Spring is here, summer is around the corner… which means it’s time for the annual flurry of races and rallies of all kinds. From Chopard to Baume & Mercier along with Frederique Constant, Zenith and Blancpain, all the major watch brands are slipping into racing gear for some of the season’s automotive highlights. Whether bearing the title of official timekeeper or that of sponsor, it’s all about projecting a critically important image among enthusiasts with a taste for sport, precision, fine mechanical engineering… and thus watchmaking!
The stakes are all the higher when the events in question are of the itinerant variety. Such is of course the principle of car rallies and those taking place in Europe are the most sought-after, as they offer the possibility of reaching a broad audience in the course of a route stretching over several hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. Zenith has made this one of its top priorities.
Why the Tour Auto for Zenith?
The Tour Auto features several key assets naturally coveted by the brand. To begin with, its historical starting date in 1889, making it a contemporary of Zenith watches 1980 Replica which was founded in 1865. Secondly, its eventful history with a number of interruptions over the years and thus an authentic story to be told and a wealth of experience. And finally, the commitment of prestigious brands and drivers endowing the Tour Auto with an unwavering reputation.
The fact that the event is run by Peter Auto, which revived it from the ashes more than 25 years ago, is also a guarantee of robust financial and organisational backing. On this positive note and for the first time in its history, competitors set off – after the traditional exhibition held under the glass dome of the Grand Palais in Paris – for Brittany on an unprecedented route designed by Peter Auto for the 230 participants in this 26th edition.
Tried and tested mechanics
Zenith’s commitment is once again expressed by a model specifically dedicated to the Tour Auto. Elegant bodywork, a powerful ‘engine’ and tricolour accents: the Chronomaster El Primero Open Tour Auto Edition will once again be setting the beat for the rally. This model fairly similar to the one presented last year is driven by the self-winding El Primero 4061 chronograph movement.
While it lacks unnecessary writing or a date complication, the tachymeter remained, as well as the distinctive 3/6/9 lines on the minute sub-dial. Those were, at the end of the day, counterproductive to the task of simplification, but without them, the watch would lose almost any connection to the A273. Pursuing simplicity is, in our view, a good thing, but left unchecked it would inevitably lead to a uselessly blank dial. It must be balanced with other design goals.he dial itself had to be both understated yet have a charming, dynamic character that keeps it from ever becoming boring. The best way to accomplish that, we’ve found, is via a sunburst finish. A good sunburst finish, like this one, almost disappears in some light, appearing flat and non reflective, yet in other lighting, usually more direct, it comes alive with vibrant, brighter colors. In these photos, with a white light box and perfectly even lighting, the dial comes off almost as silver, but in most situations, it’s a more appreciable champagne, or as some have commented, cream.
Like the hood of a car opened to reveal the cutting-edge mechanics inside, the famous 11 o’clock dial opening reveals the silicon escapement of this calibre chronometer-certified by the COSC. Endowed with 282 parts and a 50-hour power reserve, it appears with a 42 mm stainless steel case topped by a polished bezel framing the slate grey dial with its blue-white-red vertical stripes. A nod to the French flag, this symbolic colour trio is picked up in several other aesthetic details, notably including the perfect visual continuity between the impeccably aligned tricolour stripe motif extending smoothly onto the NATO-type strap