut in this watch. The Zenith Elite Classic Chronograph combines the functionality and style of a great watchmaking classic. Zenith opted for a traditional chronograph with two registers, no date, offering a perfect and pleasing symmetry.
Dials and hands
The uncluttered dials of the new Zenith Elite Collection are among its main attractions, with their warm silver-toned, brushed finish. They are slightly domed which adds presence and character. With their thin engraved baton hour markers, they lend the watches their elegant and perfectly balanced vintage look. The brand logo is transferred at 12 and topped by an applied ‘Zenith’ star. Again, a reference to the past of the brand.
The highly legible dials come with leaf-shaped, rhodium plated hour and minute hands. The chronograph second hand is baton type and rhodium plated while the small second and chronograph minute hands are blued.
Case and strap
The Zenith Elite models wear well and look really good on the wrist. The slender case design utilizes pure, smooth lines and the ergonomic lugs make this rather large (42mm) diameter in the end pleasing on the wrist. Naturally, the Chronograph case is a bit higher at 11.8mm, but its profile has a great balance with its rectangular pushers and thicker lugs.
The sapphire crystals have a slight dome, standing above the case – especially for the chronograph – and underlining to the overall vintage feel. The crowns are engraved with the Zenith star and the exhibition casebacks, secured by 4 screws, reveal the entrails of the automatic movements.
Both watches are worn on black alligator strap with rubber lining (both solid and comfortable when the weather gets warmer), fitted with a triple blade safety folding clasp.
Not just a pretty face, the Elite collection is powered by fine mechanics. The ‘6150’ houses the new Elite movement, with eponymous reference number, introduced in 2015. The twin barrel construction of this automatic calibre offers a generous 4 days (100 hours) power reserve. It comprises 195 parts, for a thickness kept just below 4mm – not too bad for an automatic movement with double barrel.
The second model beats at the fast pace of El primero. Introduced in 1969, the iconic Zenith movement was one of the very first automatic chronographs. It is an integrated construction with column-wheel and horizontal clutch. The automatic winding is bi-directional and the power reserve exceeds 50 hours, despite the 36’000 vibrations/hours. In performing 10 jumps per seconds, the seconds and chronograph second hands mark off tenths of a second. The version used here is the 4069, with two registers and without date indication.
The finish of both movements is clean with traditional Geneva stripes and anglage. The open-worked rotors are adorned with the Zenith star.
Designing a fine dress watch is not an easy task. Perfection is in the details and Zenith did a superb job with its beautiful Elite collection. If there were one thing to regret, it’s about the movement finishing, which could be a tad more sophisticated – but this would imply a higher price point – especially for the 6150 version, priced at 6,900 Swiss Francs. At 7,100 Swiss Francs, the splendid Classic Chronograph, powered by the emblematic El Primero movement, represents stunning value. Pure elegance that should make its way on many wrists.
Specifications of the Zenith Elite 6150
- Case: 42mm x 10mm – stainless steel – sapphire crystal on front and back – 50m water resistant
- Movement: calibre 6150, in-house – automatic – 100h power reserve with double barrel – 28,800 vibrations/h – hours, minutes and seconds
- Bracelet: black alligator leather, rubber lining and folding clasp in steel
- Ref. 03.2270.6150/01.C493 – Price: 6,900 Swiss Francs
Specifications of the Zenith Elite Chronograph Classic
- Case: 42mm x 11.80mm – stainless steel – sapphire crystal on front and back – 50m water resistant
- Movement: calibre El Primero, in-house – automatic – 50h power reserve – 36,000 vibrations/h – hours, minutes, small seconds and chronograph
- Bracelet: black alligator leather, rubber lining and folding clasp in steel
- Ref. 03.2270.4069/01.C493 – Price: 7,100 Swiss Francs