EL PRIMERO / EL PRIMERO / EL PRIMERO
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HISTORY of the EL PRIMERO from ZENITH.
ZENITH is installed since 1865 in street of Billodes in "Le Locles", where George Favre-Jacot creator of the manufacture decided to install his workshops.
The movement was given the name El Primero, while its code name is 3019 PHC. The caliber is so known under the name "Datron HS 360". The brand required five years of technical study but its gestation was much longer.
In 1962, ZENITH started to write the technical specifications of its new chronograph which was initially thought for the centenary of the brand.
While the competitors of ZENITH tried to create a modular chronograph caliber, the engineers of ZENITH chose an integrated movement including a column wheel and a central rotor assembled on ball bearing.
The result was to lead to a caliber flatter than its competitors and in fact it was necessary to await the end of the Eighties when Frederic Piguet developped his movement 1185 and succeeded in producing a less thick caliber.
The history of El Primero accelerated about 1967 when the rumour swelled of a competitor project led by Breitling, Hamilton-Büren, Heuer and Dubois-Depraz.
Without being able to date it precisely, it is probable that the objective of a functioning caliber with 36, 000 vibrations per hour was not in the initial specifications and that it is under development that the engineers of ZENITH for some, come from other houses which had given up this technology, imported this idea at ZENITH.
Indeed, it circulates several theories. Martell had the technology and knowledge to make chronographs. Zenith absorbed the Martel Watch company and got the knowledge of the watchmakers of this brand. The addition of the experience of ZENITH and Martell watch was certainly important in the development of the new movement.
Zenith's engineers did not have real experience in the technology of the high frequency and thus of 36,000 vibrations.
Several firms had engaged in the tests and research to find the best function between the diameter of caliber and a the highest possible number of vibrations(the high frequency).
For the engineers of several brands in the sixties and during the seventies, the choice of the high frequency induced large diameters of the calibers not very compatible with watches bracelets but more in use for meters of sport.
Many gave up to remain with 28,800 vibrations. Engineers of Movado and of ZENITH were attracted very quickly to this project which in the beginning, imagined that these high frequencies would counterbalance the underestimated competition of quartz.
ZENITH had a number of assets to make a success of this new bet. After having purchased MARTEL Watch C°, ZENITH had reinforced its production equipment and had qualified personnel and especially of brilliant concepts of technologically powerful chronographs, but ZENITH had a handicap: the absence of automation.
The calibers 146 and 156 (14 and 15 lines)were manufactured by MARTEL WATCH and the 136 came from EXCELSIOR PARK.
It was essential for ZENITH to quickly go and to take speed its competitors by proposing the first integrated automatic chronograph caliber.
The brand wanted automatic assembly in its new caliber that it seemed to him to be a condition of survival in front the arrival of technology of the quartz.
With the 36,000 vibrations of El Primero and its integrated design automatically ZENITH thouht held the lead.
The innovations brought by ZENITH with the EL Primero are numerous.
The choice to preserve the use of the column wheel in a self winding movement whereas the majority of the other brands replaced this system.
The column wheel transforms the pressures exerted on the push rods into "mechanical orders" to start the chronographic function, to stop it or carry out the resetting.
Because of the very high frequency of the caliber and exceptional centrifugal forces which result from this, the traditional lubrication of the parts was impossible.
The engineers of ZENITH had to show their talent by developing a special system of dry lubrication ensuring a high stability.
The El Primero was and stays a great technological exploit.
It was still necessary to innovate to give to the caliber more than 50 hours of power reserve in spite of a space available limited for the barrel and 36,000 large vibrations consuming energy.