Hands-on Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm

Zenith's classic Elite dress watch family gets a makeover and a new men's moon phase joins the line-up.

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Rebecca Doulton | ic_query_builder_black_24px 6 minute read |
2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Rose Gold and Steel

The focus of the four watch brands exhibiting at the LVMH Watch Week in Dubai was more on aesthetic tweaks to pre-existing lines rather than on fresh new collections or innovative technology – this will come in May, at Baselworld 2020. Zenith’s Elite Classic range, the dress watch representative of the brand, was taken to the operating room for some cosmetic surgery and a new Elite Moonphase model for men was introduced. Flaunting sunburst dials and restyled cases for a more contemporary look, let’s take a closer look at the two new Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

ZENITH’s elite Background

Now that the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the legendary high-frequency automatic El Primero chronograph movement – resulting in countless commemorative editions and new creations – are over, Zenith has turned its attention to a somewhat forsaken collection: the Elite. In fact, if you take a look at the Elite models on the brand’s webpage, you’ll see that the pickings are fairly limited.

The Zenith calibre Elite 670 – a slim 3-hand movement used by the brand since 1994 and produced in-house – photo by TimeZone.

Zenith’s answer to the classic three-hand dress watch, the Elite collection was named after the ultra-thin automatic Elite movement, the first Zenith calibre to be developed using Computer Assisted Technology (CAD) and launched in 1994. The Elite calibre was designed as a multipurpose base movement with a robust 50-hour power reserve and voted “Best Movement of the Year” at Baselworld 1994.

Zenith Elite Calibre 6150, unveiled in 2015, with robust 100h power reserve and double-barrel

What is odd though is that in 2015, coinciding with Zenith’s 150th anniversary, a new in-house automatic movement derived from the Elite was launched. Thanks to two mainspring barrels the Elite 6150 duplicated the power reserve of its predecessor to 100 hours, increased the movement diameter from 25.6mm to 30mm all the while retaining the original slimness of 3.92mm. The resulting 42mm Zenith Elite 6150 three-hand watch was a lesson in elegance and sobriety and well-received by watch critics. However, after much fanfare and commitment to future in-house complications based on the Elite 6150, it disappeared into thin air. Does anybody know what became of this calibre?

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel
The Elite Calibre is back at Zenith, with the new 2020 Elite calibre, comprising two models. The first one features calibre 670 (the original) with a time-and-date display. The second, reviewed here, features an evolution of this movement with small seconds and moon display, calibre 692 as visible here.

During the LVMH event in Dubai, Zenith presented its revamped Elite Classic and Elite Moonphase collections, now geared to both sexes and offered in two sizes (36mm and 40.5mm). It’s worth mentioning that moon phase watches have been around for years at Zenith. For men, there was the Elite Captain Moonphase (discontinued) and there is still an Elite Lady Moonphase model in the collection with a 36mm rose gold case and an automatic in-house Elite 692 movement, the same movement used in the new men’s model. The watch we have with us today, the Elite Moonphase 40.5mm, is available in steel with a slate-grey dial and in 18k rose gold with a silver dial.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Rose Gold

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

Revisiting the Elite

Although not everybody will consider a 40.5mm case the ideal diameter for a dress watch, it does reflect the current vogue. However, thanks to the ultra-thin Elite 692 movement below deck, the case thickness of 9.35mm should appease purists and is slim enough to slip comfortably under your cuff. Compared to earlier Elite Classic models with rounded bezels, the bezel framing the Elite Moonphase is flatter and slimmer offering more viewing room for the dial. The crown, which is used to set the time and adjust the moon-phase indicator, has also been restyled and now has fewer grooves in the metal.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

The relatively simple case with its short tapered lugs is polished but features a contrasting vertical brushed finish on the surface of the lugs attenuating their presence and concentrating the attention on the dial. The dial is where you can really appreciate the post-surgical improvements. A lovely sunray pattern, emanating from the centre of the dial, is the protagonist of the new Elite Moonphase family. The pattern is stamped on the surface of the silver-toned and slate-grey background colour of the dials adding a sharper, more dynamic touch. The pleated effect of the pattern also adds depth and plays with light and shadows, something our friends at Grand Seiko have mastered to perfection.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Rose Gold

