Zenith is pioneering sustainable watch design and creation with its DEFY Extreme E limited edition timepieces, which incorporate up-cycled materials, and the LVMH-owned, prestige Swiss watch company is also working with climate scientists, environmental protection non-profits and women’s empowerment advocates to create a more sustainable and gender-equal planet. A founding partner and official timekeeper for the international Extreme E off-road, electric car race circuit, (in which women race alongside men), Zenith is helping raise public awareness of climate change through Extreme E’s live international television broadcasts and live rally streaming on Extreme E’s website. Extreme E, which partners with environmental non-profits in areas where competitions take place to ensure the land’s restored to its original condition after each event, is in a symbiotic relationship with Zenith, which along with creating the DEFY Extreme E timepieces, also relates compelling Earth stewardship and gender equality stories on its website.
Long renowned for its ingenious and historic El Primero movement, Zenith has released a limited edition Extreme DEFY timepiece inspired by each Extreme E race for the last two years. Global communications synergy with the pioneering, gender-equal, off-road; environmentally responsible Extreme E circuit is helping position Zenith as the thinking person’s Swiss luxury watch brand.
Led by Swiss-born CEO Julian Tornare since 2017, Zenith has scored major aesthetic and commercial successes with its DEFY Extreme and Chronomaster Sport models. “While innovation has always activated our brand DNA, Zenith has a track record of formulating creative solutions to urgent problems,” Tornare said in a face-to-face interview. “As today’s most urgent problem is climate change, Zenith is partnering with Extreme E, which was founded by the London-based investor, entrepreneur and environmental campaigner Alejandro Agag.” As Tornare recollected, “Zenith was already producing the DEFY Extreme watch, and when I heard Alejandro was starting the off-road, electric vehicle Extreme E circuit with male/female racers to raise awareness of climate change, I thought what a fortuitous coincidence, really intriguing, so I scheduled a call with him. After speaking for a few minutes,” he continued, “we realized how much we could potentially help each other, and we hoped, the environment, and hence our collaboration.”
Noting that Zenith was the first prestige Swiss watch brand to eliminate gender-specific classifications for timepieces on its website, Tornare said, “Zenith has a motto, ‘Reach for your star’, and we create watches for people who are doing that and more. While we believe in encouraging people to fulfill their potential, we also consistently encourage everyone to take actionable steps to lower their individual environmental impacts.”
Having produced watches in Le Locle, Switzerland since 1865, Zenith’s horological history includes success stories like that of intrepid Louis Blériot. The first aviator to fly across the English Channel, Blériot used a Zenith wristwatch with a rotating minutes marker during his 37-minute flight. Fast forward to 1969, when the Swiss watch industry froze in fear while cheaper foreign quartz watches compelled customers around the world to defect from Swiss brands. Zenith responded to this external threat by inventing the El Primero, the world’s first automatic, integrated high-frequency chronograph calibre. (Revitalizing mechanical chronographs and the Swiss watch industry, the El Primero went on to power Rolex Daytonas from 1988 to 2000. Due to their precision and relative rarity, El Primero-powered Daytonas are now highly valued by collectors.)
Because it’s a partner of the Extreme E sustainable circuit, Zenith produces a DEFY Extreme E limited edition timepiece inspired by each race. This writer had the opportunity to photograph and try on the watch inspired by the fourth and final race of the 2022 Extreme E circuit, which zoomed around the sunny seacoast of Punta del Este, Uruguay. Like all other DEFY Extreme E watches, the DEFY Extreme E Energy X Prix limited edition features a richly hued; ruggedly resilient rubber strap made of recycled Continental tires salvaged from Extreme E cars. Crafted in a robust carbon fiber case with titanium elements and powered by the Zenith El Primero 21 1/100th of a second automatic high-frequency chronograph calibre, this chic, gender-fluid watch sports a sapphire dial with applied counters. The dial embodies depth and contrast with oversized hands and markers glowing with bright Super-LumiNova for optimal visibility in all conditions. Each Extreme E race has a distinctive color code, and the Punta del Este race’s color is an orchid-like pinkish-purple, which makes for an aesthetically vibrant watch strap.
“We take the used Continental race car tires and reduce them into powder, then inject this material into a global band of proprietary color to create a super-strong watch band,” explained Romain Marietta, Director of Product Development and Heritage for Zenith. Marietta added that Zenith also uses proprietary methods to make the watch strap “UV-resistant, as well as resistant to heat, perspiration, and abrasions. Our first prototype took us about six months to produce,” he continued. “The case is made of sand-blasted titanium and multi-layered carbon fiber, which gives the case strong structural integrity.” While Marietta’s too modest to say so, this watch is an aesthetic winner. Alive with high tech timepiece heft, it’s also a glam statement watch that would look cool on the wrist of an executive, rocker, athlete, artist, mother or any other person who’s into stylish precision watches with sustainable bona fides.
