Zenith brings the story of its iconic El Primero in an interactive showcase

by Valerie Wee

It’s not often that we get to touch and see first-hand how watches are designed and created. With the latest pop up space A Star Through Time, visitors can go behind-the-scenes to peek into this competitive and often secretive industry.

Ever wondered when the first automatic chronograph was successfully created? Surprisingly, it was only five decades ago; which is also around 73 years after the first modern Olympics were held in Athens. But we digress. More importantly, Swiss luxury watchmaker Zenith is celebrating its star calibre, the world’s first self winding chronograph, the El Primero, with a world tour that starts in August.

First stop? Singapore.

Visitors can wander through the expansive 400-square-metre interactive space headlined as ‘A Star Through Time’ which is not just a tribute to the impact of timekeeping by the El Primero calibre but also an immersive journey through the struggles, triumphs and achievements of Zenith.

This exhibition is a re-creation of their existing experiential event ‘Le Monde Étoilé de Zenith’ supported by the local Swiss tourism authority. Zenith’s move to open the doors to bare its watchmaking soul to enthusiasts and fans so that they can intimately appreciate the process has proved successful. And so together with 50 candles on the cake for its El Primero movement, the decision to bring this experience worldwide was a natural next step.

A Star Through Time is a 360° fully immersive tour that transports visitors right into the brand’s watch maison in Le Locle in Switzerland and even to a time in the past where watchmaker Charles Vermot had to hide tools and blueprints of the El Primero in a secret attic to prevent its destruction during the Quartz Crisis.

In the late 1960s, there was a frenetic race amongst watchmakers around the world to create the first automatic chronograph. And at Geneva during the wintry January month in 1969, Zenith introduced “The First” – the El Primero. A calibre which boasted an unprecedented innovation. The power reserve went beyond 48 hours and its frenetic pace of 36,000 vibrations per hour meant the El Primero could accurately gauge elapsed intervals to the nearest one-tenth of a second. At that time, its peers and competitors managed around 21,000 or even less.

Zenith applied tungsten carbide and a clever design to its self winding feature that allowed for more energy to be harvested, faster tallying of elapsed intervals, power for displays; all with just micro movements of the wearer’s arm. A quicker oscillating capability also meant the already featherlight and slim El Primero kept time precisely while being less prone to shock and gravity. For many, it was an important milestone for the history of haute horology and the El Primero movement has since been adopted and used by several well known watch brands including Rolex. Today, there are at least 38 versions of the El Primero, a remarkable achievement in the industry.

Zenith launches A384 Revival, the final piece in the El Primero 50th Anniversary Revival series.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the El Primero calibre, and that of the El Primero A384, the first watch to feature the revolutionary movement, it is apt that the El Primero A384 makes its return as the final piece in the El Primero 50th Anniversary Revival series.

Defy El Primero 21

Aside from the vintage revival pieces, AH 384 and AH 781, Zenith’s latest – the Defy El Primero 21 will also be on show. This boutique-exclusive timepiece continues to beat at 36,000 vph but now boasts a separate movement and a pace 10 times quicker for its stopwatch feature. Measuring elapsed intervals now goes to the nearest 1/100 of a second. And so far in terms of pace and price point, no other calibre can claim the spot from Zenith.

When Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner made that heartstopping leap from space towards earth from just a helium balloon, he set a world record that stirred much excitement. And he was wearing a Zenith too. There are more stories like these at the exhibition. And Zenith has spared no effort in ensuring that visitors can really go behind-the scenes as well as fully enjoy the ‘being there’ experience of these milestones. As such there will be curated watchmaking workshops, highly interactive displays and virtual travels through the evolution of this brand.

At the open concept watch bar, visitors can also touch, feel and try on a wide range of timepieces from the current Zenith collection. And Zenith’s CEO Julien Tornare explains the intent of this extravagant showcase as a chance to,“...give everyone an opportunity to enjoy a unique experience and to understand how our timepieces work, while plunging into the heart of our history.”

A Star Through Time will be held at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza from 28 August to 1 September 2019, before it moves on to the next city. No reservation is required to visit the exhibition.

Watchmaking clinics by Zenith watchmakers will be conducted on 31 August and 1 September 2019, and guests can register their interest for the sessions by emailing zenithmbs.singapore@zenith-watches.com. Confirmation will be on a “first come first served” basis.


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