Zenith’s incredible rebirth over the past one year under the aegis of the adventurous Jean-Claude Biver has resulted in a timepiece that reminds those who have forgotten. This maison is a true manufacture which has never been anything but manufacture, and its inventiveness — as exemplified by the El Primero — is second to none. With the Zenith Defy Lab, the company has demonstrated its prowess through a development that can only be described as fundamental.
Reviving a name from its past, “Defy” having stood for disruptiveness and boldness, Zenith has used the range to showcase a rethinking of British horologist Robert Hooke’s invention of the balance and hairspring principle (erroneously credited to Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens until the discovery of a missing manuscript in 2006). The key element of the watch is a monolithic silicon oscillator, replacing the classic Swiss anchor, hairspring and balance wheel.
A further development of the long tried-and-tested default for mechanical watches — the harmonic oscillator — this new movement addresses the usual problems of position, magnetism, lubrication, temperature change, production consistency and other variables that influence accuracy. While the finest watches can be regulated to merely ± a couple of seconds per day, the new system shows a significant improvement in the watch’s stability.
In the caliber ZO 342, Zenith has done away with the conventional balance, lever and balance spring, as well as a conventional shock-resistance system. The revolutionary essence of the ZO 342 is its single-piece nature, which Zenith says eliminates around 30 components. Guy Sémon, the physicist known for his radical work as general director of Zenith’s sister brand TAG Heuer, devised the Zenith oscillator, etched from a silicon wafer using the latest techniques to guarantee absolute consistency in manufacture for all physical and operational parameters.
This 30mm diameter component, nearly the size of the movement itself, is a single piece performing the role of a spring in restoring force to the oscillator, along with other aspects of operation including the role of the lever, the shock-resistance and other concerns. It is an example of lateral thinking that has improved nearly every parameter, with even its housing showing further inventiveness: the first watch using this movement comprises a case 44mm in diameter and is made from Aeronith, the world’s lightest aluminum composite material.
Zenith will only produce 10 of these, a means of letting this amazing technology escape into the real world. While it remains to be seen how widespread its usage will be, the Zenith Defy Lab certainly tips its hat to the name of this magazine, and we in return are delighted to identify it as the Revolutionary Watch of 2017.