Modern heritage would appear to be a misnomer of terms but it describes the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” to a tee. After all, Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer credited for sky-rocketing vintage Paul Newman Rolex Daytona prices, has been casting his sights on the next “new old” big thing – Zenith. After all, in November 2019, Bacs and partner-in-crime, Alex Ghotbi, Phillips’s head of watches, made history with a trio of unique El Primmer chronographs.
Why? Auction houses typically sell vintage collectible timepieces, theirs was a unique trio of new “old” A384 based, limited edition El Primero chronographs, all sold out in under 30 minutes. Consider for a minute, in the midst of already softened economic conditions, a platinum model with lapis lazuli dial sold for a quarter of a million, while 20 gold models and 49 stainless steel models were snapped up like gangbusters. Fast forward 2020, the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Shadow, is inspired by the same A384 case with one key distinction – a modernesque black colour, monochromatic aesthetic from 1970.
“There absolutely must be. At Zenith we have a century and a half of proud tradition on which to draw but this must be leveraged within the framework of looking to the future – in other words, building on the past to create the future. “ – Julian Tornare on balancing Creativity and Provenance
Speaking to CEO Julien Tornare on the occasion of LVMH’s inaugural watch week in Dubai, the watch community often struggles with the positioning of one of the industry’s most storied names: a lone watchmaker struggling against all odds at saving the intellectual property and know-how of mechanical watchmaking as a similarly named tech company (of the era) Zenith Radios systematically gutted their latest acquisition. Under former Head of LVMH watchmaking and interim CEO Jean Claude Biver, Zenith then embarked on a journey towards becoming the “Future of Watchmaking” with an all new Defy series in angular cases with round bezels and openwork dials. But as yesterday’s presentation over Zoom would have it, both community and internal polls as to the commercial potential of the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Shadow, once again shows overwhelmingly that the brand is still very much a force of potent legacy. But its not cynical exploitation of heritage as some brands have mined in recent years, there’s little doubt that whatever gold that Mr. Bacs sees in Zenith, it’s not so much about Zenith’s future in watchmaking, however defined currently by the Defy 21 and Defy Zero G, but in the strength of its history and if Tornare can deftly manage the two spectrums – its modern vision and its historical references – there’s no doubt that Zenith will find its Zenith.
While the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Shadow was not exhibited at the LVMH Watch Week, we asked Tornare whether there could be a balance between creativity and legacy and his reply was one that foreshadowed the Chronomaster Revival Shadow, “There absolutely must be. At Zenith we have a century and a half of proud tradition on which to draw but this must be leveraged within the framework of looking to the future – in other words, building on the past to create the future.”
Indeed, it’s not difficult to see that the monochromatic palette of the Zenith Chronomaster Revival Shadow might perhaps been an anathema to 1970s consumers but here in the 21st century, its decades ahead of whatever collaborators like Bamford watches has produced. In light of the new Chronomaster Revival, our question if “people who make modifications to factory original watches take something away from the brand or somehow “sullies” the reputation” feels like old-school thinking, and its something which Tornare himself disagrees, “It is also another way of moving with the times and tapping into a range of different audiences that we might not otherwise have access to. In short, I do not in any way think that customisation detracts from our brand.”
And, we have not even gotten to the pre-owned segment of the market; a challenge which Tornare has mentioned on previous occasion that he monitors closely given how little he can influence or control how the consumer values a pre-owned Zenith. “Selling pre-owned watches today is a trend in which we need to be involved. Consequently, we have a new concept which we are working on incorporating into our own boutiques, within which we will offer pre-owned watches that are authenticated, checked and maintained by the brand, so that we are sure that our end-users are getting the quality we want. Pre-owned is also a trend that every brand needs to be focusing on these days when sustainability and second-hand product life have become so important,” says Tornare and if the recent collaboration between Zenith and Philip’s auction is anything to go by, it certainly looks like there are aspects of Zenith’s heritage which can be leveraged to great effect.
“Today’s generation of collectors don’t just want a cold product, but also a mix of history, rarity, design and, very importantly, a good portion of romance.” – Aural Bacs
Two years under his leadership, Zenith has evolved. According to Tornare, “the whole mindset of the company has shifted to a much more entrepreneurial ‘start-up spirit’ firmly focused on innovation and in line with the new vision and direction of the brand. Not to mention changing the face of watchmaking history with the Defy 21 which led watchmaking into the world of 1/100th of a second accuracy; the Defy Zero G which defies the laws of gravity with its downsized and optimised gyroscopic “Gravity Control” module; and the Defy Inventor which has revolutionized mechanical watchmaking with its new disruptive “Zenith Oscillator” control system. The fact that Zenith is capable of developing and producing an entire mechanical movement complete with regulating organ represents the ultimate achievement for an independent Manufacture – and one that has replaced the sprung balance used in mechanical watchmaking for three and a half centuries.”
Of course, in the context of these new innovations, it might appear that Zenith has to struggle with building upon its heritage or propagating its place in modern watchmaking history but the reality is that unlike literal revival brands, the El Primero has a unique place in the history of watchmaking in that it (the movement) is more famous than most of the watch models in which it is found. It is a legend in its own right that reshaped the history of watchmaking in its time. What the new Zenith Chronomaster Revival Shadow represents is emblematic of that confluence of external design and hidden calibre which although was largely abandoned (save for 3 out of 4 prototype models which have either gone missing or been sold) at the time of its creation, falls exactly during a moment of horological zeitgeist which sees sister brands like Bvlgari collaborating with contemporary architect Tadao Ando And TAG Heuer employing the graffiti services of Alex Monopoly. So at the risk of causing offence, we asked Mr. Tornare the million dollar question: “How do you manage the direction “future of watchmaking” with the obvious affection the community has for the heritage pieces? Are they “opposites” that need to be moving in the same direction?”
“I firmly believe that the past and the future are inextricably linked and are complementary, not contradictory. At Zenith we like to say that we are building on the past to create the future not only of Zenith, but of watchmaking itself. Part of this is creating revival pieces or links to our nearly 160-year heritage, while ensuring that what we produce is modern and innovative. The recently launched Chronomaster Shadow, which features a modern look on an iconic watch, is a great example of how heritage and innovation can work together.” – Tornare on managing divergent expectations of watch connoisseurs
For sure, its hard to imagine a full PVD El Primero or Heuer Monaco before the days of bespoke watch artisans like Bamford but today, the revelation that Zenith already had experimented with something like a black Chronomaster as early as 50 years ago is clear testament that already the maker of the first automatic chronograph was already the future of watchmaking, we just didn’t know it then.
New Chronomaster Revival “Shadow” Price & Specs
Movement Automatic El Primero 4061 with 50 hours power reserve
Case 37mm charcoal micro-blasted titanium with 100 metres water resistance
Strap Black cordura effect strap