“As the official timekeeper for Extreme E, Zenith plays critical roles in the circuit’s mission and individual races,” said Tom Julius, the London-based head of Commercial Partnerships for Extreme E. “Besides the fact that Zenith times each member of each team as they drive the course,” he continued, “the brand communicates to the world about environmental issues by promoting Extreme E drivers, like Catie Munnings, of team Genesys Andretti United Extreme, in Zenith positioning events held in various cities.” A native of Great Britain, Munnings competes alongside of Timmy Hansen of the USA. Munnings and Hansen won the inaugural Arctic X Prix in Greenland in 2021 and scored three podiums during their debut season. Moreover, Munnings finished 2021 third in the overall Extreme E drivers’ standings.
“This is an unusually satisfying type of racing,” Munnings said in between grueling spins around the Punta del Este track. “The fact that every race is in a different part of the world makes it challenging for the drivers, and exciting for the audience to follow. And because the Extreme E team cleans up after each event,” she added, “this sets an example for how to stage responsible rally racing. With 30 percent of the planet’s CO2 emissions coming from transport,” Munnings continued, “Extreme E television broadcasts and the circuit’s website both showcase high performance electric vehicles going up to 120 miles per hour.” What’s more, she said, “The broadcasts and website also include storytelling, interviews with scientists and environmental news people watching at home can use to reduce their carbon footprints. The goal,” she added, “is to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles in order to reduce CO2 emissions and maintain more sustainable lifestyles.” Equally important, Munnings added, “Extreme E successfully committed to having a net-zero carbon footprint by the end of its first season, so anything that couldn’t be eliminated in 2021 was offset through ALLCOT certificated global programs.”
Having achieved notable success in a grueling and dangerous male-dominated sport, Munnings works closely with Zenith and various other entities to advocate for women’s equality in the workplace. As she puts it, “I make public appearances as part of Zenith’s DREAMHERS platform,” which on the Zenith website and in public events encourages women “to define their goals and challenge gender stereotypes in order to reach those goals.” Now entering its third year, DREAMHERS is embodied by self-actualized women from around the world who work in different professions and arts. Regarding the evolution of the DREAMHERS platform, Tornare commented, “It’s a pleasure to showcase highly motivated, hard-working; accomplished women. They show us all that no dream is too big,” he continued. “They prove that if you set your eyes on a star and dedicate yourself to that goal with passion and integrity, you can make an ambitious dream become a reality. Zenith,” he added, “will continue sharing more stories on its website and in special events with the goal of inspiring other women to work towards fulfilling their dreams.”
During the November 2022 Punta del Este Extreme E race, this writer spoke briefly with the circuit’s founder Alejandro Agag, regarding how he liaises with governments to pursue the possibility of staging Extreme E races in various countries. Agag noted the 2023 racing schedule so far contains five races, “four locations of which are on the calendar. On March 11-12, 2023, Extreme E returns to Saudi Arabia, and on May 13-14, the teams head to the UK for the first X Prix in Scotland,” he said. “At the season’s mid-point, Extreme E returns to Sardinia July 8-9, where it has raced two previous times.”
While the fifth and final 2023 race will run on December 23 in Chile, the September 16-17 Extreme E is set to take place in either Brazil or in the USA. Despite being unable to compete in Brazil due to Covid restrictions, “Extreme E has continued environmental protection work in the Amazon by partnering with The Nature Conservancy to develop its Amazon-based Legacy Programme, which funds native forest restoration and a well-established cacao-based agroforestry project,” Agag said. With agreements being finalized, he added, “Updates on the fourth slot in the Extreme E race calendar will soon appear on the Extreme E website.”
Besides being one of the few heritage Swiss manufactures to provide transparent and abundant proof of its horological, environmental and social values, Zenith, and its pro-environmental partnership with Extreme E, (its hashtag is #racefortheplanet) are advancing Zenith’s status as one of Earth’s timeliest watch brands. “Some of our clients closely follow this new sport of off-road, electric vehicle racing,” Tornare said. “A few of them even buy an Extreme DEFY timepiece every time a rally is run, so they’re enthusiastic collectors. I’m hopeful that as the global public learns about Zenith’s involvement with Extreme E,” he mused, “that more people will be inspired to live more sustainably, and maybe decide to give one of our watches a whirl.”