Zenith El Primero Range Rover Special Edition
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2017)
Two big names and at the same time two legends with a bit of common history. In 1969, Zenith presented the famous Chronograph El Primero. In the same year, the British car manufacturer Land Rover introduced the prototype of the first luxury off-road vehicle: the Range Rover, which went on the market in 1970. Dedicated to the pioneering spirit of the founders and in honour of two legends that changed the world of watches and car manufacturing significantly, the two traditional brands now join half a century later in an unusually comprehensive partnership to make ‘El Primero Range Rover Special Edition’.
Cooperation by car and clock manufacturers is not new: think of Hublot and Ferrari, Breitling and Bentley, Bremont and Jaguar. The watches that emerged from these connections have always been beautiful and successful. Zenith and Land Rover will not be an exception in this regard, as they are brand names known around the world and they are the vanguards in their respective fields. In 1969, both companies reached important milestones and their fates have been connected ever since. In that year, the Swiss manufacturer presented the world’s most precise chronograph El Primero, whilst the British car producer introduced its first luxury SUV.
Besides the year of their birth, the chronograph El Primero and Range Rover have a number of qualities in common: A distinctive outline, technical finesse and consistently remarkable performance. Only three years later, the two legends’ paths crossed when the explorer John Blashford-Snell tracked through the Tapon del Darien, a swamp rainforest territory at the border between Colombia and Panama – behind the steering wheel of one of the first Range Rovers, whilst wearing an El-Primero-Chronograph on his wrist. In the attempt to cross the gaping hole in the road connection between North and South America, both models proved to be extremely tough, reliable and suited to off-road use. Since this common adventure 50 years ago, further development and detailing have elevated both original concepts into timeless icons that have not lost any of their authenticity along the way.
The partnership between Zenith and Land Rover started at the beginning of 2016 after Jean-Claude Biver, who as president of the Watch Division of LVMH is responsible for the daughter company Zenith, and Gerry McGovern, the head of design at Land Rover, met by chance. Months of intense consultations between the two teams followed. For the design of the El Primero Range Rover Special Edition, Zenith focussed on the luxury SUVs by Range Rover. Zenith El Primero, one of the most popular luxury sports watches, not only within the brand but overall, served as the basis for the model.
“We don’t want to change El Primero fundamentally, but rather to think about how we can transfer Range Rover characteristics onto it, for example in the ceramic alloy of the aluminium casing”, explains the head of Land Rover Design, Gerry McGovern.
“We want to make it less complex, following the same principle we apply when we create our cars, especially the interior.”
Thus, the chronograph displays a brushed, grey clock face with the inscription ‘Zenith Range Rover’. Hand and hour markers are rhodium-plated and feature a luminous coating. The dynamics of the legendary chronographer transfer to the streamlined contours of the 42-mm casing. The ‘chassis’ is made of aluminium, reminiscent of the Range Rover, and has a matt black ceramic coating. The shell, waterproof down to 100 metres, has a domed glass cover and features a catchy crown on the right side and two round chronograph pushers. The sapphire glass in the base of the casing boasts the lettering ‘El Primero Range Rover/Special Edition’ and opens the view to a wind-up rotor decorated with the logos of both Zenith and Range Rover.
“The Zenith El Primero Chronograph is in my view one of the most important watches ever made. This legendary design deserves our respect and our reverence. The watch must unmistakably stay an El Primero whilst at the same time displaying the Range Rover characteristics,” says Gerry McGovern. “We took the minimalistic appearance of the modern Range Rover interior as reference and the people from Zenith translated this into a simple, tidy clock face. The matt surfaces convey understatement, finesse and durability – just as with the Range Rover, the observer develops an emotional connection,” McGovern adds.
Land Rover, once an offshoot of the Rover Company, became part of Tata Motors in 2008 and is a British car manufacturer specialising in Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) and off-road vehicles. The company is regarded as the pioneer of the four–wheel drive. As early as 1948, they started to build robust, all-terrain vehicles suited for most difficult operating conditions. These models have become legends. 1969, the British firm made history in car production when it invented a completely new type of off-roader: the all-terrain yet luxurious Range Rover. The luxurious off-roader, equipped with permanent four-wheel drive and powerful 3.5-litre V8 engine, delivered outstanding performance on and off the road. Its elegant design made the Range Rover into a car design icon.
The Zenith team, too, was enthusiastic from the beginning about the cooperation with Range Rover. They see many close affinities between these two brands which, through their timeless design, embody authentic luxury and reveal a similar spirit.
The Zenith manufactory was founded in 1865 by the visionary clock maker Georges Favre-Jacot in Le Locle and soon became famous for its high-precision timepieces. During one and a half centuries the company won 2,333 prizes at chronometry competitions – an unsurpassed record. In 1969, the brand became world-famous with the legendary calibre El Primero, the first integrated chronograph with a ratchet and an automated winding system. Its high balance frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour can give the time with precision down to a tenth of a second. The Zenith manufactory has developed 600 variations of it. Zenith belongs to an exclusive group of traditional luxury watchmakers, who produce all clockworks in house – the ultimate mark of quality within the industry. The company is involved in various vintage areas, for example classic cars, typical for the Swiss clock makers, which have always had a strong relationship with the motorcar industry.
Picture credit © ZENITH