The Elite Classic might not initially be the most exciting timepiece in the Zenith collection. As a seemingly simple three-hander with a date complication, it faces heavy competition for attention from its siblings. As always, it is the silent types that you have to look out for, as the Elite Classic is a horological delicacy in disguise.
While it may sound a bit smug to call your collection ‘Elite,’ this Zenith has no problem living up to just that. The core of this is its movement. The current generation of the Elite movement can be traced back to the early 1990s when Zenith was looking into developing a sturdy and reliable automatic caliber for the modern era. Under the guidance of then-technical director Jean-Pierre Gerber, this ambitious project embarked. This ambition was focused not only on creating a movement that was sturdy and reliable but also pleasantly slim so that complications could be added later on. Torque was, therefore, also an essential factor, as was power reserve. Gerber was assisted in this task by Carole Forestier, who would later on head movement development for Cartier and is now part of TAG Heuer, working for the consulting company Conseilray at the time. Gerber and his team succeeded in their ambitious task in a most marvelous way. So well that with some updates over the years, the Elite caliber is still a modern, high performer. This is also underscored that other brands used it in their own watches, like Daniel Roth and Hublot.
The current version of this movement, as found in the Elite Classic, features a silicon escape wheel and pallet lever as one of the improvements. It offers a power reserve of 50 hours and runs at 28,800 VpH/4Hz. While Zenith is known for the El Primero, which runs at 5Hz in its original form, it is also primarily a chronograph caliber. As a higher frequency allows for a more precise measurement of elapsed time, it offers benefits that would only marginally improve a time-only watch such as the Elite Classic.
With a diameter of 40.5mm, this Zenith is a nice balance between vintage style and contemporary appeal. The shape of the case is rather traditional, but that also sets the stage for a stunning dial with a blue sunray pattern. Bold hour markers with a pad-printed railroad track in between ensure not only legibility but also further improve the style of the watch. That railroad track also softens my response to a traditional date window with a white background beneath a different colored dial. Here, it gives an almost sportive element, and like a splash of cucumber in a cold glass of water, it is a refreshing element. An alligator leather strap is the the traditional finishing touch of what might not be the most eye-catching offering from Zenith at first, but is, in hindsight, a desirable watch with pedigree. The Zenith Elite Classic in stainless steel is priced at $6,000.
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