Saving "El Primero"

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Saving "El Primero"

Post by mrneddles » Tue Oct 02, 2012 6:17 am

From Zenith's FB page:


The action is set in 1975. The El Primero chronograph is six years o
ld. It might well have adopted the famous verse by French poet Alfred de Musset “I was born too late in a world too old”, because the quartz invention that had occurred a few years previously was in the process of shaking mechanical watchmaking to its very foundations. The two sworn enemies shared the same quest for precision, but were otherwise diametrically opposed. Within just a few years, quartz had won what looked to be a decisive first round of the conflict, and the whole world seemed convinced that it was an unmistakable token of modernity. Our watch industry was engulfed in a terrible crisis, which was of course financial, but ran far deeper still by tearing at the philosophical fabric of horology. We were accused of belonging to another Time. We, the very people who have been constantly measuring it for centuries!

Right from their first mechanisms, our watchmakers pursued a single goal: that of precision. On this particular playing field, beautiful mechanical horology had been soundly beaten. Charles Vermot, known to many simply as Charly, was about to celebrate 40 years of service the following year, but it was a sad anniversary in terms of prospects. Did the Swiss watch have any future? In 1975, few would even have wagered on 1976. His life was as meticulously regulated as the calibres he made: the 06.45 bus dropped him off every morning in Le Locle, where, as a specialist in the construction of chronograph movements, he was in charge of production for workshop 4 within the Manufacture. What a natural source of pride for a man who owed everything to his passion, his strength of character… and to evening classes! But what was the point of it all by then?

The order had just come in, straight from the United States headquarters of the Zenith Radio Corporation that owned the Manufacture between 1971 and 1978. All production of mechanical watches was to cease immediately, and the machines and tools were simply to be scrapped. That spelt an end to around ten years of research, development and marketing. The decision was final and Charles Vermot’s efforts to put across his point of view were in vain. Would it not be possible to at least keep the plans and the swages for later? Who could tell? Maybe man would regain the upper hand over the electric battery?

Charles Vermot duly wrote to the American management in these terms: “Without being against progress, I note that the way the world works in¬volves repeated regressions. You are wrong to believe in completely ceasing production mechanical automatic chronographs, and I am convinced that one day your company will be able to benefit from the cyclical nature of fashion trends such as the world has regularly witnessed”. Across the big pond, people made fun of this man rooted in his region and who was seen as merely being sentimental. Just as other companies were doing, the firm conviction was that space had to be made for quartz, which involved selling the swages and tooling of this fine mechanism at the price of molten metal. That Thursday evening, during practice time for the choir he headed, Charles Vermot could not put his heart into traditional Swiss songs. They seemed like just a bunch of outdated folklore. The only music ringing in his head was the steady sound of the seconds hand on a quartz watch. A terrible irony for a man who had spent all his life to the beating of the balance. It was a question of pit-a-pat versus tick-tock. And to think that some dared to call this progress… To hell with all these “gravediggers of the mechanical watch”, as he would later refer to them in a speech given at the Nuit des Cadrans d’Or in 1995.

The El Primero chronograph simply must be saved. He had followed its development right from the start, spent his entire career serving the Manufacture, and now refused to see ten years of his life tossed on a scrap-heap. Nonetheless, Charles Vermot did not see himself as a hero when he decided to hide the tooling away safely. It took him several evenings to relocate not only the swages – 150 of these press tools weighing five to ten kilos each – but also the cams and the cutting tools. Even though some of this colleagues were aware of what he was doing, he decided to act alone within the Manufacture so as not to compromise anyone else in what he himself regarded as professional misconduct. He nonetheless asked his brother for a bit of help. Each part and each tool was labelled and listed, and the production process was meticulously copied out in a file that he also hid in the same attic, in a wooden crate just a few metres from the place where the chronograph movement had been produced for the previous six years. He then took off his grey watchmaker’s overalls, slipped his coat over his open shirt, donned his cap and took the bus home. “I’ve got a lot of work at the moment” was his only comment when he returned home later than usual.
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Re: Saving "El Primero"

Post by eddiea » Tue Oct 02, 2012 2:44 pm

Proof that sometimes relocating , is more than justified......
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Jack Kerouac
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