Watch companies rarely need an excuse to celebrate an anniversary – however minor – with a new model, but reaching a century and a half seems good reason to push the boat out, especially for Zenith, a brand whose story could have been so different. Having established a reputation for high quality and stylish functionality, particularly for its aviation watches and the still revered El Primero movement, in the 1970s the Le Locle brand switched all its production – unwisely as it turned out – to quartz watches. Its excellent movements would have been lost had not a small group of its workers hidden templates and components for them in the manufacturer’s attic, where some of them remain to this day as a private museum.
Now part of the LVMH group, which has invested heavily, Zenith is thriving and has teamed up with Harrods for a month-long celebration, taking over four of the store’s prime windows. These include a potted history in the form of wide-ranging historic models, from a selection of beautiful enamelled and engraved pocket watches via a 1910 (yet contemporary looking) pilot’s watch, similar to the one worn by Blériot, to a pivoted table clock that looks like a giant pocket watch. Alongside these is a replica of a historic Lancia Staros rally car, marking Zenith’s new sponsorship of the Paris-Biarritz classic car rally, for which they have created a special version of the Chronomaster 1969.
Also on display will be a master watchmaker working at his bench – an extra place beside him is for anyone interested in trying their hand at watch-building under his instruction (no appointment is needed). The greatest thrill, however, will be the two special models in the windows. A unique rose-gold version has been made of the partially skeletonised Academy Christophe Colombe model (price on application), with its revolutionary gyroscopic regulatory system in a sapphire crystal dome on the dial, which will be exhibited in the windows from next week. Zenith’s special anniversary edition of the El Primero Chromonaster 1969 (£7,300, pictured) is also being launched at Harrods, and will be exclusive there for a month. One hundred and fifty are being made, all numbered – Harrods has one-10. A wonderful way to salute a revered and authentic brand.