Let's call a spade a spade. The new Zenith El Primero Lightweight Limited Edition is seriously splendid.
Zenith have taken their mesmerisingly quick El Primero Striking 10th Chronograph, updated it with a compendium of high-tech materials and upsized its case so there's now just a little more of it to enjoy even though it weighs much, much less. Unfortunately there will also be less to go around - just 100 pieces will be made, a stroke of canny marketing genius guaranteed to leave many wanting and waiting in the wings as this model takes centre-stage at auctions in the future.
If your watch is powered by an El Primero movement, then bravo - you have a little piece of horological history right there on your wrist, because when Zenith launched it back in 1969 it was the first ever automatic chronograph. The holistic approach to its design meant that a column-wheel mechanism was integrated within the movement rather than as an added-on timing module, a construction which many die-hards consider to be the only "true chronograph". Naturally, with such cult status, you would presume that Zenith have nurtured their revolutionary calibre ever since its creation .....
.... Actually no. Like many watch companies, Zenith acquiesced to the quartz crisis and in 1975 took the decision that going forward they would produce only quartz watches and they began to systematically sell off their hardware. Charles Vermot, an employee of Zenith had a strong affinity with the El Primero. From sketch pad to construction he had helped develop it and he knew it intimately. Confident in the knowledge that the death knell resounding around the mechanical watchmaking industry would eventually fade and that good sense would prevail, he began to secretly squirrel away everything which would be needed to continue production when the time was right. Zenith describe Charles Vermot as an "ordinary hero" - a moderate term for the vanguard who managed to move and conceal huge presses, along with tools, components and plans, only revealing them when Zenith was safely in the hands of new owners who were committed to creating mechanical calibres. In 1984, having been abandoned for almost ten years Zenith re-awakened their El Primero collection and despite the fact that 2013 has been superabundant in chronographs, most are in agreement - the El Primero is still the daddy.
With the El Primero Lightweight, Zenith bring the collection bang up to date without losing its character. Weight-saving comes thanks to a carbon case with ceramised aluminium inner and the bridges of its movement have been cut from titanium. Silicon, watchmaking's most recent monomaniacal ingredient is used to make the lever, the escape wheel and the double chronograph wheel which has been clad in purple thus defining its prominence.
The central section of the dial has been openworked so that now both a front and a back look-see through to the 4052 El Primero is possible. The counters are laid out neatly in the their symbolic colours of the collection, light grey, blue and anthracite, and there is aglimpse at the date disc as it turns and its stencil-like numerals stand out against a red backdrop at 6 o'clock. The facetted hour and minute hands have been hollowed out just a little, and of course the red sweep seconds hand features the cool little Zenith star counterweight. No single feature jumps out and detracts, everything about this watch combines perfectly. These are just the press images but generally when a watch which looks this good has such a limited production, you won't be able to get one for love nor money.... well perhaps maybe the latter.
Find Zenith El Primero Lightweight Limited Editionstats at the official Zenith website.
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