Zenith Watches, the Pinnacle of Watchmaking

Zenith watches: the history of the brand. Genius foresight of the founder of the watch factory Zenith Georges Favre-Jacot and his improvements in watch production. Innovations and first victories of the watch brand. Rise in popularity. Swiss watches Zenith in the XXI century.

Swiss watch brand Zenith has an amazing story full of ups and downs. It is an example of a great synthesis of opposites. The success of these watches owes a lot to the perseverance of the inhabitants of the mountain village of Le Locle and their desire to create family businesses, adherence to religious traditions and a craving for education, the need for rough physical work and success in the fine machining of metals and precious stones. Of course, Georges Favre-Jacot, the founder of the Zenith watch brand, played the main role of the conductor in this magnificent orchestra.

The Founder of the Brand Georges Favre-Jacot

The village of Le Locle, where the future founder of the Zenith brand, Georges Favre-Jacot, was born, is located in a harsh climate. Geographically – in the canton of Jura at an altitude of 950 meters above sea level. Difficult natural conditions forced the inhabitants to look for other ways of earning money, apart from agriculture. Since the manufacture of watches did not depend on the vagaries of the weather, it gradually became the main occupation in the village.

This was a natural development of previous practices that allowed the craftsmen from Le Locle to achieve outstanding success. The women of the Jura developed a sense of beauty by creating luxurious lace. Men have long been perfected in the art of forging and processing precious gems. Historically, the region has developed a belief in the need for education and formed a Protestant ethic.

Then watchmakers did not hide their technologies from each other. It is important that they pass on their experience from generation to generation. In addition, it was traditionally customary to help each other to achieve success. As a result, a community of people was formed who were involved in high technologies for creating high-quality watches at that time.

It was in such an environment blessed for future success in the family of a hereditary watchmaker that Georges Favre-Jacot was born in 1843, as it turned out later – a brilliant visionary and a bold innovator. To this day, Zenith watches are a magnificent example of Swiss quality and the highest watchmaking art.

Georges Favre-Jacot_osnovopolognik_brenda_Zenith.jpg
Georges Favre-Jacot, founder of the legendary watch brand Zenith, a successful innovator in the Swiss watch industry. In particular, the author of the bold idea of opening the first integrated Zenith watch manufactory in Switzerland

The First Steps of Georges Favre-Jacot

The family of little Georges at the time of his birth was an established dynasty of watchmakers. Therefore, the future genius of the time measurement industry absorbed the magic of watchmaking from childhood. Naturally, he learned the secrets of the magnificent mechanics of Swiss watches, surrounded by the best masters of the region and their amazing creations. As a child Georges Favre-Jacot could boast of an independent and imperious character. For example, he left school, learning only to read and write, at the age of 9. And still so young, he began to master the craft of an assembler of escapements.

A big fanatic of watchmaking, Georges dreamed of his own manufacture. It is important to understand that he grew up in a family where everyone was passionate about the issues of high-end watchmaking. And, fortunately, everyone supported the ambitious plans of the child, then the teenager, and later the young man. It is not surprising that with such a high degree of assistance, 13-year-old Georges, who had just completed his studies and quarreled with his master, was not afraid to leave the internship and become independent. And, indeed, he succeeded. From such a young age, the promising master began to earn by pursuing watchmaking craft.

Undoubtedly, Georges’ successful marriage played an important role in the creation of Zenith’s own watch production. In 1863, before his twentieth birthday, he married Louise-Filippini Jaco-Decombe, also the daughter of a watchmaker. It was the rich dowry of the bride that allowed the ambitious dreamer to begin to realize his most daring plans. As a result, in 1865, Favre-Jacot founded his own workshop for the manufacture of parts for watch movements.

The Ingenious Idea of Georges Favre-Jacot

At the same time, the organizational and pedagogical abilities of the young entrepreneur manifested themselves. Not only did he pluck up the courage to invest a large amount in a relatively risky venture, he decided to train the staff of the manufactory himself. And, most importantly, Georges Favre-Jacot radically changed the approach to watchmaking. More specifically, he was the first in Switzerland to implement the non-standard idea of ​​opening a complex watch manufactory, violating established traditions.

