As Neil Armstrong’s world famous quote reminds us, the year 1969 saw a giant leap for mankind. But in the same year that the Apollo XI landing met the challenge set by John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade and, incidentally, set up the Omega Speedmaster as an icon, Zenith quietly launched the world’s first integrated automatic chronograph.
The appropriately named El Primero (meaning “the first” in Spanish) also came with a triple calendar and moon phase indication but, more importantly, beat at a frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour, allowing for 1/10th of a second precision for the chronograph function.
Using a column wheel and offering 50 hours of power reserve, the calibre 410 powering this innovation became a cornerstone of the Zenith collection until the year 2000. It has now been brought back to life in a faithful limited-edition reproduction of the original piece, which comes with a brown alligator leather strap or stainless-steel bracelet.
A giant leap for watchmaking kind
Forty-five years after the lunar landing, De Bethune presents a giant leap for the chronograph this year with its DB29 Maxichrono Tourbillon. The culmination of seven years of research and development, the DB29 manages to house five separate hands to indicate the time and chronograph functions on the same central axis. The chronograph is powered by the latest in De Bethune’s series of significant horological innovations: The “absolute clutch”, for which the brand has filed a patent, harnesses the advantages of vertical and horizontal clutch mechanisms yet eradicates their disadvantages. This new system controls the chronograph seconds, while the minute counter is controlled by a shifting pinion and the hour counter (which unusually runs up to 24 hours) is engaged by a horizontal clutch. These three semi-autonomous systems are governed by three separate column wheels.
Little of this complexity is visible on the dial side, however, which remains a model of clarity in true De Bethune style. A single push-button, embedded in the crown, is used to operate the chronograph and a well-thought-out dial uses curvature to highlight the various scales that radiate out from the centre, starting with the 24-hour chronograph counter, then the large Arabic hour numerals, then the 60-minute counter and ultimately, around the very edge of the dial, the 1/10th of a second increments for the chronograph that can be timed out by the DB2039 calibre hand-wound movement, which operates at 36,000 vibrations per hour and offers an impressive 5-day power reserve.
The return of the bullhead
With a whole series of new chronographs at its disposal, TAG Heuer opted to field the Carrera “Dashboard” chronograph in this year’s Geneva Watchmaking Grand Prix. It is a fitting choice, since it is inspired, as its name suggests, by the Heuer dashboard timers of times past, but also by the Carrera Mikrogirder model that won the Aiguille d’Or in 2012 and led to other brands launching re-editions of vintage “bullhead” chronographs with the crown and pushers at the top of the case.
The latest Carrera “Dashboard” model is, however, presented in line with current tastes in a 45mm steel and titanium case with a black titanium-carbide coated bezel and a matching soft-touch black alligator leather strap with black titanium clasp. The dark theme is completed with a smoked sapphire crystal case back, through which the brand’s proven Calibre 1887 movement can be admired.