The luxury watch manufacture ZENITH – LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton Group – wishes to express the company’s keen sense of honor in seeing its name associated with one of the rare material objects cherished by the Mahatma Gandhi.
The pocket alarm watch that faithfully accompanied him in his travels is one of the many models embodying the history of the Manufacture Zenith – a history enriched by 144 years of horological expertise devoted to the service of time measurement. Georges Favre-Jacot, who founded the company in 1865, was deeply attached to the universal distribution of the watches that he made. Crisscrossing the globe to make known his collections known far and wide, he superseded national borders with a unifying message based on sharing the correct time. People need to synchronize their schedules in order to live together, and time is a universal value that units them above and beyond their differences.
The pocket alarm watch was born from this penchant for sharing that leads men and women to travel and to live together day and night by harmonizing their lifestyles.
The early 20th century witnessed the development of travel, particularly with a view to boosting business in an era of international expansion of industry and commerce, as well as exploratory forms of tourism. The evolution and multiplication of the various means of rail, road and maritime transport generated new requirements during this period, including the need to reduce the volume of objects being transported. Waking up on time and having a dependable watch were essential prerequisites for such public transport, and travelers needed to be able to rely on a time measuring instrument that would accompany them by day and night. This concern was shared by the military, who found the wristwatch to be the best solution to the specific constraints of their activities.
In 1914, the Manufacture ZENITH, which at the time still bore its founder’s name, began focusing its production on high-quality watches housing refined movements endowed with complications. From 1915 onwards, the alarm watch became an iconic model within the ZENITH collection. It chimed by means of a hammer striking a gong that was separate from the case middle. The sound was clear and melodic, a fact that distinguished it from many other models of the time equipped with striking mechanisms that were less sophisticated but also less pleasing to the ear.
The alarm watch project had been the object of research conducted by the ZENITH engineers for many years already. A patent registered in 1913 for an “advanced alarm clock” describes a system that is different from that of the model finally chosen, but reveals the brand’s interest in this type of function.
With this model, ZENITH introduced the perfect alarm watch that was neither thicker nor bulkier than a classic pocket-watch. The dual-function crown cleverly winds the movement in the usual left to right direction. In the other direction, it augments the striking-mechanism power reserve. The case middle is fitted with two adjustment pushers on either side of the crown. The right-hand pusher serves to adjust the time and the one on the left adjust the alarm time as confirmed by a subdial at 12 o’clock. There were several known types of dials, and those in enamel featuring painted numerals with a luminescent radium coating to guarantee nighttime readability date back to the early 1920s.
The seconds hand is classically located at 6 o’clock, as on most pocket-watches, which leaves plenty of space on the dial and ensures that the user can read off the time in a smooth, unobstructed manner. This particular model was a fashionable gift right through to the late 1930s and was frequently highlighted in the product catalogues of the period.
The watch can be placed upright by opening from below the second case-back that is hinge-mounted at 12 o’clock. This cover serves as a stand by slightly tilting the case backwards, and opening it ensures a more resonant ring. Whether crafted in gold, including in various luxurious enameled, chassed or gem-set variations, or in silver, nickel silver, steel or gold-plated versions, these watches have retained all the charm of the great ocean crossings and railway journeys for which they were indispensable accessories.
Through a simple function, this watch model serves as a reminder that a watch can also be an audible instrument, and guarantees the peace of mind of its owner who can rely on being awakened in good time. Whether as an alarm or to signal appointments, its extreme user friendliness reflects the reasons behind the success of vibrating wristwatches. ZENITH acquired useful experience in the field of making such wristwatch movements up until 2006, when the alarm function was integrated into a Class Traveller model, alongside other functions and complications enriching an El Primero caliber.
The Mahatma Gandhi watch strikes a vibrant chord in El Primero’s 40th anniversary year.
A truly legendary movement in contemporary watchmaking history, the El Primero chronograph caliber transcends time. The incredibly modern nature of its construction in 1969 enables the Manufacture ZENITH to continue writing new chapters in its adventures and to introduce ever more complicated variations on this inexhaustible theme since 2001. Tourbillon, split-second, large date, minute repeater, moon-phase, day/night display and world-time multi-city functions: the same spirit that guided the Manufacture on the dawn of the 20th century continues to inspire Thierry Nataf in sharing around the globe the pleasure of wearing a watch that ennobles the measurement of time. The zero gravity tourbillon that keeps the tourbillon flat whatever the position of the watch has enabled ZENITH to emerge victorious from a 200 year-long race among watchmakers the world over.
The only self-winding column-wheel chronograph caliber powered by a balance oscillating at 36,000 vibrations per hour, El Primero remains a premier movement in terms of its exceptional combination of reliability and adaptability. Capable of rising to extreme challenges, it is equally at home in the DEFY models designed for adventure and for battling the elements, the CHRONOMASTER collection imbued with refined elegance, the timeless CLASS collection, and the cleverly structured PORT ROYAL collection.
Firmly rooted in the 144 years of history of the Manufacture ZENITH, the El Primero offers watch connoisseurs the eternal youth of its conception and the boldness of its experience. Never one to choose simplistic options, it is serenely celebrating its 40th birthday in 2009 through a collection featuring an historical emblem and a three-color strip exclusive to this year’s models: red as a glowing token of vitality; purple symbolizing a love of truth and the truth of love; and an orange border synonymous with liberation.
The ZENITH star has thus been lighting the path of humankind for almost a century and a half, guiding it towards the universal ties that bind people together and inspiring them to share the unfathomable riches of time.