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30 into 1 WILL Go: The New Zenith Defy Lab

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zenith-new-oscillator.jpg

(pic from deployant.com)

 

"When I said four years ago it was possible to regulate a mechanical watch by replacing 30 components with one, watchmakers here said 'he is totally crazy, it's just totally impossible.'" (Guy Semon (acute on 'e') speaking in an interview earlier this year)

 

I feel a sense of responsibility in writing this topic because the claims made for the Zenith Defy Lab wristwatch watch, especially its movement, are that it is revolutionary and the most accurate mechanical watch ever made. I am always nervous when I read such claims and tend to err on the dubious side. So let us look at this new Zenith timepiece, launched only very recently, in some detail, concentrating initially on its movement, the new Caliber ZO 342.

The genesis and birth of the Zenith Defy Lab would not have been possible without three key figures in the watch industry. Firstly, the powerful figure of Jean-Claude Biver, president of the LVMH Watch Division, and Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith. And then, perhaps most importantly, Guy Semon (acute on 'e'), physicist, engineer and former French naval jet pilot. Biver was responsible for bringing new thinking to LVMH watchmaking, and fostering new talent, while Semon - who is actually not a watchmaker - project managed the development of the Defy Lab and brought his engineering skills to bear as well - he had already been an essential figure in devising the most advanced watches TAG Heuer has ever produced.

 

 

The new Zenith Defy Lab wristwatch as launched this year (pic from deployant.com):

zenith-elprimero-defy-lab-oblique-1.jpg

 

 

 

The main claim for Zenith's new movement, the caliber ZO 342, is that it has overturned the existing operating principle of watch regulation - a principle that has gone largely unchallenged since the second half of the 17th century.  Essentially, a clock or a watch needs a power source (a coiled spring or a weight) and energy from this source is released in discreet bursts by the regulating organ comprising an escapement and an oscillator.  The escapement provides impulses to the oscillator which in turn regulates the bursts and allows the gear train to advance (or escape) a set amount.

The contribution of Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist (apart from a more accurate pendulum clock based on Galileo's law) was to invent the balance spring in 1675. Huygens' spring was a coiled hairspring that rotated back and forth at a constant frequency, so controlling the speed/rate of the clock's gears.This invention was crucial for future watchmaking because it permitted two features that were to be essential for the development of watches. Firstly, it allowed for smaller watch movements, as miniaturization progressed, and secondly, it allowed a watch to be a mobile accessory rather than a static clock. A pendulum clock could be made fairly accurately at this time, but the functioning of a pendulum oscillator is disturbed by sudden movement, as opposed to the more stable balance spring. Huygens' sprung balance was to remain the basis of timekeeping in watches for the next 340 years or so.

 

 

The defy Lab wristwatch showing the side of the case and crown (pic from blogs-images.forbes.com):

ZENITH-Defy-Lab-B-Profil-1.jpg?width=960

 

 

 

Obviously considerable improvements were, and still are, constantly being made to the accuracy and reliability of watch movements, but it would seem that until the new Zenith ZO 342 watch movement, mechanical watches have generally not strayed very far from the Huygens' sprung balance system of regulation.

The start date for the Zenith ZO 342 was 2013 when Jean-Claude Biver gave the go-ahead to Guy Semon and his LVMH Watch Division R & D team to embark on a revolutionary idea whose realisation was made possible by the use of multi-disciplinary expertise that took the project well-beyond traditional watchmaking. Indeed, the team started by examining the field of quantum optics and, in particular, the area of engineering called "compliant mechanisms."

Compliant mechanisms (ie with no joints/joins)  are flexible mechanisms that transfer an input force or displacement to another point by means of elastic body deformation. Guy Semon and his team applied this technology to devise a incredibly clever single or "monolithic" component that at one fell swoop replaced the 30 or so parts of a standard regulator. In replacing the various elements of a normal sprung balance escapement - balance wheel, hair spring and anchor  -  with a single component, immediate advantages were apparent. Firstly, with no mechanical connections or joints, friction and wear were virtually eliminated, and lubrication was unnecessary.

 

 

The Zenith caliber ZO 342 automatic movement (pic from cloudfront.net):

Zenith-Defy-Lab-revolutionary-oscillator

 

 

 

The new components is essentially a circular disc etched from a 0.5mm thin sheet of monocrystalline silicon coated with a layer of silicon oxide. In fact this wheel-like silicon oscillator is almost as wide as the caliber, and oscillates about its centre using three arms, each comprising a beam and a mass. Incorporated into the structure are the regulator, allowing adjustment of the rate through changing the tension of the flexible structure by +/-400 seconds per day, and the anchor. Two eccentric screws allow adjustment of the oscillator as positioned against the escape wheel.  I have already noted the advantages of lack of friction, wear and need for lubrication. Other advantages are that the oscillator is virtually  immune to temperature changes, gravity and magnetic fields, and it will withstand shocks up to 1500G.

 

 

The incredible new oscillator from the Zenith caliber ZO 342 movement (pics from static.watchtime.com and watchadviser.com):

Zenith_Defy_Lab_Oscillator.jpg

Zenith%20Oscillator.png

 

 

The new Oscillator for the ZO 342 caliber combines high frequency (15Hz or 108,000 vph) with low amplitude (+/- 6 degrees versus about 300 degrees for a standard balance wheel). In spite of the high frequency, the power reserve is actually 60 hours - 10% more than the El Primero - no doubt benefitting from the comparatively low power consumption. Accuracy over 70 hours of power reserve has been measured by Semon at just one second, which is unparalleled in mechanical watches. The second hand of the movement runs very smoothly and Zenith claim a daily rate of accuracy for the movement of 0.3 seconds. This is above the accuracy required for COSC chronometer  certification. The isochronism of the oscillator is also extremely precise, with a record precision of +/- 0.5 seconds per day over 48 hours.

Leaving aside the oscillator and the small silicon escape wheel, the components of the ZO 342 movement are surprisingly conventional, and some are taken from an existing Zenith caliber. This has advantages when it comes to commercial production and will no doubt encourage LVMH to produce various watches/calibers containing the new oscillator and ultimately reduce the production costs of the new oscillator so that somewhat less expensive watches can benefit from its advantages. Apparently, it is Jean-Claude Biver's ambition to industrialise production of the new oscillator and permit other companies to use it as well as those in the LVMH group. In the case of the first (Zenith) model to contain the ZO 324 movement, the Defy Lab, Zenith has produced a very limited run of ten pieces -  each unique and all of them already sold, for just under £24,200 each . Interestingly, the Defy Lab has not utilized the relative slimness of the ZO 342 caliber and the watch is therefore substantial in thickness; no doubt there will be future models powered by this movement that encompass a thinner case.

 

 

The ten pieces making up the initial limited edition of the Zenith Defy Lab(pic from 4.bp.blogspot.com):

Zenith-Defy-Lab-10-pieces.jpg

 

 

 

Much has been said here about the ZO 324 movement here, but before coming to some sort of conclusion about the new caliber, the other major innovation in the Defy Lab needs to be mentioned. This is the new case material, Aeronith, which is a porous aluminium, something like a foam or sponge, that has then been filled in the spaces with polymethyl methacrylate, otherwise known as Plexiglas. Aeronith was originally developed at Hublot, also part of the LVMH Group; it is 2.7 times lighter than titanium and 1.7 times lighter than solid aluminium - lighter even than carbon fibre. I think that this case material is an acquired taste and will put as many people off as attract them if taken on aesthetic merits only.

 

 

Rear view of the Defy Lab showing the star back of the movement under the display glass and also giving a cloe look at the Aeroniith case material (pic from ablogtowatch.com):

Zenith-Defy-Lab-aBlogtoWatch-13.jpg

 

 

 

The Defy Lab is clearly something of a research vehicle at the moment, with the first ten watches produced being best regarded as prototypes. The caliber number, 342, is taken from the number of years back from 2017 that Huygens first invented the spring balance wheel, and I suppose that is fitting since Zenith can claim that the Defy Lab is the first commercially available watch to contain a genuine alternative to Huygens' balance wheel and hairspring combination. There have been other alternatives proposed and experimented with, and these include De Bethune's Resonique system using a high frequency magnetic oscillator and the Senfine escapement being developed by Parmigiani Fleurier. Credit must also be given to Omega's Coaxial escapement, which is unique as being a genuine development in escapement technology that made it into serial production.

I think I will leave the last word to the writer of the in-depth look at the Defy Lab on Monochrome Watches (14/9/17) because I am not sure if I myself am qualified to really assess just how important the watch, and more especially its caliber, really is in terms of the history of watches and chronometry. I quote here:

 

"The Zenith oscillator is, without doubt, an astonishing development. We are dealing here with the very essence of watchmaking and chronometry. Its design is all the more impressive in that it is almost 'simple' in its concept, and the movement is traditional with no fuss or extra-sophistications. The escapement is 'simple'. The oscillator principle is exceptional - its concept and design are pure genius and require thorough expertise and cutting edge technology."

 

 

Wrist shot of the new Defy Lab (pic from 1.bp.blogspot.com):

Zenith-Defy-Lab-ws2.jpg

 

 

 

Before signing off on this topic, I will just provide the technical specifications of the new Zenith Defy Lab as found on the initial edition of ten unique (colourway) pieces:

Case: 44mmX14.5mm Aeronith (aluminium foam composite material) case with sapphire crystal and 50 metres WR.

Movement: Caliber ZO 342 18 jewel automatic with 60 hour power reserve and vibrating at 108.000 vph. Hours, minutes and seconds and with 148 components.

Strap: Rubber/alligator leather strap with titanium double folding buckle.

Chronometer certification with the Besancon (cedilla under 'c') Observatory.

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Thanks for taking the time to do this, once again a fine read. What a movement let down by sheer ugliness of a dial. Imo

Thanks 

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It will be interesting to see how long it will be before watches with this movement become commonplace and what they will cost. Also how the future of other technologies are affected. Maybe the answer to the first question is the most important for the answer to the second.

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17 hours ago, fredwastell said:

It will be interesting to see how long it will be before watches with this movement become commonplace and what they will cost. Also how the future of other technologies are affected. Maybe the answer to the first question is the most important for the answer to the second.

The materials don't seem too extravagant and if it replaces 30 components it should be cheaper to manufacture and assemble. I imagine the patent and exclusivity will be where the cost comes from?

21 hours ago, richy176 said:

Another great post Honour - be good to see one with a more conventional dial though.

Car prototypes always look bonkers and don't reflect what the road version will look like. I imagine this is a similar scenario.

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59 minutes ago, Seikotherapy said:

Car prototypes always look bonkers and don't reflect what the road version will look like. I imagine this is a similar scenario.

This one looks to be like some of the Zenith Defy Xtreme models.

I was tempted by one in the local Tag outlet store a few years back reduced from the rrp of £15k to about £6k. Tried it on a realised how difficult it was to tell the time so left it. :biggrin:

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Thanks for your write up Honor - - as usual, a great read!

As for the watch - hmmm! who was the wa  plonker who decided about :crazy5vh: grey on dark grey on black in a faux granite kitchen worktop grey case?

:whistle:

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22 hours ago, mel said:

Thanks for your write up Honor - - as usual, a great read!

As for the watch - hmmm! who was the wa  plonker who decided about :crazy5vh: grey on dark grey on black in a faux granite kitchen worktop grey case?

:whistle:

Their chief designer is Angus McDuffer :clap:

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