Zenith’s El Primero movement is an icon of modern watchmaking history. Less well-known, but no less important, is the brand’s past as a maker of timepieces for aviators and adventurers.
In just over a century, Louis Blèriot, Leon Morane and, more recently, Felix Baumgartner have all fulfilled their destinies and put their names in the history books with a Zenith instrument on their wrist on in their cockpit.
Among high-end watch aficionados, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find consensus on the greatest watch model of the past century. Opinions about what defines the best timepiece differ wildly, depending on a person’s taste for brands, complications and aesthetics. If, however, the conversation focuses on the greatest watch movement of the past century, Zenith’s legendary El Primero is a heavy favorite.
Conceived in 1962 as the world’s first integrated self-winding chronograph movement, the caliber that would eventually be christened El Primero, the name means “the first” in Esperanto, required seven years of development. By the time it was introduced on January 10, 1969, El Primero had spawned two groundbreaking calibers: the original chronograph movement with date, and a second chronograph movement endowed with triple calendar and moon phase functions.High Caliber
The new El Primero 410 embodies this rich legacy and is powered by Calibre 410 — a variation of the original El Primero movement that features day, date, month and moon phase indications. This automatic column-wheel chronograph is now available with a silver-toned dial in an elegant 42mm case made in either stainless steel or rose gold.
If the El Primero 410 harks back to Zenith’s 1969 heyday, the new El Primero Synopsis capitalizes on that heritage and gives it a high-tech spin. On the outside, the classic-looking model bears a distinctive dial opening — a brand signature — while the inside betrays Zenith’s forward-looking ethos. The watch contains a lever and escapement made of silicon, an anti-magnetic material that is prized for its ability to reduce the friction inside a movement, thereby lessening the need for lubricants and extending the lifetime of the timepiece.
The Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20 GMT 1903 underscores Zenith’s parallel history as one of the earliest makers of instruments for pilots and navigators. A tribute to pioneering aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright, it’s named for the year in which the brothers achieved history’s first powered and controlled flight in a heavier-than-air craft on the sands of North Carolina’s Kitty Hawk beach. The model is based on a cult timepiece from 1939 that was fitted on the instrument panels of various aircraft, including Caudron trainer planes used by the French Air Force.