This New Zenith Watch Packs 15th-Century Technology Into 21st-Century Design

The Defy El Primero Fusee Tourbillon takes a 500-year-old mechanism and skeletonise it in a carbon case.

By Victoria Gomelsky 27/08/2019

When it was first used by the earliest watchmakers, the fusee and chain mechanism was the height of 15th-century technology. A miniature chain coiled around a conical fusee, the feature allows a timepiece to overcome the inevitable decrease in torque that results from the gradual unwinding of the mainspring.

Much like the printing press, firearms and the nautical compass, all of which were invented around the same time, the fusee and chain is not only still used, but celebrated. Exhibit A: The new Defy El Primero Fusee Tourbillon from Zenith.

The Swiss watchmaker has taken the 500-year-old constant force mechanism—the chain alone consists of 575 hand-assembled parts in a blued finish—and placed it in a contemporary, skeletonized case. The timepiece also features a blued tourbillon cage, another centuries-old mechanism that once made a real impact on a watch’s precision and accuracy and now serves as an elegant throwback to a time when a man’s pocket watch rested in his trousers.

“Combining the fusee and chain system with a tourbillon, we are putting precision at the forefront of this timepiece’s design,” says CEO Julien Tornare. “Zenith brings this 15th-century technology to the modern era by utilizing it in the newest Defy model furthering the brand’s status as the future of watchmaking since 1865.”

The combination of traditional timekeeping and avant-garde aesthetics is made all the more dazzling by the materials Zenith chose for the model’s two limited editions: The first one, limited to 50 pieces and priced at US$80,900 (around $110,000), comes in a high-tech 44mm carbon case with a carbon crown and buckle head. Its open dial is threaded with carbon fibre. The second, limited to just 10 pieces and priced at US$103,500 (around $150,000), is encased in platinum.


Zenith Fusée Tourbillon Platinum
Courtesy of Zenith

Both models feature stylish finishing that emphasizes their 21st-century pedigree, including a spoke design that combines a black satin-finished surface with polished sides in a lighter grey rhodium tone.

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