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Review: Zenith Academy Georges Favre-Jacot

In 2014, the watchmaker Zenith was busy preparing its 150th anniversary celebration, and what better way to do it than by building a commemorative watch. But Zenith didn’t just take an existing watch and tart it up a bit, oh no. It decided to build a rather insane hyperwatch instead. Here’s what you need to know about it.

The Amazing Quality

So you and I, we know Zenith as the mid-tier creator of the famed El Primero chronograph, neither entry level nor high-end. Whilst you won’t be saddled with a second-rate movement when you purchase a Zenith, there’s no real expectation to be blown away either. It’s good, very good—but not great. Nor would anyone expect it to be for the ticket price of your average Zenith.

For the 150th anniversary Academy Georges Favre-Jacot—named after the brand’s founder, of course—Zenith didn’t just decide up the game a little—it leapfrogged several tiers above it straight to hyperwatch territory. This is a piece created to celebrate Zenith without boundary or budget, the watch of their watchmaker’s dreams.

The name on the dial may read Zenith, but what you’re looking at here could rival any of the independent masters. And at just 150 pieces, it very well could be from any one of the independent masters. Zenith must have got its best guys and gals on the job here, because the level of refinement on offer is absolutely top tier. If it read Vacheron Constantin instead, you’d believe it.

Just look at it. It’s one of those watches that you could show anybody and the first thing they’d say is, “This looks expensive!” Every detail is flawlessly executed, every surface crafted to perfection. From the grained dial set with lustrous gold markers to golden stripes running the length of the calibre 4810, right the way down to the mirror finish on every single angle, it is a feast for the eyes. And the better your eyesight, the better it gets.

In fact, the best way to enjoy a watch like this is with extreme magnification. It almost becomes a game of searching for a part of the watch that hasn’t been festooned with lavish attention. Ordinary screwheads are brightly polished, wheels grained and—well, we’re just about to get to the best bit.

The Incredible Complication

A well-finished movement does not a hyperwatch make. We need something incredible here, something that takes watchmaking beyond anything you thought was possible. For the Academy Georges Favre-Jacot, that’s not some superficiality, it’s a complication that speaks to the very heart of Zenith’s philosophy—the pursuit of watchmaking perfection.

The most basic form of that perfection is accuracy, the challenge of which drives a constant battle between technology … and price. Most mechanical watches make do as best they can, compromised in some incredibly fundamental ways, but not this Zenith. When you’re given the green light to go absolutely ballistic, you don’t hold back.

So, what exactly am I talking about here, this fundamental problem with mechanical watchmaking? The mainspring, the source of power from which the watch is driven. Putting it simply, when it is full it has more power than when it is near empty, and the degradation from one extreme to the other constantly affects the way the watch runs.

The solution? Well, if you’ve got less power, the solution is to make the watch easier to run. Like the gears on a bike, this watch changes to a lighter ratio as the watch runs down, balancing the power and keeping it running evenly. You’ll note the power reserve dial at five o’clock, boasting constant force for every single beat from end to end.

So what, does this watch have a SRAM groupset in it or something? How does it change gear? Obviously, it would be a bit clunky for the watch to literally switch through fixed gears, and so an incredibly elegant solution was derived that traces its roots back to the clocks of the 15th century: the fusee and chain. Take a conical channel that goes from wide to narrow, connect it to the mainspring via a chain, and voila. As the mainspring unwinds, the drive seamlessly transitions from the toughest ratio to the easiest without missing a beat.

And yeah, that’s a real, functional chain, not even a millimetre across. It contains 575 parts on its own, with each and every single piece polished to high shine. I wonder who drew the short straw for that job. Anyway, it’s the crowning jewel that makes this watch a dream for any enthusiast to own, beautifully presented at the top of the 45mm rose gold case for all to see. The Academy Georges Favre-Jacot truly is a masterpiece.

The Unexpected Price

This is usually where we’d run into the outro, show you a few more tasty close-ups and then it’s time for bed, but no—we’re not done with the Zenith Academy Georges Favre-Jacot just yet. Big budget watches typically mean big prices, and this watch is no exception—yet there’s something of an unexpected imbalance going on.

Get a fusee and chain from Breguet and you’re going to leave the boutique some $200,000 lighter. From Ferdinand Berthoud, $220,000. From Zenith? It’s not cheap, but compared to those two it’s positively a bargain at $80,000.

$80,000, you’re probably thinking. Big whoop. May as well be $800,000. But that’s not all. Zenith doesn’t look after its price as well as the high-end watchmakers it competes with here with the Academy Georges Favre-Jacot, and whilst that probably makes the original owner twitch a bit, for the next lucky guy it’s a veritable blessing.

Say you’re a man about town looking to celebrate a big sale and you’ve got some cash to splash on the watch of your dreams. Naturally, the really high-end stuff is beyond your reach, so it’s to the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak you turn, a nice 15300 which will set you back around $45,000. But forget that. Forget it hard. Why settle for that when you could own a true piece of horological mastery, the likes of which makes the Royal Oak seem as rare as pigeon poop at Trafalgar Square.

That’s right. This masterpiece, this hyperwatch, previously owned, comes in at $39,000. These days, that’s Daytona money. If you’ve got the means to buy this watch, I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t. If you want to own some of the best watchmaking there has ever been and you don’t want to spend more than the RRP of a self-winding Calatrava, this is it. This is the one. There is no better.

It’s this kind of talk that germinates the seeds of outrageous thoughts like remortgaging the house or selling the children. It’s one thing that Zenith has clearly done an absolute number on this watch with everything it could possibly throw at it, but to realistically—okay, perhaps more hypothetically—think about a way this watch could be a potential ownership possibility is making my brain go a bit funny. It’s an opportunity, an opportunity for someone, somewhere to experience the absolute pinnacle of watchmaking for a fraction of the price. And I hate that someone for it.

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