Zenith - The Geneva Watch Auction: X Geneva Saturday, November 9, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Manufacturer: Zenith
    Year: 2019
    Reference No: 40.P386.400/57.C842
    Movement No: 526'386
    Case No: 544'527
    Model Name: The One-Off
    Material: Platinum
    Calibre: Automatic, El-Primero, 31 jewels
    Bracelet/Strap: Leather
    Clasp/Buckle: Platinum Zenith pin buckle
    Dimensions: 38mm Diameter
    Signed: Case, dial, movement and buckle signed
    Accessories: Accompanied by Zenith fitted box and guarantee

  • Catalogue Essay

    No estimate can be provided given the uniqueness of the watch and the noble nature of the charitable cause.

    Whereas a certain number of timepieces from the 20th century have become horological icons where the wider audience recognizes their designs and names such as the Speedmaster, Daytona, Royal Oak or Nautilus, few movements, if any, have reached the iconic status of the El Primero.

    The quality, reliability and functionality of this groundbreaking movement was recognized by the industry, from small independent artisans and brands to world recognized historical maisons. Following the quartz crisis and the re-rising interest in mechanical watches in the 1980s, Zenith’s El Primero was the go to movement for many brands wishing to equip their automatic chronographs. Urban Jurgensen, Daniel Roth, TAG Heuer, Ebel as well as in the famous reference 16520 Cosmograph to name a few.

    The story of the El Primero is directly linked to the quasi demise and the rebirth of the Swiss watchmaking industry. On January 10th 1969, at a press conference held in Le Locle, Zenith announced the birth of caliber 3019, named El Primero as according to the brand it was the first manufacturer to publicly launch its own automatic chronograph.

    The debate on who was the first is less important than the technical leap and cutting edge movement it was. It beat at an impressive high frequency of 36,000 VPH whilst maintaining a 50-hour power reserve. It could record time to the 10th of a second and featured a date that would instantaneously jump at midnight. All packed in just 29mm and 6.5mm thickness.

    However, the El Primero’s success was short lived. On May 28th 1971, the company was sold to Zenith Radio Corporation, originally a radio and then television manufacturer based in Chicago. The American administrators no longer believed in the future of mechanical watchmaking, but they had faith in quartz. In 1975, in the midst of the quartz crisis, they decided to cease production of mechanical movements and thus to dispose of the stocks of tooling and machinery required to manufacture the movement.
    Against management orders, Charles Vermot, a watchmaker having spent almost all his career at Zenith, decided to safeguard the tools necessary for the manufacture of El Primero. He managed to save about 150 presses along with many small tools and cams which he painstakingly numbered and listed before hiding them in the attic which was then
    walled up.

    It wasn’t until 1984 and Rolex’s desire to use the El Primero for its upcoming automatic Daytona Cosmograph that Vermot’s actions were remembered, and production could resume. The rest - as they say - is history. The El Primero has stood in the 25 years since its relaunch, on the summits of horological Himalaya, gaining iconic status that as a movement it shares with no other.

    In celebration of 50th anniversary of this historical movement Zenith contacted Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo to create a unique piece that would be auctioned with proceeds to go for charity.

    During an intense creative ping-pong session at Le Locle in June 2019 between Aurel Bacs, Alexandre Ghotbi Head of Watches for Europe and Middle East and Zenith’s creative and product development teams, many designs were tested and two shortlisted.

    Both used the case of the A386 from 1969 but in platinum, a metal never used before by Zenith. However, one had a dial in jade and the other in lapis-lazuli. It was decided to do without the words “Automatic” and “Chronograph” on the dial and apply the original Zenith star found on the vintage models.

    Back at the office the designs were shared with Paul Boutros Head of Americas, Thomas Perazzi Head of Asia and James Marks Head of the United Kingdom whom in return shared with their teams coming back with suggestions and tweaks.

    We are honored and delighted to offer today this unique El Primero in platinum with lapis lazuli dial which is the result of a true team effort by people who are watch fanatics and the outcome is flamboyant, glamorous, sophisticated yet versatile.

    The present watch will be the only watch Zenith will make in platinum and the only watch that will have a lapis lazuli dial making it not only unique in this combination but in any combination.

    All proceeds of the sale will go to Zoé4life a registered non-profit organization, recognized as a public service utility whose mission is to support research, provide financial support to families in need, support kids during their treatments and raise awareness about childhood cancer.

  • Artist Biography


    Swiss • 1865

    Since Zenith's beginnings, founder George Favre-Jacot sought to manufacture precision timepieces, realizing quality control was best maintained when production was housed under one roof. Zenith remains one of the few Swiss manufacturers to produce their own in-house movements to this day.

    Today, the brand is best known for the "El Primero," the firm's most successful automatic chronograph movement. In an interesting twist of fate, the company that owned Zenith during the 1970s decided to move on to quartz movements and therefore sought to destroy the parts and tools necessary to make mechanical movements. One watchmaker realized this folly and hid the tools and parts before they were destroyed. In 1984, he returned them to Zenith so they could once again make the El Primero movement.

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Lot offered with no reserve


Lot offered with No Reserve

Ref. 40.P386.400/57.C842
A unique platinum chronograph wristwatch with lapis lazuli dial made in collaboration with Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, with proceeds going to charity

38mm Diameter
Case, dial, movement and buckle signed

Estimate On Request •

Sold for CHF250,000

Contact Specialist
Alexandre Ghotbi
Head of Watches, Continental Europe and the Middle East
+ 41 79 637 1724

The Geneva Watch Auction: X

Geneva Auction 9-10 November 2019