Zenith was founded in 1865 in Le Locle, Switzerland by a 22-year-old clockmaker named Georges Favre-Jacot. Unlike competitors at the time, Zenith made its own movements. By 1875, Zenith employed almost a third of the town’s population to manufacture its pocket watches.

Acclaim for the company's products came fairly quickly. There was a gold medal at the Swiss National Exhibition in 1896, followed by a first prize for chronometers at a Neuchâtel Observatory competition in 1903. By the 1920s, Zenith had introduced its first wristwatches, which were cased in gold and reflected the Art Deco sensibility of the day.

Despite significant global disturbances such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II, production increased until the 1950s, when Zenith was one of the unquestioned leaders in Swiss watchmaking (in that decade, its calibers won prizes from the Neuchâtel Observatory five years in a row).

A typical vintage Zenith dress wristwatch from 1955 had an 18k rose gold case, a silver dial, and a hand-stitched black patent alligator strap. Inside was a 135 caliber, manual-movement chronometer, which at the time was state of the art.

Sports models such as the Pilot, designed to compete with the Rolex Explorer, appeared in the 1960s, but the biggest news of that decade was the 1969 launch of Zenith’s El Primero chronograph movement. Watches from this era with this movement inside are among the most collectible vintage Zenith wristwatches available.

Work on this marvel of watchmaking (150 individual stamps were required to manufacture all its tiny parts) had begun in 1962. Despite subsequent advances in technology, El Primero remains the only integrated chronograph caliber with automatic winding in both directions, and the only mechanical movement to vibrate at a rate of 36,000 beats per hour, making it accurate to within a tenth of a second.

In a curious footnote, the Zenith Radio Corp. of America purchased its watchmaking namesake in 1971, but instead of building upon the Swiss firm’s history, the parent company ordered all of the equipment used to make El Primero movements destroyed. Zenith Radio believed the watchmaker’s future rested on quartz movements...

Fortunately, a Zenith Radio employee named Charles Vermot thought otherwise. Defying direct orders from the U.S., Vermot packed away the machinery, tools, and stamps required to make El Primero movements until cooler heads could prevail. By 1975, Zenith Radio had abandoned its detour into watchmaking, and the hidden tools were put back into use.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Movado 'datron' Hs360 (zenith Phc-3019)automatic Chronograph With Date. Zenith Automatic Luxe Cal 2562 Pc 28800 Vintage Men Swiss Wristwatch Big Size 1960s Gents Steel Zenith 40t Chronometre In Excellent Original ConditionVintage Rolex Daytona Zenith 18k Yellow Gold 16528 R- Serial Pre Floating CosmoVintage Zenith Large Head Watch Chronograph Manual Winding 18k Pink Gold ServiceVintage Zenith Automatic Men Watch 2552pc Blue Dial Date Nsa Bracelet 1960'sZenith Defy Automatic 28800 Vintage Watch.Vint Zenith Super Sub Diver Automatic Swiss Ref A3635 No Reserve Price@@@@Rare Vintage Zenith Men Watch Oversize Cal. 40 Hand-winding 17 JewelsStunning Blue Dial 1970's Zenith Autosport Automatic Stainless Steel Date WatchZenith Elite Ultra Thin White Dial Mens Watch1969 Zenith Respirator Petroleum Soleil Dial Gold Index & Date Cal. 2552pc Wow!Zenith Automatic Top Gold Men's Caliber 2572 Pc Vintage Wristwatch Big Size Vintage Zenith Automatic Men Watch 2552pc White Dial, Gold Pl. 1960's OversizeOriginal Zenith Wristwatch With Complete Presenation Box And PackagingZenith Captain El Primero Chronograph 36'000 36000 Vph Zenith Top Condition Caliber 2532 C Big Size Vintage Swiss Made Manual Watch MenZenith Top Calibre 12 -4 Manual Winding Vintage Wristwatch- Rare-Zenith S/s Swiss Vintage Mechanical Men's Wristwatch Screw Back Sold As IsZenith El Primero Flyback Chronograph. Beauty! T Dial! Box / Papers.Zenith Wrist Watch Boxed Unworn. Black Leather Strap. 27.0190337. 1992.1960s Zenith Men's Wristwatch Manual WindVintage Gents Zenith Wristwatch Watch. Working Order With Tropical Dial No ResZenith Top Condition Caliber 126 Big Size Case Manual Vintage Swiss Watch Men Vintage Solid 9ct Gold Zenith Watch / WristwatchVintage Movado Zenith Electronic Wristwatch For Parts Or RepairVintage Zenith Respirator Chrono - Diver Long Size Steel Nsa Bracelet / 20mm Zenith Ladies Automatic Port Royal Swiss Made Dress Watch Ref 20-0340-4859 X Zenith Gold Capped Crowns - 3x5.5, 3x5.3 & 3x4.6, New Old StockVintage Men's Zenith Jewelry Watch 011280360Universal Geneve Chronograph, Cal. 285 For Zenith Cal. 165, 4 Fix, Repair, PartsVintage Zenith Respirator - Chrono - Diver Wristwatch S 58 Nsa Bracelet / 18mmOriginal Vintage Zenith Buckle Fibbia 14 Mm Inner Yellow Gplated Watch ZenithVintage Swiss Parts Omega Iwb Longines Zenith Universal Geneve No ReserveZenith Stainless Steel Genuine Buckle Complete 16mmZenith Men's Gold Plated Dress Watch With Date Model Ref 59.0050.387Early Mens Vintage Zenith Military Watch 24 Hour Dial 1930 14k Gold Wgf Art Deco3 X Zenith Gold Capped Crowns With Stem. 5.28mm, NewZenith Stainless Steel Genuine Buckle Complete 18mmVintage Zenith Steel 16mm Pin Buckle For Spares - No Tongue And Spring BarCollectable Vintage Zenith Mechanical Midsize Men Watch,nrLnib Zenith Rainbow El Primero FlybackVintage Zenith Chronograph - Diver Wristwatch S 58 Nsa Steel Bracelet / 18mm S.steel Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Auto Chronograph Men Watch 01.0240.400Cal. Zenith Vintage Watchmakers Stock Various Parts & Calibers Watch PartsRare Men Zenith WatchZenith El Primero 03.2091.410 Automatic/complete Calendar Men's WatchZenith Nsa Lot Of 2 Nos Watch Bracelets Vintage One Fits Respirator XVintage Zenith Defy El Primero Chronograph Diver Rare Steel Bracelet / 29mm Zenith Movement Sold For Parts Or Repair For Watchmaker Not WorkingZenith El Primero Chronomaster Classic Time Piece Model 01.0240.410Zenith El Primero Chronomaster Classic Time Piece Model 01.0240.410Vintage Zenith A/fp Day/date Automatİc Wrİstwatch Cal.405 For WatchmakerZenith Elite Port Royal Steel Automatic Swiss Wrist Watch Ref: 01/02.0451.6801969 Zenith Respirator Black Dial Stainless Steel Case Movement Cal. 2552pc12 Size, Zenith In Silver CaseMovado/zenith Wrist Watch Movement