The name Zenith might conjure images of old television sets and radios to a lot of Americans but to watch lovers, it’s a magic word that summons images of one of Switzerland’s most respected manufacturers. Zenith’s history goes all the way back to its founding in 1865 in the Swiss village of Le Locle, where it’s still headquartered today, and it made its reputation in its early days with high precision navigation watches, marine chronometers, and the ultra rare and collectible observatory grade wristwatch chronometers it manufactured for clients for whom beauty and precision were one and the same.
In the 20th century, Zenith was most famous for creating, in 1969, what is considered one of the finest watch movements in the world: the movement connoisseurs call not by a number but by its name, “El Primero.” The name reflects Zenith’s claim that the El Primero was the first self-winding chronograph movement in the world. In 1969, when the El Primero was launched, two other self-winding chronographs debuted, both also firsts in their own way, but the El Primero is the only one of the three still in production.
It’s famous for another reason as well –the high speed at which its oscillator beats (the oscillator, or balance, in a watch is what gives it its accuracy, and all other things being equal, a higher frequency means better accuracy.) Hold an El Primero to your ear, and you’ll hear it ticking noticeably faster than almost any other watch in existence –ten ticks per second. For a chronograph, that’s important because the number of fractions of a second you can time is equal to the number of times the watch ticks, and no production chronograph out-ticks the El Primero.
In keeping with this history of precision and performance, Zenith’s just announced the latest edition to its “Captain” line of watches, whose name evokes the world of navigation in which the right time can mean the difference between a safe harbor and Davy Jones’ Locker. The Captain Winsor Annual Calendar adds to the El Primero movement one of the most useful complications in watchmaking: the annual calendar. As anyone who’s ever owned a mechanical watch with a date window knows, at the end of any month that’s not 31 days long you have to advance the date to the first of the next month by hand. A perpetual calendar takes care of this for you and also accounts for both the odd man out –the month of February –as well as adding an extra day to February once every Leap Year.
The downside? Cost, and delicacy. Perpetual calendars are among the most expensive watches in the world, and they require extra care on the wrist, as well as extreme care in setting lest you damage the fragile mechanical computer inside. The annual calendar, on the other hand, gives you most of the advantages of a perpetual and none of the disadvantages –it only needs one adjustment per year (at the end of February.) Horological insiders will be thrilled to hear that the design of the Captain Winsor Annual Calendar is the result of a collaboration with one of the most famous names in watchmaking –Dr. Ludwig Oeschlin, currently the curator of the International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds, and internationally famous as the man behind the Ulysse Nardin Freak.
Practical, elegant, and chock-full of some of watchmaking’s most ingenious engineering, it’s a watch more than ready to navigate the sometimes turbulent seas of time.
The Captain Winsor Annual Calendar is available in rose gold with silver toned dial, or stainless steel with a silver or midnight blue dial.
The Rose Gold version retails for $18,800. The Steel version for $8,700.
Jack Forster is the Editor in Chief of Revolution Magazine, a quarterly publication celebrating the world of fine watchmaking, and he also manages Revolution Online www.revo-online.com the foremost information and discussion site on the internet for watch enthusiasts.