Zenith introduced the world to its groundbreaking El Primero chronograph in the pivotal year of 1969. That same year, British automaker Land Rover revolutionized its own industry with the launch of the prototype for the world’s first luxury off-road, four-wheel-drive vehicle, the Range Rover, which went on the market the following year. This year, the two brands unite for a long-term partnership, kicking off the era with the launch of a special timepiece, the Zenith El Primero Range Rover Special Edition.
While the partnership is new, the Swiss watch manufacture and British luxury car marque have crossed paths before. English explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell wore a Zenith El Primero chronograph watch during his famous crossing of the Darien Gap — a hazardous swath of undeveloped swampland and forest forming a break in the Pan-American highway on the Colombia-Panama border — at the wheel of an early Range Rover. The watch, according to Land Rover Chief Design Officer Gerry McGovern, is a tribute to the vehicle’s no-nonsense, all-terrain look. “We looked at the reductive nature of a modern Range Rover interior and the Zenith team translated that into the dial of the watch, keeping it simple and unfussy,” says McGovern, adding, “The matte finish simultaneously suggests understatement, sophistication, and durability.”
The watch has a 42-mm case made of matte black ceramized aluminum, a nod to the aluminum chassis of the modern Range Rover. The sober, brushed gray dial, beneath the slightly domed sapphire crystal, features the El Primero’s familiar tricompax layout, with subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock; central chronograph hand; date window at 6 o’clock; and tachymeter scale surrounding the dial. The faceted, rhodiumed hour and minute hands and hour markers are coated with Super-LumiNova. The inscription “Zenith Range Rover” appears on the dial below the 12 o’clock marker and Zenith brand’s five-pointed star emblem.
The use of ceramics and aluminum in the case speaks to a trend toward light-but-sturdy construction in the watch world as well as in other industries, one that Jean-Claude Biver, president of Zenith parent LVMH Watch Division, expects will continue to grow. “Super-light is a general concept that’s being applied not only to cars, ships and boats but also even to phones,” he tells WatchTime. “I think we are all working toward reduction of weight and there are not many ways to accomplish that except to work with such materials. I think that [this watch’s use of] ceramics and aluminum is the right solution, because aluminum gives you the light weight and the ceramic makes the aluminum hard and scratch-proof.”
The movement, visible through the clear sapphire caseback, is Zenith’s automatic El Primero 400B, a descendant of that first El Primero caliber from 1969. Consisting of 326 parts, it boasts a power reserve of 50 hours, an integrated column-wheel controlled chronograph function, and a speedy balance frequency of 36,600 vph (5 Hz) — which in turn ensures that the chronograph can time events to an ultra-precise 1/10 of a second. Two blackened, round-headed pushers, on either side of the ratcheted winding crown, start, stop and reset the chronograph. Both the Zenith El Primero and Range Rover logos appear as engravings on the large winding rotor.
The Zenith El primero Range Rover Special Edition comes on a rubber strap with either an ivory- or dark blue-colored, perforated outer layer made of the same high-quality calfskin leather used in Range Rover interiors. The triple folding clasp is in black DLC-treated titanium. The price is $7,700. And while the watch is a “Special Edition,” Biver says that it is not a limited run. Further, Biver says to expect more from the Zenith-Land Rover partnership in the near future, including co-sponsorships of events and possibly even additional watch collaborations with series other than Range Rover, such as Land Rover’s Defender and Discovery. “The partnership will have many aspects,” Biver says. “The first aspect is the visible part, which is the watch. I believe there are many other possibilities that can be developed, including with other Land Rover brands.”