05/24/2022
 2 minutes

Zenith: The Inventor of the Automatic Chronograph

By Thomas Hendricks
Zenith-Magazin 2-1
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Georges Favre-Jacot began manufacturing watches from a modest workshop in Le Locle, Switzerland at the age of 22. Inspired by the mass manufacturing techniques at American watch brands like Waltham and Elgin, he began to invest in expanding his own company. After being awarded the grand prize for its exceptional Zenith caliber at the 1900 Paris Exposition, the company adopted the same name. 

What are Zenith watches known for?

Since 1903, Zenith has continued to win timekeeping prizes and awards and has been consistently recognized for its precision and reliability. Master watchmaker Charles Vermot pushed the brand even further with his work on the El Primero, the world’s very first automatic chronograph movement. While he was drawing up plans for its production in 1969, the quartz crisis began to loom over executives at Zenith. Vermot was instructed to cease development of the El Primero in order to focus efforts on quartz manufacturing. He secretly disobeyed this directive, carefully safeguarding over 150 pieces and extensive documentation vital to the production of the caliber in hopes that the movement would one day make its return. Nowadays, the brand is still mostly known for its El Primero chronograph watches.

The Zenith El Primero

Is Zenith owned by Rolex?

Production of the El Primero resumed in the 1980s, when Zenith began outfitting models of the Rolex Daytona with the caliber to create the so-called “Zenith Daytona.” Zenith continued to produce its own chronographs during this period and developed various dial configurations. However, the brand that became famous for the movement powering the Rolex Daytona was never actually owned by the Rolex Group. Since 1999, Zenith has been part of the LVMH group.

Although it’s not a Zenith watch, the Rolex “Zenith Daytona” made Zenith famous in the watch industry.

Following the brand’s acquisition by LVMH, Zenith has returned to its early days of cutting-edge precision and reliability, experimenting with new case materials and high-speed chronographs. Recently, the company even released a double tourbillon. While the brand’s Defy Zero G models cost tens of thousands of dollars, Zenith still offers excellent timepieces with a rich history for under five figures.


About the Author

Thomas Hendricks

I didn’t grow up a watch guy, but a few years after graduating from university, I landed a job at the online publication Watchonista as a writer and marketer. “Welcome to the watch world,” my colleagues told me half-jokingly, “no one ever leaves!” Now at Chrono24, I work as a private client advisor, helping people find the perfect watch for major life moments.

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