Timekeeping
By Jason Heaton
on 7.23.13
Photo by Zenith

Zenith has had its share of ups and downs. After decades of success making watches for everyone from the first man to fly across the English Channel to Mahatma Gandhi, the brand may have reached its zenith (sorry) in 1969 with the release of the El Primero chronograph, arguably the world’s first full-rotor self-winding chronograph. Then came the ‘70s, and quartz. A self-winding chronograph was old news in the face of battery-powered watches. Zenith sank into irrelevancy; what was left of the company was bought by the American electronics brand of the same name, who ordered the tooling, plans and components for the El Primero scrapped. Fortunately, this order was disobeyed by a forward-thinking employee, who squirreled it all away in the attic of Zenith’s factory.

Zenith made a comeback in the 1990s thanks in no small part to Rolex, who decided that the El Primero was the right movement to power its own chronograph, the Daytona. Another El Primero chronograph came out of this same era: the Rainbow Flyback, built by Zenith on request from the French Ministry of Defense. Though it had a short run, the Rainbow Flyback became something of a favorite for watch collectors, who appreciated the colorful dial, rotating bezel and rugged case that housed the famed movement.

It was this watch that served as the inspiration for the Stratos Flyback Striking 10th ($9,500) that Zenith released in tribute to the Austrian BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner, the man who would jump from a balloon 130,000 feet above the Earth. In fact, Baumgartner wore the Stratos Flyback on the outside of his pressure suit when he performed the jump. Both the watch and Felix landed unscathed. As we said, Zenith has had its ups and downs, this time quite literally. We break down the watch for you above.

timekeeping-promo-logo-gear-patrolThis article is part of GP's fresh new face to TIMEKEEPING, a weekly chronicle on the utility, design, tradition and innovation of watches.