A Tourbillon Evolved: The Zenith Christophe Colomb

Posted on October 19, 2010

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The Christophe Colomb luxury timepiece is haute horlogerie defined. Named after the intrepid navigator Christopher Columbus, this high end complication is the answer to an age old problem- precision when time keeping instruments are subject to all manner of positions and constant motion.

It’s a major milestone in mechanical watchmaking and a world’s first for grande complications. The Zenith Christophe Colomb features a self regulating gyroscopic module guaranteeing flat positioning of the regulating organ regardless of wrist position.

How Tourbillons Work
Like most horological terms, tourbillion comes from the French word for whirlwind. The escapement of a tourbillion is mounted in a way that mimics a whirlwind. Rotating on its axis in a regular pattern, the rotation along this fixed axis minimises the effects of gravity and improves the accuracy of time keeping.

Gravity attracts the escapement components which do not operate the same way according to the direction in which they are attracted. Friction and the amplitude of the balance cause a high end complication to lose or gain time.

A typical wristwatch goes through multiple positions during daily use.

Ultimately, regular tourbillions rotating at least once a minute still work on a single plane of movement, without taking into consideration that your wrist goes through multiple positions and actions within a regular work day.

Going Beyond Tourbillon: How the Zenith Christophe Colomb Works
At dawn of the 20th century, pocket watches were typically resting in a vertical position, tourbillons of the day took into account left and right leaning movement stems without taking into account other positions since a typical gent of the day removed his watch once to read the time vertically and then replaced the watch within his pocket in a vertical position.

Wristwatches however, are a whole other beast, adding to horizontal dials pointing downwards and upwards, classic tourbillons correct only  4 positions out of 6 and enhance precision albeit partially.

Taking into account a full range of wrist and body movements throughout the day, Zenith improved upon and innovated a gyrotourbillon that mimicked the constant horizontal escapement of the pocket watch to the wrist watch.

Mounted on gimbals, the Christophe Colomb gyroscopic tourbillon keeps the movement perfectly coordinated, as if this high end timepiece was horizontal at all times. This gear system instantly harnesses the rotations of the axes of the carriage and the reverser differential gear compensating for all relative movements of all elements within the escapement.

To me, this is the ultimate evolution of the tourbillon.

Originally conceived as the Defy Zero-G extreme. Jean Frederic Dufour reconceived a more classic look. The result is the Christophe Colomb

Zenith Christophe Colomb Tech Specs

  • Manually wound Academy 8804
  • Unique gyroscopic system that ensures perfect horizontal positioning of the regulating organ
  • Gyroscopic cage with 166 components, 10 conical geared wheels with 6 spherical wheels and 6 ball bearings.
  • 45 jewels
  • 36,0000 V/h
  • 50 hours power reserve
  • Hours and minutes excentered at 12 o’clock
  • Self regulating gyroscope at 6 o’clock
  • Small seconds at 9 o’clock
  • Power reserve at 3 o’clock

This 45 mm white, rose or 18k yellow gold luxury complication comes with boix-form sapphire glass with anti reflection treatment on both sides and excrescent domes around the gyroscopic module. The dial is silver rounded “Grain d’Orges” guilloche with straighted “Clow de Paris” on the small seconds subdial.

It’s a beauty to behold.

You can read Jonathan Ho’s account of the unveiling of the Christophe Colomb at Greenwich, London in the November issue of August Man. You can also follow his luxury watch review, comments on definitive men’s styles and social commentary over at www.augustman.com. Tune into his tweets at TheSoliloguy on Twitter.
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