Zenith has been a fascinating watchmaking house. Their iconic El Primero movement was a mainstay of chronographs of their own label and of others. And now the Academy Christophe Colomb Hurricane leads the stakes at interesting and innovative movements.
Their experience in high beat movements, 36000 bph is unparalleled as a result of their development and construction of the El Primero. And this experience has extended to the very interesting new watch we are looking at in this article.
The basic movement, the caliber El Primero 8804, this movement boasts of possibly a world premiere in a wristwatch of a gymbal styled system which is used to suspend the escapement. Zenith documentation calls the system the Gravity Control Gyroscope. However, in our analysis, there is no gyroscope being employed. Mechanically, a gyroscope is a spinning wheel or disc within a gymbal platform system in which the axle is free to assume any orientation. The physics is quite complex, and beyond the scope of this article, but the effect of the spinning disc within the gyroscope enables it resist external forces which may attempt to change its orientation. This allows the device to keep a fixed orientation, regardless of the mounting platform’s motion.
In the Zenith Gravity Control Gyroscope, there is no spinning wheel or disc, but the escapement is kept in a horizontal orientation (relative to the ground) by weighing down one side of the spherical cage. So technically, the Gravity Control Gyroscope is a gymbal system. Traditionally, these gymbal systems are found in marine chronometers, and allows the escapement to be held in a constant horizontal position, independent of the position of the case. This was essential for good timekeeping as the escapement remains in horizontal position even in rough seas.
The gymbal system appears to be simple, but is actually a very complicated system, requiring some 175 parts. The complexity is mainly in the method to transfer power through the gymbal system to the escapement. Unlike a multi axis tourbillon system, where the position of the escapement can be predicted a priori, the position of the escapement through the gymbal system cannot be predicted. This position would depend on the position of the wrist of the wearer.
Another nod to the inspiration from marine chronometers, is the fusee and chain used in the movement, allowing a constant force to be released through the escapement system.
The fusee and chain system is not a completely new system in a wrist watch. The first to appear in a wristwatch was in the Lange Tourbillon Pour le Merite in 1994, and subsequent Pour le Merite watches from the German watchmaker. It is also found in the current production Breguet La Tradition Tourbillon and the various Cabestan models. The Romain Gautier Logical 1 also uses a chain, but lacks the fusee’s function to provide constant force to the escapement.
There is a dome on the crystal to accomodate the gymbal system presents itself as a bubble on the dial side and also on the case back. One would expect this dome to interfere with comfort of the watch on the wrist, but the design is quite brilliantly executed such that the watch remains very comfortable to wear. The bulge in the case sitting in between the ulnar and radius of the arm. And quite comfortable, even on smaller wrists.
Movement specifications of the Caliber El Primero 8804: manually wound, 37mm diameter, 5.85mm thick, 354 parts, 53 jewels, 50 hour power reserve.
What do you think about this unusual movement? Innovation or just unusual?