Charles Vermot was by all means a man ahead of his time. One of the original watchmakers who worked on the first batches of the El Primero movement when it was first introduced 50 years ago, you could call him a spiritual father of the venerated calibre. When the decision was taken to halt the production of the El Primero in 1975 during the advent of the quartz movement, Vermot took it upon himself to safeguard the El Primero for future generations, in the hope that one day ZENITH would bring the exceptional movement back into production.
Working in total secrecy, Charles Vermot had the ingenious idea to gather all the technical plans and tools necessary to produce each and every component of the El Primero movement and tuck them away in hidden walled-off section of the ZENITH manufacture’s attic, known as a grenier in French. Like a time capsule waiting to be discovered, the grenier was a living memory of the El Primero and the guardian of its future. A Decade later, Vermot’s heroic act would serve as the first building block in bringing the El Primero back to life.
This ordinary hero enabled ZENITH to relaunch production of its legendary chronograph in 1984.
Evening after evening, he began secretly hiding away the presses (150 of them, weighing more than a ton), the technical plans, the cams and the cutting tools. Each component and each tool was carefully listed in a ring-binder file that he kept in a forgotten attic of the Manufacture. In 1978, ZENITH changed hands. The new owners believed in the renaissance of mechanical watchmaking, as did other brands that were turning to it as the only Manufacture capable of producing a chronograph as precise and reliable as the El Primero.
But what could be done without the dies, the technical drawings, the plans and the tools? Not to mention without the watchmakers who had either retired or been laid off since?
It was then that Charles Vermot showed the new management the large wooden crates that had harboured the proofs of his insubordination over the previous nine years. Displaying no sense of triumphalism, but instead the simple satisfaction of having done his duty, this ordinary hero enabled ZENITH to relaunch production of its legendary chronograph in 1984.