Today, Thursday September 14th, 2017, Zenith is writing its future and starting a new chapter in the history of the Swiss watch industry. Following the rich horological prowess that gave birth to the Zenith El Primero, the first ever automatic chronograph introduced in 1969 —capable of measuring tenths of a second, the unit of time naturally stemming from a 5 Hz oscillation frequency—, Zenith is now renewing ties with innovation and fundamental research by presenting Defy Lab.
This new watch, is not only equipped with a groundbreaking new oscillator —an invention that challenges nothing less than the operating principle of mechanical watches invented by Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century— but also a case made out of a new aluminum-based material named Aeronith. This new Aeronith material is a hybrid material —not an alloy— that is 2.7 times lighter than titanium, 1.7 times lighter than aluminum, and 10% lighter than carbon fiber and it's an open-pore metal foam, rigidified by a special polymer. The production process for this hybrid material involves cutting-edge technologies and begins with heating aluminum to a melting point. Known for its use in naval applications, Alu 6082 has been chosen for its excellent corrosion resistance.
This innovative watch was developed through achieving effective synergies between the skill sets cultivated by the brands composing the group’s Watch Division, an endeavor overseen by Guy Sémon.
Key Points on the New Oscillator, New Zenith Defy Lab & Calibre ZO 342
Defy Lab is the first and only mechanical watch embodying both an evolution and an improvement of the sprung balance principle presented in January 1675. Since 1675, the principle of the coupled balance and hairspring —sprung balance— that Christiaan Huygens presented to the French Royal Academy of Sciences in the form of a clock has remained unchallenged. While it has definitely been improved and is undoubtedly now optimized to the greatest possible extent, it has nonetheless never called into question as such, instead regarded as both timeless and invariable.
A new oscillator forming a monolithic whole, made of monocrystalline silicon —with details finer than a human hair—, replaces the sprung balance. The 30 or so components of a standard regulating organ —which requires assembly, adjustment, timing, testing and lubrication— are thus replaced by a single element measuring just 0.5 mm thick —compared with the usual 5 mm.
This breathtaking development beats at the incredible frequency of 15 Hertz, with an amplitude of +/- 6 degrees, and is endowed with an almost 60-hour power reserve —more than 10% more than that of the El Primero movement— despite a three times higher frequency. This frequency endows it with an exceptional almost 10 times higher degree of accuracy. Its mean daily rate is precise to within just 0.3 seconds. i.e. One of the criteria for a COSC Chronometer certification is the average daily rate on the first ten days of testing between -4 seconds to +6 seconds, meaning up to 10 seconds per day.
Moreover, it remains accurate far beyond 24 hours of operation —the moment when mechanical watches begin to lose their energy and thus their accuracy. This new oscillator maintains the same degree of precision for 95% of its power reserve. No need for oil. No more contact means no more friction or wear, and thus no need for lubrication. Insensitivity to temperature gradients, gravity and magnetic fields eliminates the key weaknesses of the current balance-and-spring assemblies that are subject to deformation and/or dilatation, thereby leading to diminished precision. Triple certification, including chronometer certification displayed by by the viper’s head emblem awarded by Besançon Observatory, on behalf of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures. With regard to thermal behavior, the spectrum of the ISO-3159 standard has been broadened: variations of around 0.3 seconds per day and per degree Celsius of deviation are certified, which is twice as good as the recommended figure. Finally, the watch meets the ISO-764 magnetic criteria, exceeding them by 18 times —for the completed watch—, meaning it can withstand 88,000 Amperes per meter or 1,100 Gauss. This mechanism opens up whole new vistas and enters a new dimension, representing no less than a reinvention of the Huygens principle with another mechanical system. Additionally, this is the first watch with a case made from Aeronith. By the way, the case measures 44 mm in diameter.
Explaining the new Zenith Oscillator
The material used for the Zenith Oscillator is monocrystalline silicon coated with a layer of silicon oxide. The absence of conventional mechanical couplings in this system eliminates contact, friction, wear, slack, lubrication, assemblies and dispersions. Impressive key characteristics demonstrate the scope of this stunning development: an oscillator consisting of two components made of monocrystalline silicon, an unbelievable 15 Hz frequency with an amplitude of +/- 6 degrees, as well as a 60-hour power reserve, which is 10 percent more than that of the El Primero in spite of tripled frequency.
Moreover, the new Zenith Oscillator takes the form of a single piece without any mechanical linkages, instead of the customary 30 or so parts that require assembly, adjustment, setting, testing and lubrication. With the Defy Lab, Zenith introduces a completely revamped movement called the ZO 342. This calibre measuring 32.8 mm in diameter and 8.13 mm thick reveals its distinctive nature at first glance: the barely 0.5 mm thick Zenith Oscillator appears beneath the dial.
Its functionality has been considerably optimized: the Zenith Oscillator is an all-of-a-piece organ without mechanical linkages that replaces the 30 or so ordinarily assembled, adjusted, regulated and controlled parts. The wheel replacing the escape wheel has a specific design and its cycle does not correspond to the traditional behavior of a Swiss lever escapement. It is made of silicon showing superficial oxidation.
The Zenith Oscillator beats at a frequency of 15 Hz —108,000 vph— frequency, three times higher than that of the historical El Primero movement, while enjoying a 10 percent higher power reserve. There is no sign of jerking and the permanent running seconds hand rotates smoothly around the dial. This simple comparison makes it possible to appreciate the improvement in energy consumption compared to a conventional balance & hairspring system. The amplitude is +/- 6 degrees, as against the more than 300 degrees of a conventional system.
The precision of the Defy Lab “naturally” meets the requirements of the ISO-3159 standard and in fact exceeds them. Never before in watchmaking history and in no chronometry contests has a serially produced mechanical watch ever attained such a degree of precision. Isochronism in serial production amounts to +/- 0.5 seconds from 0 to 48 hours. By way of comparison, the best conventional serial-production systems show a variation in the range of +/- 2 seconds over just 24 hours. Beyond that, precision logically diminishes in accordance with a purely physical phenomenon. The precision of a sprung balance is dependent on its amplitude, which is not the case with the Zenith Oscillator technology.
The Zenith Oscillator is in the process of being certified as non-magnetic and meets high criteria in terms of temperature variations. With regard to the thermal behaviour the LVMH Group Science Institute had to extend the spectrum of the ISO-3159 standard. Variations of around 0.3 seconds per day and per degree Celsius of deviation, which is twice as good as the standard recommends, are certified. This variance is also measured on the thermal spectrum -7°C to +53°C, whereas the standard is limited to +8°C to +38°C.
Already pre-sold to collectors, Defy Lab is introduced in the form of 10 exceptional gift boxes to mark the event. Each of them contains a different watch, a personal invitation to attend the launch press conference, a personal invitation to visit the Manufacture Zenith, for the client to receive his watch, notably including an entirely organized stay and a personalized welcome by Jean-Claude Biver —President of LVMH Watch Division—, Julien Tornare —President of Zenith— and Guy Sémon —General Director of TAG Heuer.
And to round off this set of experiences, an exceptional tasting to celebrate history and heritage, with the world’s most prestigious sweet white wine, Château d’Yquem Sauternes, featuring the opening of a 19th century bottle. Wow! Really a lot of watch and priceless experience for the money.
Sticker Price CHF29,900 Swiss Francs —approximately $32,000 USD. For more info on Zenith click here.