My (incredibly biased) thoughts on Zenith
UPDATE February 9th 2015: I have received confirmation from Zenith that they no longer plan to use Sellita movements in any of their watches.
To me and many others there is something of the gestalt when it comes to watches. Somehow the springs, gears and jewels are far more than just a collection of inanimate objects made animate by man’s desire to develop. Our minds project memories and emotions onto our prized possessions of which these machines will be completely unaware, despite their appearance of life.
I do not just see the time when I look at my Zenith Captain Dualtime; I see myself in Harrods frantically trying to call my wife so she could transfer me the money to buy it as an engagement present. When I use the pusher and see the GMT hand click forward, it reminds of the many times I had to say goodbye to my wife as she flew back to the United States to visit her family and how a simple glance at the blue steeled hand would let me know whether it was a good time to call.
In my incredibly biased opinion I think this watch is one of the most beautiful timepieces ever made, despite on paper it seeming like a total disaster; a silver dialed watch with silver hands with silver hour markers sounds like a watch worn as an accessory, not as a functional timepiece. With Zenith's attention to detail and high quality finishing this watch is extremely legible. The perfectly proportioned dauphine hands are polished in such a way that they contrast very nicely against the inner section of the dial finished with a guilloche polish. Similarly the hour markers are finished in the same style, making them just as contrasting despite no difference in colour.
The blue steeled GMT and small seconds hands add a dash of colour to the dial saving it from being too monochrome. The tip of the GMT hand does hearken back to some of the heritage-inspired Pilot line, a hollow arrow style hand tapering into a slim pointer making sure the twelve 24 hour markers are always legible regardless of its position on the watch, so contorting your wrist upside down isn't necessary.
Now given how much I love this watch, imagine my (and many other watch fans') disappointment when I heard last year at Baselworld that Zenith had quietly announced the discontinuation of production of their in-house Elite movements, to be replaced by assembled movements purchased from Sellita. A few months later Juliette North, Zenith's global marketing director, defended the decision by saying that a lower price range Zenith could "talk to customers who may be less aware of the manufacture aspect and care less about it". Having more people aware of Zenith would hopefully lead to an increase in sales which is good for all involved, however at the time I wondered whether lowering the entry price would equate to long-term growth in a relatively small company.
Perhaps I was not the only one who thought this as just six months later in an interview with German GQ, the new Zenith CEO Aldo Magada was asked about the Sellita and responded by saying that the deal had ended and Zenith would remain a manufacturer of movements. No-one except the people in charge know what happens behind the scenes, so one can only speculate about the rather dramatic year that the LVMH group had and how that affected the role of Sellita at Zenith. There were similarities throughout the year between TAG Heuer and Zenith, both announced a new movement/change of movement at Baselworld only for it to be canceled before the years end, both lost their CEO and both were going to aim with at a lower price bracket, with TAG bringing to market several new Formula 1 pieces under £1000.
Speculation is the oil that lubricates the gears of the internet so perhaps Mr Magada was adamant that Zenith should remain a true manufacture of movements and reversed a decision made by former CEO Jean-Frederique Dufour. With the shelving of TAG Heuer's CH80 movement (rumoured to have been licensed to LVMH allowing use across the company), perhaps plans to utilise this in Zenith fell through, meaning production of the Elite movement had to continue? Regardless of the reasoning behind it, as a proud owner of an Elite movement Zenith, I am very happy with the way things have turned out. Having another watch manufacture with such a rich heritage lose its way would have been a tragic loss, both for the industry and for my own sense of pride in my watch. Having such a connection with my Zenith, I would have been greatly saddened if the company's reputation went into decline because of the need to appeal to a mass market.
There is a lot in a watch that can't be expressed in reference numbers, the abstract quality that makes my watch mine and your watch yours. It's prudent to note that the connection the owner might have had to a Sellita powered Zenith wouldn't have been any less than my connection to my Dualtime with an Elite movement. But it just wouldn't do for me. I'll leave you with the poorly Google-translated words of Juliette North again, speaking about Zenith: