ZENITH – THE MANUFACTURE
Historical architecture meets the avant-garde as Zenith renovates its Manufacture
Still firmly located in the very spot where it was born in 1865, the Manufacture Zenith has just witnessed the successful completion of the renovation work conducted on its central building uniting the various professions involved in watch production. Ever since its founding almost 150 years ago, the brand with the guiding star has established itself as a pioneer in high-precision timing and a key operator in the development of the industrial architecture of Le Locle, which has meanwhile been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Zenith has thus committed to major work designed to incorporate its cutting-edge industrial facility by ensuring seamless integration of the 80 different professions exercised within its workshops and governed remaining fiercely determined to preserve the historical character of its architectural heritage.
An historical building equipped with cutting-edge technologies
The work on the central building of the Manufacture, which began in August 2011, has just been completed. Erected as three-storey premises in 1905, the building now more than ever embodies the very essence of the Manufacture Zenith, marrying the authenticity of a unique tradition and the boldness of state-of-the-art technologies. The façade has kept its iconic red bricks dating back to the early 20th century, while light continues to reign supreme. The vintage 400 multi-paned picture windows have been entirely restored and now combine triple glazing with their carefully preserved historical character. The name Zenith and the three initials of its founder Georges Favre-Jacot are spelled out between these giant windows. While the metal framework, another symbol of the start of the industrial era, has been preserved, the most modern and environment-friendly construction standards such as thermal insulation or air conditioning and humidity control have been implemented. The interior design has been entirely revamped in order to enhance the logistical flow between the various production workshops accommodated within the building and dedicated to machining, stamping, decoration, testing, assembly, adjustment, casing up and Haute Horlogerie.
Distinctive feature: a pioneer in watchmaking, as well as in the marketing and industrial architecture of the sector
For almost a century and a half, the history of Zenith has been written in terms of innovation, characterised by audacity and a tireless determination to explore new paths. By uniting all the watchmaking professions under a single roof in 1865, the company founder Georges Favre-Jacot invented the very concept of a Manufacture. The latter term denotes a breadth of competency that remains rare to this day, since only a handful of watchmaking Houses can, like Zenith, claim to master all stages involved in producing their movements and their timepieces. However, this innovative genius did not stop there. While the concepts of flagship stores, branding and corporate identity are all regarded as recent innovations, Zenith asserted itself in this field right from its early days.
It all truly began in 1918, when Georges Favre-Jacot renamed the company that had thus far borne his name “Zenith”. The founder worked closely at the time with the star architect of the era, Alphonse Laverrière. Their cooperation was closely linked to an international movement called the “Werkbund”, a sort of union between art and industry whose aim was to infuse industrial products with an aesthetic and even artistic dimension. The watchmaker and the architect were driven by a common vision: to ensure that all visual aspects of a company including its production must have a single aim – namely to be in harmonious, complementary rapport with the product range. They both rapidly established themselves as the spearheads of this reform in the visual arts within French-speaking Switzerland. Under the impetus of Alphonse Laverrière, Zenith developed, conceived and produced all the decorative elements of its stores. While hundreds of projects for clocks, table clocks and wristwatches were emerging, layouts for presenting the collections were developed, packaging paper was designed, along with presentation boxes and other display stands representing the watch industry’s first point-of-sale advertising. In parallel, the architects guided by Alphonse Laverrière designed store fronts and shop furniture. They also set up the factories in Le Locle, thereby contributing to the development of industrial architecture in this historical watchmaking cradle that is now a listed UNESCO world heritage site. Portraying its Manufacture and its products as a complete work of art, Zenith paved the way for a new era that would in fact only fully unfold decades later within the watch industry: that of brand image.
Renovation continues in the ongoing pursuit of new watchmaking challenges
Over 300 patents and 600 movement variations punctuate Zenith’s rich horological heritage, rewarded to date by 2,333 prizes in the field of chronometry, or precision timing. Loyal to its firmly entrenched values of authenticity and audacity, the Manufacture unceasingly dreams up watches with original complications, consistently combining fine traditions with the spirit of innovation. A spirit that shines through not only in its creations which embody authentic horological delights, but also in their mode of production. In the late 19th century, Georges Favre-Jacot had already developed the concepts of automation and interchangeable components as a means of supporting hand-crafted finishing and decoration – thereby heralding the advent of modern artisanal industry. Perpetuating the proud legacy of its founder, the Manufacture continues to hone its production techniques, equipment and facilities. The newly completed renovation of its central building represents the first stage in a huge overall project aiming to optimise production processes and logistical organisation. By 2015, the year of Zenith’s 150th anniversary, the 18 other buildings composing the Manufacture will also be fully renovated. Rather than taking the easy route by tearing down and rebuilding the various edifices on this complex site, Zenith has chosen to preserve the historical architecture which has contributed to writing the finest chapters in its legend, and thereby also leaving an indelible imprint on that of the town of Le Locle. An exemplary means of perpetuating 150 years of a heritage merging tradition with the avant-garde!
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. All Zenith watches are now fitted with an in-house Zenith movement and are developed and produced from start to finish by the Manufacture in Le Locle. The latter currently stands at the exact spot where its founder built the first company workshop – thus physically embodying a continuity that is a rarity in itself.