Content - Manufacture Zenith revolutionizes mechanical watch

  • October 03, 2017

Manufacture Zenith revolutionizes mechanical watch

Tokyo (SCCIJ) – The manufacture for luxury mechanical watches, Zenith from Le Locle in Switzerland, has presented the most precise mechanical wristwatch of all times. This became possible by completely breaking with the principles for the traditional gear regulator which goes back to Christiaan Huygens’ invention dating from January 1675. The new central watch component is made of monocrystalline silicon and replaces the classic balance wheel with the hairspring and anchor. “This is truly uncharted territory”, the company said on its website. The new component beats at the heart of the already sold out limited collectors’ edition of the “Defy Lab” watch model, but will be put into other timepieces from next year.

Zenith's new "Defy Lab"

Masters of watch precision

Zenith is a Swiss watch manufacture founded in 1865 which became part of the French LVMH Group in 1999. Already almost 50 years ago, this traditional Swiss watchmaker developed in two years of work the famous “El Primero” automatic chronograph, with 36,000 vibrations per hour equivalent to 5 Hertz, and won at that time the prestigious race for the most precise mechanical watch.  

In another five years of work Zenith now has abandoned the traditional mechanical way of measuring time in favor of a much more precise high-tech solution. The development was backed by the physicist Guy Sémon, currently Chief Executive Officer of TAG Heuer, who will in future head all research and development activities of the three LVMH watch brands Hublot, TAG Heuer and Zenith.  

Together with a team of technicians and scientists, Sémon launched the monolithic Zenith oscillator with a height of only 0.5 millimeters. The oscillator consists of two components made of monocrystalline silicon partly finer than human hair. An oxide layer provides stability. The new technology has been used first in the Zenith watch “Defy Lab” with an open dial to reveal the different mechanical setup.

Single piece instead of 30 parts

The new Zenith oscillator takes the form of a single piece without any mechanical linkages, instead of the customary 30 or so parts that require assembly, adjustment, setting, testing and lubrication. The silicon unit beats at the incredibly high frequency of 15 Hertz, with an amplitude of +/- 6 degree. That is three times higher than that of the record-setting “El Primero” of 1969.  

All in all, the daily rate deviations over 50 hours range between minus and plus 0.3 seconds per day. This is considerably higher than the official chronometer standard, which tolerates minus four to plus six seconds within this time span. Some more key points are: 

- This new oscillator maintains the same degree of precision for 95 percent of its power reserve.  

- No need for oil: no more contact means no more friction or wear, and thus no need for lubrication.

- Insensitivity to gravity and magnetic fields eliminates the key weaknesses of the current balance-and-spring assemblies that are subject to deformation and/or dilatation, thereby leading to diminished precision.

First watch made of Aeronith

The “Defy Lab” watch model with a diameter of 44 millimeters is also the first watch with a case made of Aeronith, the world's lightest aluminum composite. The LVMH group has filed a patent for this new material which was developed in-house in a new high-tech process. It consists of a solid metal sponge whose pores are absolutely evenly distributed and reinforced with a composite material. Thus, Aeronith is 2.7 times lighter than titanium, 1.7 times lighter than aluminum and 10 percent lighter than carbon fiber composite.  

The bad news for watch connoisseurs is that only ten pieces of the Defy Lab were produced. This limited edition for collectors is already completely sold out despite a price of about 30,000 euro. But at the Zenith presentation of the Defy Lab on September 28 in Tokyo, guests of the reception had at least the chance to view this exclusive timepiece. Also, according to press reports, the new Zenith oscillator can be varied in form, frequency and size. Probably already next year, the watchmaker will produce a more affordable series product which may be priced at less than 10,000 euro.    


Text: Martin Fritz for SCCIJ based on Zenith material; Photo: Zenith

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