From Chronopedia

History of Zenith

Zenith SA logo.png

Zenith SA is a Swiss luxury watchmaker. The company was started in 1865 by Georges Favre-Jacot at the age of 22, in Le Locle in the canton of Neuchâtel. First he manufactured precision pocket watches, which were signed with his name. About 1900 the product range was expanded: There were on-board chronometers, table clocks, precision pendulum clocks and later marine chronometers.

The name "Zenith" came to his mind, when he just had developed a movement which seemed to him more perfect than all previous: he decided that his new movement and its manufacture should be named after the highest point of the universe: the zenith. From this emerged also the choice of a five-pointed star as corporate icon.

From 1903, the Favre-Jacot company took part regularly and very successfully in competitions with its pocket watches and on-board chronometers.

By transforming the firm into a stock company in the year 1911 the Zenith brand appeared. In the same year Favre-Jacot retired and handed the management of the company over to James Favre. With James Favre, there was a revival of old traditions. In 1923 he founded another company in Besancon, France and 1926 an additional office in New York.

After the First World War Zenith saw the development and manufacture of wristwatches, including alarm and chronograph functions. Zenith was instrumental in developing the now-standard central seconds complication, with the direct arrangement of the 1948 calibre 133 now widely used. Chronographs movements by Valjoux, Excelsior Park and from 1960 on by Martel were used, which were bought in by Zenith. In May of the year 1929, the astronomical observatory in England told the public that out of 19,835 watches from all over the world a watch by Zenith set a new record with a daily deviation of only 0.6 seconds.

The legendary 'El Primero'

1969 - The first automatic chronograph „El Primero“, developed along with Movado. From this merger arises the holding company "Mondia-Zenith-Movado".

The development of the automatic chronograph movement "El Primero" (English: the first) had already started in 1967. Not only was it the first automatic chronograph movement in the world, but the movement oscillated at 36,000 A/h. The 'El Primero'was presented on 10 January 1969. In contrast to the "Chronomatic" developed by Heuer and others, the 'El Primero' is produced today with great success and is highly prized by watch collectors.

1970s and 1980s

In 1971, the majority of shares of the company were taken over by the American Zenith Radio Corporation of Chicago, America's largest group for the manufacture of electronic components. Zenith was to be used as a basis for sales of quartz movements produced in the U.S. Believing the future was digital, the Americans lost interest in the mechanical movements and in 1978 ordered the production to be stopped and all movements, parts and machinery to be destroyed.

It is thanks to the head of the chronograph studios, Charles Vermot, that the 'El Primero' was saved. He objected to the order and hid large quantities of plants, tools, machines, and all design and manufacturing drawings in the attic of the factory.

In 1978, the Zenith brand was sold to the Swiss Dixi group. With the support of the watch manufacturer Ebel the production of the 'El Primero' was resumed. First the movements of Ebel were used, but since 1984 the Zenith brand was relaunched.

LVMH connection

Zenith, together with TAG Heuer, has become part of the luxury goods group LVMH. Zenith plays a special role within the group as supplier of manufacture movements. Zenith was purchased by LVMH in November 1999, becoming one of several brands in its watch and jewellery division.

Zenith is one of the few Swiss watch manufacturers that still produce their own movements in-house.

Notable Models




Zenith Special