It can be assumed that the ingenious watchmaker could not imagine at that time what scope his modest workshop would reach. However, practical experience, sober calculation, combined with a willingness to take justified risks and self-confidence allowed Georges Favre-Jacot to achieve success in competition with older manufactories. By the way, the young businessman was inspired by the American model of watchmaking. Unlike other Swiss masters, he did not reject the idea of ​​a complex factory. Georges managed to combine the overseas scheme with the long tradition of Swiss watchmakers.

Manufacture of Zenith watches (1890)
The first stage in the history of Zenith Swiss watches. Manufactory of Georges Favre-Jacot (1890)

Improvement in Watchmaking

Quite early, Georges Favre-Jacot realized what exactly could guarantee the worldwide success of his watches. By that time, he formulated his goal – to produce pocket watches of impeccable quality, reducing production costs. To do this, he streamlined the manufacturing processes of Zenith watches and switched the manufactory to a full cycle. The watchmaker refused to assemble products from finished parts purchased from different suppliers. From that moment on, watch movements and all their components have been produced exclusively within the company.

After a short time, special furnaces appeared in the cellars of the manufactory. In parallel with the release of watch movements and table clocks, Georges Favre-Jacot launched the production of enamel dials. Then the founder of the enterprise improved the processes with the production of watch cases, gold and silver casting and stamping work.

Innovations and First Victories

The phenomenal visionary Georges Favre-Jacot revolutionized the way we create high quality timepieces. He decided to unite in one place all the craftsmen involved in the manufacture of the final product. In addition, he provided them with comfortable working conditions in well-heated, lit, clean rooms.

Relatively quickly these innovations brought the first, and very impressive, commercial success. The Swiss watch of Georges Favre-Jacot received the Grand Prix of the World Exhibition. This large-scale Parisian event provided entrepreneurs with a unique opportunity to showcase their products to a large number of people. In addition, the worldwide resonance in the media opened up a tempting prospect of entering the international market. And of course, Georges took full advantage of this opportunity.

Firstly, Favre-Jacot watches were awarded the Grand Prix as the most accurate timepieces from the entire range of the World Exhibition in Paris. Secondly, everyone appreciated the unique ultra-flat design of the instrument housing. Thirdly, the entrepreneur managed to sell off old stocks. And, most importantly, the Zenith watch model, released in different designs and created with the participation of jewelry designer Alphonse Mucha, playing around the four seasons, attracted everyone’s attention.

Zenith 4 seasons
Zenith, which played on the theme of Alphonse Mucha’s, 4th season, won the Grand Prix at the World Exhibition in Paris

Zenith on the Rise

Actually, from that moment began the impressive rise of Swiss watches Zenith to the heights of popularity. In 1916, the company began official deliveries of watches to the Royal Air Force. In addition, Zenith manufactured on-board clocks that were integrated into aircraft dashboards, for example, into Avro 504 biplanes. It was these machines that were supplied to the armies of European countries. In particular, the special black dials without illumination of the Royal Flying Corps model were intended for piloting during the day. Additionally, for the convenience of pilots, Zenith watches had a “30-hour power reserve” mark at the top of the dial.

Zenith watches for the Royal Flying Corps
An iconic Zenith watch created for the Royal Flying Corps

A little later, in 1917, Zenith watches began to be officially supplied to the US Army. The company supplied 33mm white metal devices with a radium-based luminescent dial and a second hand at 6 o’clock. This time meter was equipped with calibers with a diameter of 13 lines with a stroke controller based on a disc eccentric. It’s amazing: even now these Zenith watch models easily pass the control setting on modern electronic vibration indicators.