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

The moon-phase complication at 6 o’clock is housed in a large round aperture with a silvery rhodium-plated moon for the steel model and a gold-plated moon for the rose gold model. Set against a midnight-blue sky with a sprinkling of stars, the moon phase adds a dash of colour and a touch of poetry to the watch. Zenith’s logo, the five-point star, is applied below the 12 o’clock marker and a discreet small seconds counter, picked out with just four markers, sits at 9 o’clock.  The hour markers and dauphine hands of the Elite Moonphase are faceted: in the case of the steel model, the hour markers are rhodium-plated, and gold-plated for the rose gold model.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

Designing a simple dress watch, as any watch designer will confess, is no simple task. Proportion and balance are key, but a touch of originality goes a long way in giving the watch some character. Not too much, not too little, just enough to stand out from the sea of plain dress watches. I have to admit that my favourite element on the dial is the unconventional position of the small seconds counter. Not only does it offer an unimpeded view of the moon phase, but it also breaks up the symmetry of the dial and adds a quirky, differentiating touch. Another ‘touch’ that I particularly appreciate – and which goes a long way in boosting the elegance quotient of this watch –  is the fact that all the external dial elements (hands, indices, star) match the case material.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

Calibre 692

The Elite Moonphase models (in both 36mm and 40.5mm versions) are powered by the same Elite 692 automatic calibre with hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 o’clock and moon phases. A relatively small movement measuring 25.60mm but with an ultra-thin height of 3.97mm, the Elite 692 runs at 28,800vph, features a stop-seconds mechanism and offers a power reserve of 50 hours. You can see the movement through the sapphire caseback with its new star-shaped rotor and acceptable finishes including perlage on the base plate and Côtes de Genève on the bridges.

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Steel

Thoughts

The Elite Moonphase is a handsome dress watch with enough personality to get noticed but not too much to overwhelm. The redesigned case and the sunray-patterned dials add a more contemporary look to Zenith’s classic dress watch, which is now equipped with a delightful, whimsical moon phase function. And as I mentioned above, the ultra-discreet small seconds at 9 o’clock might seem like a tiny feature but it plays a fundamental role in the watch’s identity. It’s a bit like the Dude’s (played by Jeff Bridges) lamentation in the Big Lebowski after hitmen raid his apartment and ruin his Persian rug: “it really tied the room together.”

2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm Rose Gold and Steel

Straps and Price

Matching the colour of the moon-phase indicator and the peripheral minutes track, the rose gold Elite Moonphase model comes with a blue alligator leather strap with a protective rubber lining and a rose gold pin buckle. Accompanying the steel model is a grey alligator strap with a matching steel pin buckle. The 2020 Zenith Elite Moonphase 40.5mm retails at CHF 6,800 in steel and CHF 13,700 in rose gold.

For more information, please visit zenith-watches.com.

4 responses

  1. It’s a well designed yet not too derivative dress watch which is – as you rightfully pointed out – not a trivial achievement. However, the Elite movement simply lacks the sophistication one would expect at this price point. For brands such as IWC or Breitling unremarkable movements are not a deal breaker because they appeal to brand conscious buyers focused on a luxury image rather than watch-connaisseurs. Zenith on the other hand lacks the brand recognition of those companies and needs to compete with true watchmakers such as Omega or JLC to attract people who know what they are buying. And in this category, Omega’s revolutionary Master Chronometers or JLC’s well finished and tested Master 1000h movements are simply superior to this offering. It’s a shame for the design but I can’t see those Zeniths doing very well…

  2. What Ottokar said, plus, the dials are very tacky. A JLC Master whatever is a far better design, and probably mechanically as well.

  3. For its 40.5mm case, a 25.6mm movement is way too small. And the worst part is they even arrange it in a subsidiary second form, which would reveal the disproportion unforgivably.

  4. Indeed, Ottokar. There’s little to admire about that calibre, compared to their chronograph movements. They need something more impressive for their Elites.

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