Zenith Introduces the El Primero A386 “One-Off” in Platinum

To be sold for charity at Phillips.

With this year being the 50th anniversary of its defining movement, Zenith has unveiled several limited editions to mark the occasion, including a three-piece set and a remake of the El Primero A386 in 18k gold. Now the ultimate anniversary watch has just been announced: the one-of-a-kind El Primero A386 in platinum with a lapis lazuli dial, and a 50-year warranty.

This one-off watch – it’s marked as such on the case back – was designed in collaboration with Phillips, the auctioneer led by Livia Russo and Aurel Bacs. And the watch will be sold by Phillips in November, with all proceeds going to a Swiss charity that helps children with cancer.

zenith el primero a386 platinum phillips gwa x 5

It’s the first ever El Primero in platinum, and also the first with a lapis lazuli dial. Commenting in the announcement, Zenith chief executive Julien Tornare states unequivocally: “This will be the first and sole El Primero in platinum.”

zenith el primero a386 platinum phillips gwa x 1

zenith el primero a386 platinum phillips gwa x 2

Materials aside, the rest of the watch is identical to the standard A386 remake. The case is 38mm, fitted with sapphire crystals front and back, while the movement is the El Primero 400.

zenith el primero a386 platinum phillips gwa x 4

Key facts

Diameter: 38mm
Material: Platinum
Water resistance: 50m
Dial: Lapis lazuli

Movement: El Primero 400
Functions: Time, chronograph, date
Frequency: 36,000bph, or 5Hz
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 50 hours

Strap: Blue calfskin

Price and availability

The Zenith El Primero A386 in platinum will be sold at the Geneva Watch Auction: X that takes place on November 9-10, 2019. It has no reserve, and no estimate, which means the auctioneer will open with the first bid received.

Proceeds from the sale will go to Zoe4Life, a Swiss charity that supports children stricken with cancer. For more, visit Phillips.com.


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Interview: Patek Philippe Museum Curator Dr Peter Friess on Restoration

Originality, presentation, and the middle road.

The epic Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019 was massive not just in scale and numbers, but also in the Patek Philippe executives who travelled halfway across the world from Geneva to Singapore just for the event. All of the company’s top management is the town for the event, including president Thierry Stern, chief executive Claude Peny, and commercial director Jerome Pernici. But perhaps the most interesting personality for a hardcore watch geek is Dr Peter Friess, curator of the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

A studied man who’s spent his life in museums and cultural institutions, Dr Friess is an art historian by training but also a true horologist. He’s the sort of guy who gets deeply excited over the “new old stock” 369-year old Cremsdorff pocket watch the museum recently acquired, and is familiar with the catgut used in 16th century chain and fusee mechanisms.

peter friess patek philippe museum 1

Dr Peter Friess at the Singapore exhibition, with a portrait of Antoine Norbert de Patek behind him

first patek philippe wristwatch 1868

The first ever Patek Philippe wristwatch; importantly, it was not conceived as a bangle with a pendant watch movement bolted on, instead it is a timepiece for the wrist

Unsurprisingly, the German native is also a professional watch- and clockmaker. Dr Friess joined the Patek Philippe Musuem as Director and Curator exactly seven years ago. Before that, he was President of the Tech Museum of Innovation in California, as well as a curator at the Smithsonian where he put together a travelling exhibition on the Nobel Prize, and a consultant to the J. Paul Getty Museum.

I got a few minutes with him during the exhibition, and managed a fascinating discussion on vintage watches and restoration. Read it below.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

What part did you play in putting together this huge exhibition?

I’m part of the big family of Patek Philippe and I have the privilege to run the museum in Geneva, so I am also part of selecting the pieces for a show like this. Whenever we do a show for a different area or different culture, we try to evaluate what people are most interested in. [Southeast Asia] is a region that appreciates craftsmanship and artisans, so we have brought even more artisans here from our company than ever before.

After we knew what people like to see, we went through our collection, and hand-picked the best of the best, and we tried to make it very local in certain aspects. We have in a special room for Singapore with some enamel Dome Clocks, which were made for the region. We also have a very nice pocket watch, which was made in the 19th century for [King Rama V of Siam].

There are also pieces that are part of the history of the company, which we bring anywhere we go. So we have the milestone pieces like the first ever wristwatch by Patek Philippe from 1868, or the first perpetual calendar wristwatch, or the Calibre 89, a milestone in the history of Patek Philippe but also a milestone in the history of watchmaking.

patek philippe grand exhibition singapore 2019 chulalongkorn

The pendant watch owned by King Rama V, also known as Chulalongkorn

patek singapore 2019 factories in canton

“Factories in Canton” – an enamelled pocket watch set with pearls, made for the Chinese market in 1830

patek philippe grand exhibition singapore 2019 first perpetual

The first perpetual calendar wristwatch ever made, circa 1925

The Patek Philippe Museum is one of the world’s greatest collections of vintage and antique timepieces. For such watches, collectors often emphasise everything being original, even if it’s in very poor condition, while museums often emphasise restoration in order to make things presentable. How do you balance the two approaches?

I’ve been aware of this issue since I was very young. There’re different schools in the world when it comes to paintings; there are the schools where, when there’s a missing part of the painting, you would not replace, you’d just focus on the original parts.

And there are other approaches, where [restoration] has a higher value. I also recognise that, in my visits around the world, when you go to Asia, especially when you go to China, it’s more important that you can do it again. You would even destroy all of it in order to make something again [from scratch], and the [new creation] has a higher value. But when you go to Europe, you would keep every original piece and just present that.

It’s very interesting now that in the antique market for watches, there is a huge behavioural change.

