Zenith may have had many faces in its history, from creator of the stillrevered El Primero movement, to doldrums, to its reinvention with extreme cyberpunk styling under Theirry Nataf, to the last four years’ return to its refined roots under Jean-Frederic Dufour. The emphasis now is on less niche designs that are classic enough to sell at high prices: recent pieces such as the Espada and Elite, each of which would not have looked out of place at any time since the 1930s. Not that Zenith is above statement-making: its Christopher Columbus Hurricane carries that distinctive small glass globe to carry a floating tourbillon, “the tourbillon for the next 200 years,” as Dufour has put it; while its Pilot Montre d’Aeronef Type 20 Special, inspired by Louis Bleriot’s watch of 1909 and housing a pocket watch movement, measures in at a wrist-wrapping 57.5mm.
Dufour has argued that Zenith caters to traditionalists who also want something a little different – and draws a parallel with his shoes: penny loafers from the top, all curvy moulded rubber from the bottom. But he has also recognised that, no matter how many efficiencies are introduced into the company’s manufacturing process (Dufour is a fan of how the car industry is constantly looking for new ways to shave off the minutes), Zenith can never keep up with the fashion world it is increasingly subject to. It can only second guess more sweeping trends. It is working though. The company has seen an impressive 30 per cent growth year on year since Dufour took over, as more and more customers look on Zenith as something akin to the thinking man’s Rolex. JS