Zenith and the big Baselworld 2019 anniversary


by John Wallis

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March 22. 2019 - by John Wallis

All eyes turn to Zenith at Baselworld 2019, thanks to the anticipation building around a major anniversary. The LVMH brand has delivered with innovation in technology and aesthetics alike, celebrating both the spirit and the legacy of the El Primero.


The watch industry loves a good anniversary - it sometimes feels like every other watch is simply celebrating the legacy of an older watch, a bit like Hollywood and its endless sequels and reboots. The best anniversaries are used not simply to reproduce older watches, but to create new ideas inspired by them. And there are few bigger or more significant anniversaries in 2019 than the legendary debut - 50 years ago - of the first automatic chronographs.

While Zenith was not the only brand to launch such a watch in 1969, its version, the El Primero, was a solo effort, and it boasted incredible specifications for such an early version of the technology, running at a rapid 5Hz. The groundbreaking El Primero has gone on to acquire one of the most dramatic stories in the history of any watch, and it remains one of the most popular timepieces on the market today. So how would Zenith celebrate for the big half-century?

A386 Revival

The most direct way that the brand has chosen to honour the El Primero's birthday is to produce a very exclusive recreation of the original watch that housed the famous movement. While today, "El Primero" is the name of a watch family in its own right, in 1969 it was merely the name of the movement, and the watch itself had the rather technical designation A386.

The new version unveiled at Baselworld is a reproduction of that 38mm original watch. If it looks familiar, that's because the design hasn't changed much over the years - tachymeter circumference, black inner track, overlapping tri-colour subdials and 4 o'clock date window. It's a real classic. The only difference is that this time the watch is available exclusively in precious metals - 50 pieces each of white gold, yellow gold and rose gold. You read that right - this anniversary Revival is a limited edition of 150 pieces in total. We doubt whether there were really any left to buy by the time the watch was "released" to the public. 

Photo: Zenith

Defy 21 Carbon

The El Primero Defy series has come a long way from the watch released in 1969. The Defy was re-launched here at Baselworld two years ago with a radically new interpretation, aiming to be a showcase for Zenith's most innovative mechanical accomplishments. 2017's Defy 21 was lauded for its brilliant use of dual escapements - one each for the timekeeping and the chronograph function, allowing the latter to measure down to a hundredth of a second at 50Hz. Each escapement had its own balance spring, made of futuristic carbon nanotubes.

New in 2019, the Defy 21 is back. In most respects it is the same watch as the 2017 version - the only major difference is the case material. The new Defy 21 has a case entirely made of carbon fibre. And Zenith means what it says about "entirely". The crown, pushers, caseback - everything is carbon. It's a good look for a cutting-edge timepiece, especially with the skeletonised dial also given a darker treatment, and the choice of the black rubber strap. 

Defy Inventor

If you thought the Defy 21 was a mechanical marvel, it’s time to discover the Inventor. This new watch is based on the prototype Defy Lab shown to the world later in 2017, which blew everyone away with a mechanical component the brand calls the Zenith Oscillator. Made of silicon manufactured to outrageous precision, the Oscillator combines the functions of a balance wheel, balance spring, lever and around 30 other elements normally found in a traditional watch. Because of the difficulty of production, the Defy Lab concept watch was only made in 10 pieces, but there was always the promise of greater things to come.

And now they have. The 2019 Defy Inventor delivers on the promise of the Lab, now in "several hundred units" - still very limited, but enough to prove the concept is viable for commercial production. Building on the El Primero reputation for high oscillating frequencies, the Inventor runs at a staggering 18Hz, even more than the Lab's 15Hz. And these technical credentials are chronometer certified by the likes of Timelab, not to mention officially anti-magnetic and resistant to changes in temperature. Finally, while the Lab case was made from "Aeronith", a proprietary material comprised of aluminium foam filled with high-tech polymer, the Inventor has a more traditional titanium case, but sticks to Aeronith for the bezel.

John Wallis

by John Wallis

Living and working in London, John has been writing about watches since graduating university. He got his start at SalonQP, London's finest watch show, where he was inspired by the breadth and creativity of the modern industry. His fascination with mechanical horology has only grown from there.

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