Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot

Angus Davies reviews the Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot. This timepiece recognises the brave actions of a watchmaker based at the historical Manufacture in Le Locle. Harrods, the prestigious retailer in Knightsbridge, is holding an exciting exhibition which showcases the remarkable work of this exceptional maison.

This detailed review of the Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

A remarkable year of innovation

In 1969, the watch collecting world saw the arrival of three self-winding chronograph movements.

Heuer-Leonidas (now TAG Heuer), Buren, Dubois-Dépraz and Breitling collaborated on ‘Project 99’ and in 1969 released the venerable Calibre 11, a movement held in high-esteem by watch collectors. At the time, Jack Heuer was incredibly shrewd, he ingeniously differentiated his watches from those of rival Breitling, which shared the same movement, by housing them within the now iconic Monaco case. The Monaco was the first water resistant square case featuring an automatic chronograph movement and has become ‘the stuff of legends’, admired by motorsport fans and professionals alike.

In the same year Seiko released its ground-breaking quartz Astron watch, as well as its first self-winding chronograph movement, the Calibre 1639a. Ironically, it was the release of quartz know-how which very nearly led to the disappearance of the Swiss mechanical watch industry, a fact often cited in Switzerland to this day.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Last, but by no means least, in 1969 Zenith unveiled its ground breaking El-Primero movement. The El-Primero was said to be the first self-winding chronograph, hence its name. No doubt TAG Heuer and Seiko would both argue they were first and, to be honest, it is very easy to become lost in semantics. I still remain unsure which brand did actually release the first self-winding chornograph movement. However, the fact remains, all three of the self-winding chronograph movements in 1969 would have been several years in the making and were coincidentally released virtually at the same time.

Zenith El-Primero, one of the finest self-winding chronographs to this day

The highly regarded El-Primero is a fully integrated column-wheel chronograph. This aspect confers a welcome silky smooth action to the push pieces and a notable absence of stutter when the central chronograph seconds hand embarks on its journey around the dial.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

An unusual aspect of the El-Primero is the frequency at which the balance wheel oscillates. It moves to and fro at 36,000 vibrations per hour (5Hz). Back in 1969, this dizzying rate was highly unusual and still remains rare among mechanical watches to this day.

Later in 1969, after the release of the first iteration of the El-Primero the 3019 PHC, Zenith decided to release a further version of its magnificent calibre, equipped with a triple calendar and moon-phase indications, the 3019 PHF, later to be called the Calibre 410.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

A new limited edition containing the Calibre 410

Last year, Zenith launched a limited edition of the El Primero 410. At the time of launch, I reviewed this 500-piece limited series equipped with a silver-toned dial, extolling its many virtues. Now, the famous Manufacture from Le-Locle has, once again, released a further limited edition, the Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot, featuring a gorgeous blue sunray-patterned dial with matching strap.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Save for the obvious difference in colour, this latest limited edition version of the Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot shares the same impressive specification as its older sibling but, in my opinion, looks even more handsome. However, when it comes to the nomenclature selected, you may be curious to know who was Charles Vermot? Let me explain.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Charles Vermot, saviour of the El Primero

Looking back at the 1970s, the Swiss watch industry was in turmoil. This landlocked nation’s dominance of watchmaking was suddenly under threat. The arrival of quartz watches, which proffered incredible accuracy and minimal wearer input, spelt the death knell for the mechanical watch industry.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Companies went out of business, machines and movements were sold purely for scrap and numerous highly skilled artisans looked unemployment squarely in the eye.

In 1975, Zenith’s Swiss operation, owned by an American company at the time, Zenith Radio Corporation, received instructions to cease making mechanical watches and focus solely upon the production of quartz watches. The mandate was clear, stating all machines, parts and tools should be sold by weight to the highest bidder.

At the time, desperate pleas to the American owners were met with a flat refusal to reconsider its original decision. The technically magnificent El-Primero was destined to become a mere entry within the annals of horology, lost forever and never to surface again.

However, one watchmaker, who was the Foreman of ‘Workshop 4’ had other ideas. Charles Vermot took the brave decision to ignore the American owners of Zenith and hid the various parts, machines and drawings for safe keeping.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

In 1984 mechanical watches were experiencing a resurgence in popularity and Vermot returned the various items he had selflessly guarded back to Zenith. A short while after, the production of the El-Primero recommenced. Several other brands have used this matchless movement, including most notably, Rolex in its Daytona model prior to using its own in-house calibre.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

The El-Primero now features in some models produced by fellow subsidiaries of LVMH: Bulgari, Hublot and TAG Heuer. Its brilliance continues to shine and shows no sign of diminishing any time soon.

Closing remarks

Zenith has once again produced a beautiful timepiece, employing a comely colourway, a magnificent movement and delivering excellent value with a retail price of £7,900 (RRP as at 18.5.2015).

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

The 42mm case diameter of the Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot should find widespread approval, the dial is simple to read and the finishing of the movement is very agreeable, especially bearing in mind the price point.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Most notably, I adore the sight of the blue column wheel resplendently visible via the exhibition caseback. Ultimately, every Zenith El Primero produced post 1984 is a fitting tribute to Charles Vermot and I, along with many other watch enthusiasts, am incredibly grateful for the brave actions of this remarkable man. Thank you Monsieur Vermot, or should I say, ‘Merci’.

Zenith Exhibition at Harrods

As part of Zenith’s 150th anniversary celebrations, the Swiss watch brand is holding an exhibition within the world-famous department store, located in prestigious Knightsbridge.

The exhibtion commenced on the 7th May and continues until 27th May. Admission is free and includes a myriad of interesting exhibits, including some rare timepieces on public display.

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot - watch review by ESCAPEMENT

Technical Specification

  • Model: Zenith El Primero 410 Tribute to Charles Vermot
  • Reference: 03.2097.410/51.C700
  • Case: Stainless steel; diameter 42.00 mm; height 12.75 mm; water resistant to 5 bar (50 metres); sapphire crystal to front and caseback.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; small seconds; date; day; month; moon phase indicator; chronograph; tachymeter scale.
  • Movement: El Primero 410, self-winding movement; frequency 36,000 vph (5 Hz); 31 jewels; power reserve 50 hours; 390 parts.
  • Strap: Blue alligator strap with rubber lining, presented on a stainless steel deployant with triple folding clasp.
  • Limited Edition: 1,975 pieces
  • Price: £7,900 (RRP as at 18.5.2015)

Acknowledgement

All images bearing the ESCAPEMENT logo by © Euan Davies 2015

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