Founded in Le Locle in 1865 by a visionary watchmaker, Georges Favre-Jacot, the Manufacture Zenith earned swift recognition for the precision of its chronometers with which it has won 2,333 chronometry prizes in a century and a half of existence: an absolute record in terms of pocket watches, onboard timers and wristwatches.
Having earned fame thanks to its legendary El Primero calibre – an integrated automatic column-wheel chronograph movement launched in 1969 and endowed with a high frequency of 36,000 vibrations per hour that ensures short-time measurements accurate to the nearest 1/10th of a second– the Manufacture Zenith has since developed over 600 movement variations. This Manufacture currently stands at the exact spot where its founder built the first company workshop, there by physically embodying a continuity that is a rarity in itself.
From the 1870s onwards, Georges Favre-Jacot played a pioneering role by developing his company on an international scale, as this pocket watch dating from approximately 1890 testifies. It bears his signature and was made for the Russian market, as is apparent from the Cyrillic characters appearing on the white enamelled dial– ГЕОРГЪФАВРЪЖАКO – Локлъ (Georges Favre-Jacot – Locle) – and engraved on the domed cover – Hусскiечасы – Анкеръ 15 Камней – ГЕОРГЪФАВРЪЖАКО – Локлъ – Верныйходъ (Russian watch – 15-jewel lever – Georges Favre-Jacot – Locle – Precise movement).
Moreover, the three movement bridges form the initials GFJ. Much in vogue during the late 19th century, this type of movement is nonetheless very rare and thus extremely hard to find these days. It is worth noting that the founder of the Manufacture made another innovative move in deciding to have his name registered as a trademark.
It all began in LeLocle, a small village in the Neuchâtel Mountains of Switzerland, with an exceptional young man. His name was Georges Favre. At the age of 9, he left school and began learning the watchmaking trade. At the age of 13, he was ready to set up on his own. Seven years later, while still a minor, he married Louisine-Philippine Jacot-Descombes and took the name Favre-Jacot. A larger-than-life character driven by a fiercely independent spirit, this future captain of industry was also a visionary.
He did far more than just set up his own factory. In an age when movement parts were made by conscientious yet scattered and isolated farmers who turned watchmakers in winter, the future boss invented a milestone concept. It involved regrouping under the roof of his factory all the skills and talents required for the complete production of a watch. Today, we would call this vertical integration. In 1865, it was a revolution in the manner of exercising the watchmaking art in the region. Georges Favre-Jacot was only 22 years old at the time.
Georges Favre-Jacot was to prove himself an innovator in all areas of his company and fought hard to ensure he was constantly able to count on a state-of-the-art industrial facility.
This was already apparent in the architecture of the premises. The spacious and light-filled workshops featured large windows and these buildings were the first in the town to be equipped with electric lighting. They were linked by passages enabling people to walk from one workshop to another while remaining sheltered from the elements. Meeting all requirements and having everything in the same place: Georges Favre-Jacot’s vision of efficiency.
This avant-garde approach also governed the entire production chain. The concept enabled the entrepreneur in LeLocle to play a trailblazing role in the watch industry, by integrating a foundry, rolling-mills, stamping, case and dial-making within his Manufacture. A few years later, Henry Ford was to instate a similar concept in his Detroit factory. In parallel, Georges Favre-Jacot put in place a system that nobody had thought of before: interchangeable components, whatever the movement.
Finally, it also determined the entire work organisation. Georges Favre-Jacot had the idea of varying the tasks accomplished by the artisans in order to avoid monotony. He had them fix their stools on rails, much like today’s office chairs, thus enabling them to move from one workstation to the next without getting up and to maintain the same position in relation to the workbench. Moreover, Georges Favre-Jacot was doubtless the first in the watch industry to implement automated production.
This tireless innovator also instilled into his burgeoning company and his personnel a resolutely enterprising spirit that was to become a Zenith tradition.
The town of Le Locle, as well as being Zenith’s birthplace, is also acknowledged as the worldwide cradle of watchmaking. It is thus no coincidence that in 2009, along with neighbouring La Chaux-de-Fonds, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its industrial watchmaking architecture and town planning. Zenith naturally contributes to this status, having housed for 150 years and in the very same spot one of watchmaking history’s first industrial Manufactures in the modern sense of the term.
At the start of the 20th century, Zenith became one of the first manufacturers to participate in the boom of the new trend that soon appeared on men’s wrists everywhere: the wristwatch. Among the first timepieces of this type produced by the Manufacture, this extremely rare model is fitted with a dial also bearing the signature of Georges Favre-Jacot.
While its construction is very similar to that of a pocket watch, notably with its large-sized winding crown, this watch is nonetheless driven by a Zenith movement featuring a modern architecture. This model dating from 1911 features a white enamel dial with small seconds at 6 o’clock. The Arabic hour numerals are black from 1 to 11 and red at 12. This visual marker, drawing the gaze and enabling instant reading, was a direct heir to the highly readable dials of pocket watches.
Since its establishment in 1865, Zenith became the first watch manufacture in the modern sense of the term, and its watches have accompanied extraordinary figures that dreamt big and strived to achieve the impossible – from Louis Blériot’s history-making flight across the English Channel to Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting stratospheric free-fall jump.
With innovation as its guiding star, Zenith features exceptional in-house developed and manufactured movements in all its watches. From the first automatic chronograph, the El Primero, to the fastest chronograph with a 1/100th of a second precision, the El Primero 21, as well as the Inventor that reinvents the regulating organ by replacing the 30+ components with a single monolithic element, the manufacture is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Zenith has been shaping the future of Swiss watchmaking since 1865, accompanying those who dare to challenge themselves and break barriers.