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« El Primero’s limit is that there is no limit! » Thierry Nataf. President and CEO of ZENITH International
August 12, 2009 12:00 by Aarti Nagraj
El Primero, symbol of excellence, is the first integrated automatic chronograph movement capable of measuring short periods of time with one tenth of a second accuracy.
1969, the world, eyes riveted to the TV screens, followed with bated breath Neil Armstrong’s the first steps on the moon. The public was tremendously excited by the conquest of space, the dream of absolute and limitless freedom that unites all people.
Developed in 1969, rapidly becoming the benchmark of watchmaking, the El Primero 400 – its Esperanto name expresses the concept of humanistic universality – illustrates the creative genius and subtlety of ZENITH Manufacture. Almost academic in design, making no concessions to anything unessential, El Primero is a masterpiece of innovation. Its perfect integration enables a movement that occupies very little space to be both reliable and accurate: the position of each plate, each gear and each component is optimized. Furthermore, the column wheel, the real conductor of the chronograph, centralizes and coordinates the orders transmitted by the push-buttons. Unrivalled to date, El Primero is the only chronograph movement capable of measuring short periods of time with 1/10th of a second accuracy, a performance made possible by using a balance that oscillates at 36,000 vibrations per hour. This absolute accuracy means that the movement passes the tests of the COSC (Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. As a double push-button chronograph with over 50 hours of autonomy, this movement – which also has an instantaneous jump calendar – can accept other complication add-ons: Triple Calendar, Moon Phase, Flyback…
Accurate, reliable and sophisticated, the El Primero, with its pearly, angular, planished decoration, is a symbol of excellence: it is a testimonial to the art of watchmaking down through the centuries and represents the pinnacle of watchmaking accomplishment. It will be the basis for the various current models of the 4000 series, with their new integral complications, the famous OPEN (4021) being a good example.
Tourbillon, Open versions, power reserve, Grande Date, Flyback are the complications that have transformed, completed and perfected this exceptional movement; just five years ago, no-one would have imagined that these complications could feature on a high frequency calibre. The calibre requires a total of nine months of work, needs 5 to 50 separate operations per piece, demands 50 separate grinding operations for the bridge dimensions. Twenty watchmakers are actively involved in making one movement and no fewer than 18 different metals are used.
Always copied but never equalled, the El Primero today is a watch movementphilosophy that comes in 23 versions. They are the basis for collections such asACADEMY, CHRONOMASTER and CLASS for the classical models, DEFY and PORTROYAL for the modern lines, and STAR and STARISSIME for the ladies timepieces.
Today the El Primero is centre stage, where it occupies a dominating position in thechronograph family.
In 2009, ZENITH celebrates the 40th anniversary of the El Primero which was createdin 1969.This occasion is marked by the launch of two special series celebrating the firsttimepiece to be fitted with the legendary El Primero calibre: The Originals and NewVintage 69.
The El Primero calibre for these Anniversary series has been named the 469 in noddingacknowledgement of the year in which the original model was created. This automaticDate Chronograph movement comprises 278 components and 31 rubies.The tribute is orchestrated in 3 parts, with three materials for the same (40 mm) casedesign directly inspired by the original model, in a collector’s limited edition series.
« We will re-issue the stainless steel models, produce a more refined gold version andbring them into the 21st Century with a titanium version” announced Thierry Nataf.“We want to celebrate the present unpretentiously, but, with a great deal of relevanceand talent, I hope, in honour of a model that is now a true legend ».
The first series, named « The Originals », is faithful to the vintage design, but with asubtle twist for the counters which meet and almost touch at the centre of the dial.
The second collection, « New Vintage 1969 », comprises models also inspired by theoriginal model. The El Primero Anniversary logo on the dial at 7 o’clock is echoed in theengraving on the transparent sapphire back of the case -a special detail thatimmediately commands attention. The dials in this series are crossed by an unusualband of light.
This dazzling trademark range, the embodiment of the acceleration of time between1969 and 2009, is etched with all the historical guilloches of the ZENITH collections:Barleycorn, Clou de Paris, Draughtboard and Grand Clou de Paris.The ray of energy also runs through the Open El Primero 4021 icons in everyChronomaster, Class, Defy and Port Royal collection that will be re-issued in rose goldand stainless steel with a silver guilloche dial for this 40th anniversary.
The pieces of the New Vintage 69 collection will all be available in a limited andnumbered series, during 2009 only.