Flash back to the years of great horological luxury optimism around 2005 to discover the origin of this interesting Zenithtimepiece. It is a time when high-end watch sales were moving along on a greased track like a fast moving locomotive. The key to the game seemed to be the ability to shock and awe the luxury consumer by making high-end timepieces as complex as possible. It all started with the tourbillon – a complex spinning escapement that delights the eye, and frustrates the watch maker.
Brand after brand began to offer their own tourbillon based timepieces, until the holy grail of watch complications merely became a pewter goblet. Competing brands then started offering variations on the tourbillon theme. You had the flying tourbillon, vertical tourbillon, and even watches with multiple tourbillons – either side by side or inside one another. It literally got crazy, and arguably reached a level where technology (and functionality) was reaching its limit. Then CEO of Zenith – the showboating Thierry Nataf – wanted to dazzle the world with Zenith’s own answer to the “better than mere tourbillon question.” The eventual answer was a clever system that was more visually outstanding than a tourbillon, and actually furthered the theoretical goal of a tourbillon which was to reduce the rate effecting results that gravity had on an escapement – a component which is primarily responsible for the accuracy of a mechanical watch.
The result was an escapement that looked like a gyroscope placed in a cardan style suspension on gimbals. Getting it to work must have cost a fortune, though the impossible looking heart-of-the-watch rotating with the motion of the case to always remain upright as it travels on its two perpendicular axis points, worked. The original watch that included the movement was the Defy Xtreme Zero-G Tourbillon. Priced at about half a million dollars, it was a wild and controversial watch worthy of Nataf’s reputation. The special escapement was so large; it needed to bulge out on both sides of the watch. The mechanism was now and interesting part of Zenith’s past and provided fertile creative ground for the CEO of the new Zenith, Jean Frederic Dufour.
Under new directorship, Zenith reexamined the “uber escapement” idea and now offers a concept to go along with the brand’s contemporary aesthetic that values the Swiss watchmaker’s rich past. Mr. Dufour facilitated the design of a new and exciting flagship timepiece for the brand. With a new, more refined layout, the Christophe Colomb watch contains the new manually wound Calibre 8804 movement with a 50 hour power reserve, time (with subsidiary seconds), and power reserve indicator. Zenith attempts with too much enthusiasm to connect the concept to Christopher Colombus (the inspiration for the watch name), but the timepiece feels enough on its own.
In a 45mm wide case, the piece is a bit more wearable than its predecessors. The large cardan style escapement cage sits in the watch case like a globe, still requiring bulges on both the bottom and top of the case. The curious looking piece is a spectacle to wear, and smile-inducing to watch. It is a complication that still doesn’t seem possible, but it is.
Being a Zenith, and having the El Primero movement heritage to consider, the Calibre 8804 movement with all its complexity, is still able to have a frequency of 36,000bpm. Credit goes to Zenith for finally taking an interesting movement and building a good looking watch around it. The Christophe Colomb has a silvered guilloche engraved dial with blued steel hands, and the case is available in white, rose, or yellow 18k gold. Limited to just 25 pieces, the watch is priced at $209,000. www.zenith-watches.com.
1. 45-mm wide 18-karat gold case.
2. Movement escapement in cardan suspension style cage that always points up.
3. Off-centered watch dial with separate subsidiary seconds
4. Power reserve indicator for movement.
Ariel Adams is the Haute Living Watch Editor and also publishes the luxury watch review site aBlogtoRead.com.