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Watch Out! Zenith Is Hunting Down, Restoring Select Vintage Models


An intriguing headline from Zenith reinforces something we already knew—that the secondary market for watches is red hot. The venerable watchmaker’s press packet from this year’s Watches and Wonders Geneva announced the introduction of Zenith Icons, a new concept offering collectors the chance to acquire fully vetted and expertly restored vintage Zenith watches through select Zenith boutiques.

Only a handful of watchmakers have dipped a toe into resale on their own terms, and Zenith is presenting its approach as an exclusive, full-service operation that includes sourcing the finest, most well-preserved examples of the brand’s historically important models as well as restoring and certifying them. Everything is being handled by a network of specialists at the company’s manufacture in Le Locle, Switzerland.

“We are bridging the past with the future by celebrating Zenith’s rich history and the references that have become true icons of watchmaking,” said Zenith CEO Julien Tornare in a statement. “We are acquiring historical timepieces from sources who have cherished them for a very long time and allowing others the opportunity to enjoy them. These rare pieces can now embark on a second life using existing resources at the manufacture, and I’m really excited to share these pieces of history with our customers.”

From the collector’s perspective, the Zenith Icons program offers insider access to the most desirable specimens, plus peace of mind in knowing there can be no doubt about the watch’s provenance. Thanks to a massive archive spanning the entire history of the manufacture’s production, and a dedicated heritage department, Zenith is able to identify and authenticate even the smallest component of any watch it has ever built, with complete traceability.

The Zenith Icons program has already begun its rollout; it launched at the Zenith boutique in Tokyo last fall and recently landed in Shanghai. It will move on to other Zenith boutique locations across the globe in the coming months.

The aim is to release Zenith Icons pieces as capsule collections, bringing together references with a shared history, function, or theme.

For example, the Shanghai boutique will focus on some of the earliest and most iconic El Primero references from 1969 to 1972. El Primero is the brand’s hero model, which debuted in 1969 as the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph movement. Examples below:



 The A384 made its debut in 1969 as the face of the El Primero and was pictured on the cover of the first El Primero brochures. It stands out with its square barrel case signed with the Zenith 4-pointed star logo and its iconic “panda” dial—a brand signature to this day. 
The A386, launched in 1969, would become the template for Zenith’s signature Chronomaster line in a more classical round case with straight lugs variant of the first El Primero watch. It garnered attention for its unprecedented tricolor chronograph counters and decimal scale
The A385 is one of the original trio of stainless steel references that launched alongside the El Primero calibre, and is the model Zenith chose for its 1969 advertising campaigns. It’s distinguished by a shaded smoky brown gradient dial, unprecedented at the time, and its square barrel case, signed with the Zenith 4-pointed star logo.

Between 1903 and the end of the 1960s, Zenith won 2,333 awards, filed more than 300 patents, and designed many movements resulting in countless variations, so the avid Zenith collector has plenty of wish list fodder from this brand-defining era. Getting their hands on any of it? Well, good things take time. But with so much effort and care put into delivering these holy grails, most will be more than happy to wait.

Top: Archival technical drawings and the G581, Zenith’s first El Primero chronograph clad in 8k gold. This restored vintage model is currently available at the Ginza, Tokyo, boutique.

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Amy Elliott

By: Amy Elliott

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