Certain brands are forever and some of them shine bright like stars. It is the case of Zenith Watches, one of the rare authentic “Manufactures” that produces its movements in-house since 1865. Here are some key dates, iconic creations and a snapshot on the Company activities.
Zenith, a piece of history like a star crossing time.
Zenith is one of the leading Watch-makers in Switzerland with a worldwide aura. It was founded in 1865 by visionary 22 years old man, Georges Favre-Jacot in Le Locle (Neuchatel Canton) who dreamed to create the first manufacture capable of making the most reliable and accurate watches ever imagined.
Georges Favre-Jacot chose the city of Le Locle to found a manufacture named “Fabrique Billodes.” At this time, large numbers of watchmakers worked at home in various scattered workshops with no direct links to each other. Thus, it was the first to build on the territory of Switzerland spacious and bright buildings dedicated to watchmaking, building on the model of the Waltham Watch Company. He gathered no less than 80 watchmaking professions under one roof combining grand traditions and significantly advanced production technology.
The first industrial watchmaking manufacture was born and began to develop new production machinery and procedures. The goal was to to increase reliability and precision by developing the concepts of automation and interchangeable components.
This strategy was a success and they produced quickly some of the most accurate watches ever made with chronometric (precision-timing) performance. In 1899, the manufacture launched its first pocket chronograph and won one year later the Gold Medal at the Paris Universal Exposition. By 1900, the Zenith manufacture employs 10% of the entire population of Le Locle.
Georges Favre-Jacot will pass the company to his son, James Favre in 1911, who will change the company name for Zenith, a term referring to the highest point in the sky and symbolizing the level of excellence that the brand has to pursue. Both elements also comes from the founder’s passion for astronomy, especially the complexity of movements in space among stellar elements. During 6 decades, Zenith won less than 2333 prizes in chronometry competitions, making it the most titled brand of all time.
Over 600 movements variations and 300 patents composed the collection of from onboard instruments, pocket-watches to wirstwatches.
In 1948 they launched the famous Calibre 135, a 29.3 mm chronometer movement featuring a small seconds display. It was rewarded by no less than 235 chronometry prizes.
Another iconic movement is produced 12 years later, called Caliber 5011 K. It equipped marine chronometers, pockets chronometer and the famous Pilot Montre d’Aéronef Type 20.
Zenith was for decades well known for its chronographs for which they received several awards. And several times the story of Zenith blended with History with a capital letter.
In 1969, after 7 years of development, the Primero is launched and marked a watershed in contemporary watchmaking history thanks to the creation of a high-frequency escapement. It is the first automatic chronograph movement with column wheels, 100% in house manufactured, that can measure up to a tenth of a second (36,000 vibrations per hour = 10 oscillations/second making it the world’s most accurate chronograph). Equipped with a date, it measured just 6.5 mm thick and 29.33 mm in diameter. It had no additional module and had over 50 hour power reserve. Having a movement more famous than a watch is uncommon but this the case of El Primero…
In 1970, El Primero took a flight from Paris to New York, fixed to the landing gear of the Boeing 707. Despite an altitude of 10,000 meters with -62°C and low atmospheric pressure, the watch showed it had remained accurate and required no adjustment. Between and 1975 and 1984, the american company owning Zenith decides to focus on Quartz movements and El Primero production was suspended. The watchmaker Charles Vermont hide the plans and the tools required to build mechanical watches from destruction. From his heroic action, Zenith was able to keep its heritage and knowledge in the watchmaking. When demand for mechanical watches picked up again, Rolex bought movements to Zenith and borrowed El Primero from 1988 to 2000 into the famous Cosmograph Daytona (modified it from 36,000VPH to 28,800VPH and made a few other subtle changes). They called it 4030 caliber. First calibers were delivered to Rolex Le Locle in 1986, and first Rolex Daytona with this 4030 caliber were presented during Baselworld 1988.
In 1991, Zenith produced only automatic chronographs and bought other calibers to ETA (like the 2892). With the demand growth of mechanical movements in the watchmaking market, the Manufacture planned to develop a new automatic movement, manufactured in Le Locle. First movement designed by CAO, Zenith launched the automatic Elite caliber in 1994. It’s is actually one of the most reliable manufacture caliber in the market.
In 2014, Zenith has begun a surprising collaboration with the Rolling Stones and launches now a new El Primero Chronomaster 1969, with tongue and lips logo at 6 o’clock. We sincerely love El Primero, but this interpretation is far from “Haute Horlogerie” and “tradition” we love.
After several years of incertitudes, LVMH acquires Zenith in 1999 and the Swiss brand joins the Group portfolio of Brands in the Watch & Jewelry segment. Since the LVMH acquisition, the company focus only in mechanical movements in the prestige segment. The current CEO of the company is Aldo Magada, who replaced Jean-Frédéric Dufour in 2014 as Mr. Dufour joined Rolex as new CEO in the same year.
Zenith key figures, a solid growth
Zenith is today offering one of the best collections 100% manufacture movement in the price range between €5’000 to €10’000 retail price with an impeccable quality. For many years now, the company tends to translate classical into timeless, not conservative and also to find the right balance between emotional and concrete value.
Zenith has a strong business thanks to a good control of its distribution and their Asian activities that drives growth. With around 900 points of sales around the world (by June 2014), the offer a worldwide coverage with great customer service.
As we know, Distribution is crucial. Only good qualitative point of sales are capable to maintain a longterm business and Zenith operates with the best partners in each region.
Since 2010, there is a strong aim to make Zenith one of the leading brands in its segment. For that, in 2010, the Locle company launched El Primero Striking 10th, of which the sweep seconds-hand displays tenths of a second. In 2011, The Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix (GPHG) awards the Best Complicated Watch Prize to the Academy Christophe Colomb Équation du Temps. With constant efforts made to improve all collections and focus on the company’s strengths, Zenith sales have been in constant growth. 2014 was a tricky year based on certain events like the Russian -Ukraine events, tensions between China and Hong Kong or from a commercial point of view, the Brand lack of presence in the Duty free business in Europe.
Of course several brands focus on Sell-in, meaning the sales made between the brand and its distributors. But at the end the interesting figure remains the Sell-out, meaning the overall sales made from end-consumer sales made by retailers. And in this point, Zenith figures are pretty much in a sustainable growth as well. The brand has been putting a lot of efforts to keep a healthy sell-out, which naturally drives sell-in sales. We can congratulate the Brand with a star to keep a strong commercial relationship with all partners around the world. A healthy business means also a longterm approach and a stable development.
2015 at Zenith, a year of celebration
In terms of strategy, Zenith will definitely focus in the incoming years on its strong icons. And the primarily one is El Primero. They will also focus more and more in Haute Horlogerie as the segment in which they are present is a complex one. They are in the first part of the high-end brands, which makes Zenith position between premium (up to $5’000) and high-end brands.
2015 will also be Zenith 150th anniversary. A strong and important date to renew the loyalty of the company to its fans, partners and employees. We might also see a special limited anniversary edition at Baselworld 2015, that will kick-off the year of celebration. We do not have more information about it but we look forward seeing the great novelties Zenith will prepare.
In conclusion, Zenith is a brand that crossed the different years and decades thanks to strong convictions. Each single watch, movement, component have been created, produced and built in ways that only Zenith knows. Their watches are great ambassadors of Swiss ingenuity and excellence at work. As we say “shoot for the moon, if you miss, at least you will end up among the stars”. Go Zenith.
Sébastien Eich & LA
Info sourced at Zenith, wikipedia and WatchTime. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.