All of a sudden, patina, oxidation, basically, what we would just have wiped away 10 years ago, is now the whole value of the piece.

I think we have to find a little bit more of a way in between. It makes no sense to have, let’s say, a dial that’s not fully intact, and then to redo it completely. Then all of a sudden, the dial looks completely different from the rest of the watch. I think we have to figure out a way, a very sensitive way, so that all the parts look like they belong together.

patek philippe grand exhibition singapore 2019 cal 89

No restoration needed – the prototype of the Patek Philippe Calibre 89

So they look correct?

They look correct, but they also give you a feeling that they belong to each other. And, of course, the less you do, the less you can do wrong. But I don’t think we have reached a very practical way at this point of time, to make a watch look good, while not damaging its value.

But this [exaggeration], making things too new, and polishing; whenever you polish the case, you lose material, so it gets weaker and weaker. The sharp lines they have in the case design, they suffer of course.

The best way would be “never touch it, never wear it”. But most of the pieces that reach those high prices [at auction] have been worn for a long time. So for me, it’s a very sensitive subject.

I think we all, whether it’s at Patek Philippe, but also in the auction world or in the collectors market, we’re still on the search for what’s worth it, what’s allowed, and what should not be allowed.

So in other words, what people desire and prefer is still evolving…

To be honest, I see a lot of nonsense, over exaggerations. But it’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation, and that’s just an emotion from me. I have really seen a lot – not only looking at watches, I’m looking at paintings, sculptures, everything else – and I think we can learn a lot from those areas and have to apply that to the world of watches. Maybe that’s the best answer for the moment.

patek philippe grand exhibition singapore 2019 lotus flowers

“The Lotus Flowers”, a pair of pocket watches made for the Chinese market in 1825

patek singapore 2019 adoration of the magi

“The Adoration of the Magi”, a pocket watch from the 17th century made by Joseph Norris of Amsterdam with the enamel by Jean-Pierre Huaud

In your personal perspective as the academic, what do you prefer?

You know, it’s not the academic part, maybe the European roots – I’d like to see the difference between the original and what’s not original.

Let’s say you have maiolica or porcelain with a piece that has been chipped off. Of course, you don’t like to see the chip right away. There are restorers out there who can colour it in a way that from a metre away, it’s not disturbing. They don’t even repaint it, they just colour it the same way such that it kind of blends in. But when you get very close, you can see there’s something missing. There’re very smart ways of doing that.

Is this all applicable for watches? I don’t know; I’ve seen restorers for dials who can do even better dials than the original ones. We have to find a more pragmatic way of looking at this.

patek grand exhibition singapore 2019 grand comp pocket watch

A 1929 grand complication pocket watch with a champagne dial

patek singapore 2019 perpetuals 2497 and 1591

A trio of exceptionally rare Patek Philippe perpetual calendar wristwatches: a ref. 2497 “pink on pink”, a ref. 2497 in a rectangular platinum case, and the ref. 1591 in steel with a luminous dial

I understand watches in the museum are all restored mechanically to ensure they’re in running condition?

We also restore our movements constantly; we repair them, clean them, and keep them mostly in running condition.

But we do not let them run; just imagine if you have had to wind 3400 watches every day. That’s impossible and it’s not good for the pieces as well. So we clean them, we do not oil them.

But sometimes we have film crews there, then we oil them quickly and let them run for the camera, and then we clean them again, and then there they are in the showcase, back without the oil.


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Introducing the Seiko Presage Green Enamel Dial Limited Edition SPB111J1

Forest green and fired.

Since its global debut in 2016, the Seiko Presage collection has quickly gained a following for its dials that feature artisanal decoration, usually executed with traditional Japanese crafts such as urushi lacquer and Arita porcelain, but at strikingly affordable prices.

Following the launch of the first Presage with a Spring Drive movement (in the past, automatic or hand-wound movements were the norm) a few months ago, the brand has now unveiled a limited-edition automatic with a deep green dial made of fired, vitreous enamel, otherwise known as grand feu enamel in Swiss watchmaking.

Seiko Presage Green Enamel Dial Limited-Edition SPB111J1

Inspired by the colour of Japanese cedar trees, the green enamel dial features applied hour markers – instead of the more common printed or painted markers found on enamel dials – paired with rounded dauphine hands.

The dial is once again produced by master craftsman Mitsuru Yokosawa and his team, who work for Fuji Porcelain Enamel Co., Ltd., one of Japan’s biggest makers of enamelware. The company has been Seiko’s go-to supplier for high-quality enamel dials made on a large scale at relatively low cost, a crucial reason why the Presage watches equipped with enamel dials are eminently affordable.

As with a majority of automatic Presage models, the case is in stainless steel and measures 40.8mm wide and 12.4mm in height. It’s simply finished with a bright mirror polish on most surfaces, with the top of the lugs brushed for a little contrast and structure.

Visible through the sapphire case back is the new cal. 6R35 unveiled earlier in the year. It is a central-rotor automatic with a frequency of 3Hz, a quick-set date as well as a stop-seconds function. Most notably, it boasts an extended 70-hour power reserve as opposed to the 50-hour reserve of the earlier 6R15 movement.


Key facts

Diameter: 40.5mm
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 100m

Movement: 6R35
Functions: Hours, minutes seconds; date
Frequency: 21,600bph, or 3Hz
Winding: Automatic
Power reserve: 70 hours

Strap: Brown crocodile leather with folding clasp

Price and availability

The Presage Green Enamel Dial ref. SPB111J1 is limited to 2,000 pieces, priced at 150,000 Japanese yen, or US$1,499.


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