Army swiss watch Zenith
Swiss watches Zenith, produced for the US troops by US Signal Corps, easily pass the control setting on modern electronic vibration indicators
Zenith Caliber 135
The legendary Zenith caliber 135 was installed only in wristwatches. He collected 235 different awards in the history of existence

In the 1930s, when the demands for increased watch accuracy became urgent for aviation, Zenith timepieces established themselves as the benchmark. The manufactory supplied mechanical on-board chronometers for the French naval aviation as well as the Italian and British Navies. In the 1940s, Zenith drew inspiration from its roots by refining self-winding calibers. The main passion of Zenith watchmakers at that moment was the desire to create the perfect movement. In 1948, the Zenith watch brand launched its legendary caliber 135, invented by Ephraim Jobin. The specified caliber was installed only in wristwatches. During its existence, the legendary device has received 235 different awards.

Then, in the 1960s, Zenith developed a new generation of automatic chronographs. The idea is not just another modular movement based on an existing caliber, but a 100% built-in chronograph. This project was implemented in January 1969. So, the new chronograph El Primero (“the first”) is presented to the public. The high frequency of balance fluctuations (36,000 vibrations per hour) provided the mechanism with an unprecedented accuracy of 0.1 seconds. Further, the El Primero caliber is installed in the best Zenith models, as well as watches from other brands of the LVMH-group. This is a company that Zenith has been part of since 2000.

Zenith vs Quartz Watches

Unfortunately, the sixties saw a massive influx of cheaper quartz movements onto the market. Without a doubt, this circumstance could have ruined the Swiss watch industry and the Zenith brand in particular. The company merged into the American Zenith Radio Corporation and completely curtailed the production of mechanical devices. Moreover, it was decided to destroy the entire arsenal of tools, machine tools, technical documentation. However, it turned out that Zenith employee Charles Vermot hid some of the drawings and many tools in the back rooms. Who knows, it would have been possible to restore the legacy of the legendary Zenith watch brand without this act of a true master. It turned out that the fashion for mechanical watches returned in the last quarter of the 20th century. And, of course, the artifacts hidden by Charles Vermot became the basis for the revival of Zenith watches.

Zenith employee Charles Vermot
The savior of the legacy of the watch company Zenith, Charles Vermot, the man who preserved the mechanisms, documentation and tools

As such, 1984 can be called a renaissance, when Ebel commissioned Zenith to manufacture the El Primero caliber. For two decades, the legendary movement has powered the iconic Rolex Daytona models. Then, in 1994, the ultra-thin Elite automatic caliber was created. In fact, it becomes the first Zenith movement created using a computer-aided design system. Due to its exceptional reliability and original ultra-thin design, the professional press named the invention the “mechanism of the year”.

Zenith in the XXI century

If we talk about the XXI century, then in 2000 the Zenith brand was sold to the French concern for the production of luxury goods LVMH-group. This is where the story with quartz movements ends, Zenith watches are further produced only by mechanical ones. In general, a large-scale update of the Zenith watch line took place in 2002. Then, at the exhibition in Basel, the company presented 4 new watch movements and 14 models, released in 52 versions.

The next significant event was the creation of the Open-concept. Essentially, it is a small asymmetrical hole located between the numbers 9 and 11. It is this hole that opens the view of the El Primero caliber escapement. This design format is present on certain Zenith watches. Since 2004, Zenith has not supplied the El Primero caliber to third-party manufacturers, as it considers it its own trump card. At the same time, the Chronomaster watch line was born, finally returning Zenith watches to their leading positions in the luxury segment.

Zenith Chronomaster
Luxury Zenith Chronomaster watch with El Primero caliber. The dial displays hours, minutes, seconds, date, tachymeter

It can be argued that Zenith Swiss watches are experiencing a new rise a century after the first successes. The 21st century was marked for Zenith with the appearance of a modernized version of the El Primero caliber called El Primero Striking 10th with unparalleled precision, winning the Grand Prix in the category “Watches with functions of the highest category” and the “Small hand” award and the return of ties with aviation. Swiss watchmakers continue to innovate, creating new solutions while remaining true to centuries-old traditions.

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