The 2017 Only Watch charity auction will see Zenith extends its support in the form of a one-of-a-kind Defy El Primero 21 Only Watch Edition.

Defy El Primero

Sifting through history bares the tales of the first automatic chronograph, a time when Zenith, the chronomatic group and its Japanese counterparts raced against each other in a course to debut the first automatic chronograph.

Who ultimately succeeded in doing so and who first made the initial effort to begin developing it are a couple of questions that divide opinions and ones that are worthy of closer examination and dissection, which unfortunately won’t be answered in this article.

Nonetheless, the birth of the first-ever El Primero and what went into the automatic chronograph are anecdotes that pique curiosity and interest.

The groundwork of the El Primero was laid in 1962 on the drawing board. The motivation was to produce an iconic watch to be launched in time for Zenith’s centenary celebration in 1965. The quest to create the first automatic chronograph was not a painless process.

What’s more, the calibre was to be fully integrated and designed as an inseparable whole. There would be no additional module, but instead a construction built around a column wheel and a central rotor mounted on ball bearings.

More importantly, it would also need to beat at a high frequency—hi beat—in order to be the world’s most accurate chronograph. The 36,000vph (5Hz) standard is one that is still highly valued and scarcely utilised today by other watchmakers. The commonly found standards are 21,600vph and 28,800vph.

In layman’s terms, the second hand ticks six and eight times per second respectively.

Where the first-ever El Primero differed, however, was that its second hand ticked 10 times every second, exhibiting a smoother sweep across the dial—an almost gliding motion—and allowed for a 1/10th-second precision, which is not permissible by other frequencies.

The El Primero, meaning “the first” in Esperanto, didn’t make a public appearance until 10 January 1969—missing its projected deadline by four years. Its heart was the calibre 3019PHC.

Defy El Primero 21

One escapement of the El Primero 9004 automatic movement in the Defy El Primero 21 is supercharged to 50Hz, resulting in the precision dropping down to 1/100th-second as shown by its central second hand. The flange is inscribed with Arabic numerals in increments of five until 100 equalling a full second. That means the central second hand will revolve a full circle around the dial indicating a full second.

The new chronograph is 44mm. Its calibre is now 32mm in diameter and composed of 203 components and 53 jewels, compared to the 1969 model’s 30mm. The thickness is 14.5mm, which is considered fair for the functionality packed in.

Besides the aforementioned central second hand, there is a set of sub-dials comprising a 30-minute counter at three o’clock and a 60-second counter at six o’clock driven by a new-generation twin barrel.

Unlike most other chronographs, the Defy El Primero 21 is equipped with a specialised power reserve indicator for its chronograph functions at 12 o’clock. This is a pleasant addition and one that is conceived due to Zenith’s foresight.

The Defy El Primero 21 has two independent “gear boxes” and each has its own transmission and escapement system. The automatic movement is certified by the COSC, qualifying it to be called a chronometer. It generates 50 hours of power reserve and matched by a 50-minute autonomy for the 1/100th-second chronograph.

Apart from that, the El Primero 21 movement features a patented chronograph-reset control mechanism composed of three heart pieces and an exclusive starter mechanism, ensuring simultaneous resetting of the seconds as well as 10th and 100th of a second.

To fully wind the chronograph barrel will require 25 turns of the crown in a clockwise direction. Turning the crown in an anti-clockwise direction will adjust the time.

The grade 5 titanium shelters one of the best-looking calibres around. The transparent caseback is perfect platform to stage the elegance of its Côtes de Genève motif and its “star” attraction, doubling as a rotor.

Defy El Primero 21 Only Watch Edition                                                                

The Only Watch version soups up the Defy El Primero 21 to fit the theme. Touches of yellow are applied all over the watch. As Only Watch is conceived to benefit the research on muscular dystrophy, the logo of Monegasque Association against Muscular Dystrophy has been engraved on the caseback, below the Only Watch logo.

But the highest bidder will not only receive the watch, as he or she will also be invited for a rare tour of Zenith’s manufacture in Switzerland.

The Only Watch auction is set for Saturday, 11 November 2017, 2.30pm Geneva time. In the meantime, Piaget will be exhibiting the watch in various events worldwide.

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