Zenith Guide: Three Dress Watches With The Underrated Elite Caliber

Three Zenith Dress Watches With The Underrated Elite Caliber

A fresh and formal update for Zenith’s in-house Elite movement.

Originally published by Logan Baker on HODINKEE, October 6th 2020


Earlier this year, at the inaugural LVMH Watch Week in Dubai, Zenith updated its Elite family with a number of attractive new dress watches, three of which we are adding to the HODINKEE Shop today. The new additions to the Elite series all feature a stunning stamped radial sunburst dial with dauphine hands, a simple minute track, and applied, faceted hour markers. The case design has been refreshed as well, with a slimmer bezel and tapered lugs that place the dial on center stage. The combination of the simple case profile with the textured dial provides the updated Elite range with a distinctive visual flair, yet still remains true to the foundations of dress-watch design.

There’s a single three-handed model with date available in the HODINKEE Shop today, plus a pair of watches that add a small seconds and moon-phase display to the dressy equation. The Elite Moonphase watches are a particular favorite around the HODINKEE office, channeling the old-world charm of one of watchmaking’s most historic complications in an attractive, modern package. The moon-phase display is in constant motion, making one full rotation every 29.5 days to accurately portray the lunar cycle. It makes a captivating addition to the Zenith Elite’s attractive, pleated dial design.

The prices of the new Elite models start at $5,800 – an excellent value for a classical Swiss-made dress watch with an in-house movement that has the pedigree of Zenith’s Elite.


The Zenith Elite Classic

Everything about the Zenith Elite Classic makes it – just as the name indicates – a quintessential example of a dress watch. It’s simple and refined, with a silver sunburst dial pattern that radiates from the watch’s central pinion with zero interruption, save for the trapezoidal, color-matched date window at six o’clock and the delicately applied Zenith star logo underneath 12 o’clock.

The dauphine handset and central seconds hand are long and legible, with both the minute and seconds hand reaching the outer edge of the dial. The polished stainless steel case wears neatly on the wrist, thanks to the restrained 40.5mm × 9.1mm dimensions that ensure it will fit underneath any sleeve or cuff. It is paired with a blue alligator strap with an interior rubber lining for added durability in daily wear.

If you’re looking for a new dress watch from one of Switzerland’s finest makers, with an in-house movement and an eye-catching design, look no further: This is it. The Zenith Elite Classic is priced at $5,800 and is available right here.


The Zenith Elite Moonphase

There is no complication more closely associated with understated elegance than the traditional moon-phase. Zenith has updated the Elite family of dress watches with this poetic complication, placing it at six o’clock, in a rounded display with a dark blue backdrop dotted with stars that mimic the night sky. The Zenith Elite Moonphase models in the HODINKEE Shop are available in two executions: one in a rose-gold case with a silver dial, and another in stainless steel with a cool grey dial. The handset, the applied hour markers, and the color of the Moon all match the case metal in each variant.

The dial is completed by a small seconds display in the form of a printed crosshair at nine o’clock, which complements the overall aesthetic and gives the Zenith Elite Moonphase a pleasing, asymmetrical layout that helps it stand out against the sober designs typical of dress watches. The case is identical to the one found on the Elite Classic, save for an ever-so-slight increase in thickness, to 9.35mm. The moon-phase display is adjusted simply through the crown at three o’clock, a user-friendly approach that requires no additional pushers or buttons.

At $6,800 in steel, the Zenith Elite Moonphase represents a considerable value proposition, considering it’s an attractive and complicated dress watch built entirely in-house. It’s also only a $1,000 premium compared to its simpler relative, the Elite Classic in steel. On the more precious end, the rose gold Zenith Elite Moonphase has a price of $13,600.


A Brief History Of Zenith’s Elite Caliber, From 1994 To Today

Today’s Elite collection is named after the movement inside, which was introduced by Zenith at Baselworld 1994 to complement its legendary chronograph movement, the automatic El Primero. Unlike its chronograph sibling, which has retained an almost unchanged architecture since its 1969 debut, the Elite is the result of modern watchmaking at its best. Notably, it’s regarded as one of the first movements developed with assistance from computer-aided design (CAD). In more recent years, the Elite movements have been updated with top-of-the-line contemporary materials, including the use of silicon components for the escape wheel and pallet lever.

The Elite caliber was well-received upon its 1994 introduction, even winning an award for the “Best Movement of the Year” at the Basel showcase. While the Elite movement has never matched the prestige and recognition of the Zenith El Primero, it has plenty of benefit and historical interest to offer curious watch enthusiasts. Take, for example, the fact the Elite was constructed in the traditional lepine arrangement, with small seconds at nine o’clock, to allow for the simple addition of modular complications, just like the moon-phase display on the new Elite Moonphase models. The Elite is also exceptionally thin for an automatic movement, measuring in at a lithe 3.47mm in height in its simple time-and-date format.

In most variations, the Elite calibers offer 50 hours of running autonomy, with hacking seconds and a 4 Hz beat rate. The three-handed Elite Classic models utilize the Elite 670 SK movement, which converts the lepine arrangement to a central seconds hand and includes a date aperture at six o’clock. The popular Defy Classic models borrow this movement from the Elite family. The Elite Moonphase watches house the Elite 692 SK, with the traditional off-centered small seconds display and a moon-phase complication at six o’clock. In the Elite models added to the HODINKEE Shop today, both movements are visible through a sapphire crystal exhibition caseback that displays clean and attractive decoration, including a skeletonized oscillating weight and perlage on the mainplate and côtes de Genève on the bridges.


Discover The Zenith Elite Collection In The HODINKEE Shop

There’s no denying that Zenith chronographs housing the El Primero movement will continue to capture outsize attention within the brand’s lineup. The Elite collection, however, provides an entirely new way of appreciating the Le Locle-based brand’s watchmaking prowess.

We think these new Elite dress watches are the perfect companion to both the historical significance found in El Primero-equipped chronographs and the groundbreaking and avant-garde nature of today’s Defy series. The Elite caliber is an essential part of Zenith’s history, bridging the gap between the early years of El Primero and the contemporary interpretation of the Defy.

You can learn more about the Zenith Elite right here.

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