Some of the most exciting watch releases of 2020 aren’t new watches, and they haven’t been released by a watch brand at all. I’m talking about the ongoing creative collaboration between former outré watch-modder who has now gone legit, Bamford Watch Department and the mad scientist slash industrial designer Black Badger. Already this year we’ve seen Bamford and Black Badger we’ve seen TAG Heuer’s with ‘Fordite’ dials (built-up overspray of industrial, automotive paints) and coffee grounds (yes really). The latest chapter in this collaborative journey is something else entirely and takes the focus off the dial and onto the case.
The watch is the Zenith El Primero Superconductor, and the case is like no watch case we’ve ever seen before. And that’s because it’s made of superconductor. If, at this point, you were to ask what precisely superconductor is, the answer would be, anything that can superconduct. Which basically means a material offers no resistance to electrical current. These materials include alloys of niobium and titanium and niobium nitride and are used in particle accelerators, MRI machines and now, watch cases. The appeal of this material, from a watchmaking perspective, has little to do with the scientific properties and all to do with the aesthetics. The copper-niobium superconductor used by Bamford and Black Badger looks when cut across the ‘grain’, like a tight honeycomb of the silvery niobium within a copper housing, which creates a unique, almost organic appearance. The 42mm case — conceived by James Thompson of Black Badger and executed in Switzerland is made from a single slice of the superconductive material, sliced for maximum visual impact. The lug horns of the prototype are in copper, and the case material has been treated to bring out the characteristics of the alloy.
Futuristic case aside, there are a few other elements of Bamford’s reimagining of the El Primero that really work. The dial, in matte black with that telling line of ‘Bamford’ dial text, sees all the relevant dial details rendered in a warm coppery-gilt print, with a shining sliver handset and Zenith star. The view from the rear is an unobstructed take on the automatic El Primero 400B, beating at 5Hz and offering 50 hours of power. The strap is a nice thematic tie-in with the rest of the watch too — black suede with gold contrast stitching, resulting in a pleasingly cohesive watch with a strong overarching theme.
The El Primero is quite a chameleonic watch, one that has in recent years played heavily to its heritage — but with recent additions such as the ‘Shadow’ and this Bamford limited edition (of 20), it’s quite clear that the 50-year-old can look pleasingly futuristic indeed. It’s a quite dystopian vision of the future. On in which presumably Mad Max-esque watchmakers, led by George Bamford and his gang of modifiers, scrounge scrapped particle accelerators for case materials, and the once glorious halls of Baselworld have turned into some sort of no-holds-barred shantytown. It’s good to see that in this conception of the future the El Primero still holds its own. As it should.
El Primero 400B Automatic, 5Hz with a minimum of 50 hours of power reserve.
Copper NBiobium Superconductor, 42mm by 13mm, sapphire crystals front and back.
Black with gold accents, hands with SuperLuminova.
21mm black suede with gold contrasty stitch.
Limited edition of 20 pieces, priced at 14,500 GBP