While the much in vogue term “Métiers d’Art” is not used as such, the influence of artistic crafts is clearly perceptible. The Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage II is writing a new chapter in the history of Haute Horlogerie according to Zenith. Technically speaking, the Academy Christophe Colomb remains unchanged, but its appearance has been considerably redesigned. It would be pointless to say that the public might be disorientated by the changes, since this audience consists of a very small circle of informed connoisseurs. Zenith is treating these aficionados to a model graced with an aesthetic resembling that of a canvas by a great master. Might Zenith be said to have invented the concept of a pictorial complication?
Five years of Christophe Colomb
First, a brief reminder of the history behind the Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane Grand Voyage. This collection is inspired by the Christophe Colomb: the first three-hand and power-reserve model equipped with the gyroscopic Gravity Control module. This Zenith invention is itself inspired by the 16th marine chronometers that used to be mounted on a gimbal-type suspension, which enabled them to remain perfectly horizontal in every circumstance. Such a system was impossible to miniaturise and had therefore never found its way past the prow of the early maritime explorers’ ships. Nonetheless, in 2011, Manufacture Zenith succeeded in reducing it to the size of an escapement that was duly fitted inside it. The problem of gravity, hitherto compensated for by the tourbillon, was simply no longer an issue.
At the same time, Zenith equipped its model with a fusée and chain transmission. This principle that is also used in models by A. Lange & Söhne and Romain Gauthier enables linear distribution of the torque to the going train, thus ensuring constant force.
These feats were achieved by a movement boasting the stunning total of 939 parts, of which 354 for the calibre that itself housed the 173 parts of the Gravity Control module. Meanwhile the fusée and chain transmission comprised 598 components. This exceptional mechanism was entirely in tune with Zenith’s twin mantra: the greatest possible precision; along with fundamental research in the domain of Haute Horlogerie. The success of its endeavours was crowned that same year by the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève Complicated Watch Prize.
The hidden face of art
While Zenith has since then revisited the aesthetic of the model, it is reassuring to note that the Manufacture has not sought to change the movement, as this would have represented an unwelcome marketing gambit. A proud horological vessel such as this is destined for the long haul and nothing would have been so detrimental as an unjustified makeover.
Several extremely pared-down, dial-free versions, have been followed by interpretations featuring extraordinary dials and casebacks, whether contemporary (Felix Baumgartner) or classic (Grand Voyage I).
The model unveiled this year, the Hurricane Grand Voyage II, belongs to the latter category. It bears the Christopher Columbus engraving and the omnipresent blue of the sea that bore him to the Americas. However, the rest of the adornment on this second model is far more elaborate: parrots, palm trees, natives and fruit baskets make for a decidedly exotic atmosphere. On a technical level, the applied figures are hand-engraved and then patinated or embellished with vivid colours. Integrating this scene required impressive ingenuity, including finding the points to which the applied elements could be fixed, while also reducing the movement thickness as well as the spaces between the calibre and the ornamentation to an absolute minimum – less than one tenth of a millimetre in the latter instance.
The countdown to March...
Above and above this work of art, Zenith is busy preparing to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The Manufacture has already warned there will be no elaborate shows, but instead the humility of a company intently focused on its workbench. As part of a subtle recentering approach, Zenith will progressively wind down the use of its externally made calibres in order to concentrate on its own base (Elite) and high-end (El Primero) movements. In other words, the firm will be firmly repositioning itself around its skills as a full-fledged Manufacture in the noblest sense of the term. Such is the road map drawn up by Jean-Claude Biver, which shifts TAG Heuer to the ‘access premium’ level and thereby gives free rein to Zenith in the high-end segment. The Academy Georges Favre-Jacot unveiled last October already hinted at this new direction.
Aldo Magada, CEO and President of Zenith, sums up the strategy in these terms: “We will make the most of Baselworld, where all our partners congregate, to highlight what Zenith has stood for over the past 150 years. It is not a matter of reinventing the brand, but instead of raising it to the rank it deserves. Celebrating Zenith’s 150th anniversary is about establishing its ancestral expertise and reaffirming its identity, in order to ensure a future longevity at least equal to that of its history to date”.