The Zenith Elite is a family of compact automatic winding movements used in the Zenith Elite series of watches from 1994 to present. It was introduced alongside the revived Zenith El Primero and formed the basis for the company’s rebirth in the modern era. Although Zenith was to replace the compact 11.5 ligne Elite with a line based on the larger double-barrel Cal. 6150, this plan never came to fruition and the original Cal. 670 and Cal. 680 and complicated derivative movements remain the mainstay for Zenith’s automatic watches.
Technical Aspects of the Zenith Elite Movement
The basic Elite movement measures 11.5 ligne (25.60 mm) diameter and most models are under 4 mm thick, despite a central automatic winding rotor and date complication. A few models used a larger main plate to move the date window outward or to support complications like a running 24 hour ring. The thinnest Elite movement is the hand-winding Cal. 650 at 2.83 mm and the thickest and most complicated is the large Cal. 687 at 6.20 mm.
Unusually, many Elite movements (apart from the 660 and 670 lines) feature small seconds at 9:00, a distinctive feature that differentiates the watches that use it. Some, however, feature central seconds, an adjustable 24 hour hand, a power reserve indicator, and other complications.
All Elite movements use an annular Glucydur balance wheel with a self-compensating balance spring and fine micrometer screw for adjustment. The automatic winding rotor is mounted on ball bearings like the ETA 2892 and originally included a tungsten carbide element for higher winding power. Most Elite movements boast 50 to 55 hours power reserve and all operate at 28,800 A/h.
History of the Zenith Elite
In 1991, Zenith decided to pursue development of an in-house movement for volume production. The project was lead by technical director Jean-Pierre Gerber, who pursued a slim and adaptable movement similar in size and construction to the popular ETA Cal. 2892-2. The intent was that it would be slim enough to support complications, as was done with the ETA movement, and it was designed with both central and small seconds, unusual for the time. Development included Carole Forestier of consulting company Conseilray.
Calibres 670 and 680 were the company’s first use of modern computer-aided design (CAD), and the result was a robust, accurate, and reliable movement that would remain in production for decades. Along with the slim Cal. 661, these were the original Elite family of movements.
In 1996, Zenith introduced two complicated models. Cal. 672 and Cal. 682 (central seconds and small seconds, respectively) feature a central 24 hour hand adjustable using a pushbutton at 10:00. These were used in “Dual Time” models in the Class and Captain lines but were retired in the 2010s.
A hand-winding version was introduced at the Basel Fair in 1997. It was available in two versions, the basic Cal. 650 and complicated Cal. 655, both with small seconds at 9:00. The latter also features a fan-shaped power reserve indicator at 1:30 and date window at 4:30. These were slimmer than their automatic counterparts, measuring just 2.83 and 4.03 mm thick, respectively.
More complications came in the 2000s. Cal. 685 has a power reserve indicator similar to the hand-winding version, while Cal. 683 combines the power reserve and 24 hour complications into a single unit. The most complicated version is Cal. 687, which adds a running 24 hour ring around all of these complications. The main plate for this movement was enlarged to 30 mm to accommodate the 189 components and 41 jewels used. The confusingly-named Elite Cal. 67 and Cal. 68 appeared in ladies watches at this time, and the company experimented with a larger plate for the rare Cal. 6850.
Zenith CEO Jean-Frédéric Dufour radically simplified the company’s lineup of watches when he took over in 2009, reducing the company’s cost structure. A new complication was added in his tenure: A moon phase indicator. He decided to phase out the Elite movement in entry-level watches, relying on the Sellita SW300, and to develop a new double-barrel Elite movement for more expensive models. When Dufour went to Rolex in 2014, Aldo Magada replaced him and modified this decision. The Sellita models were swiftly cancelled and the large Cal. 6150 was positioned as the next-generation Elite.
Little development of the Elite line occurred, and the planned complications on Cal. 6150 never appeared. The company reversed course after 2017, cancelling the large double-barrel movement and refocusing on the original Elite. Zenith introduced a silicon escapement in 2018, using Cal. 670 as a base, as the new Cal. 670 SK. As of 2020, Zenith relies on the original hand-winding Cal. 650, center-seconds Cal. 670, Cal. 670 SK, and Cal. 679, and small-seconds Cal. 680 and Cal. 692.
Zenith Elite 650 and 660: Ultra-Thin
Cal. 661, a simple two-handed version, was one of the original Elite movements. The hand-winding Cal. 650 and 655 were soon introduced as well. All of these movements were advertised as “ultra-thin” by Zenith.
|Elite 655||1997-2000s||Manual||32||9:00||Date, Power Reserve|
|Elite 660||Not Produced||Automatic||None||Date|
Zenith Elite 670: Central Seconds
Cal. 670 was one of the original Elite movements, and remains in production as of 2020. It has central seconds, unlike most Elite movements, and serves as a base for a few complicated versions. Cal. 670 SK, introduced in 2018, is especially notable, as it includes a silicon escapement and is often skeletonized.
|Elite 670 SK||2018-present||Automatic||27||Date, Skeleton|
|Elite 672||1996-2014||Automatic||27||Date, 24 Hour Hand|
Zenith Elite 680 and 690: Small Seconds
Cal. 680 was one of the original Elite movements introduced in 1994 and remains in production today. Most of its descendants feature small seconds at 9:00, though Cal. 690 lacks running seconds and the rare Cal. 689 relocates the subdial to 6:00.
|Elite 682||1996-2014||Automatic||26||9:00||Date, 24 Hour Hand|
|Elite 683||2003-2010||Automatic||36||9:00||Date, Power Reserve at 3:00, 24 Hour Hand|
|Elite 684||2000s||Automatic||26||9:00||Date at 6:00|
|Elite 685||2002-2015||Automatic||38||9:00||Date, Power Reserve|
|Elite 6850||2008-2010||Automatic||38||9:00||Date, Power Reserve|
|Elite 687||2008-2010||Automatic||41||9:00||Date, Power Reserve, rotating 24 hour ring|
|Elite 690||Automatic||37||None||Moon Phase at 6:00|
|Elite 691||2010-2016||Automatic||27||9:00||Moon Phase at 6:00, Big Date at 1:30|
|Elite 692||2009-present||Automatic||27||9:00||Moon Phase at 6:00|
|Elite 693||2012-2017||Automatic||26||9:00||24 Hour Hand|
|Elite 68||2006-2010||Automatic||27||9:00||Central Power Reserve|
Other Zenith Elite Movements
Cal. 6150 was to be the first in a new generation of Elite movements. It featured double-barrel power, allowing it to run for 100 hours, and a larger 30.00 mm diameter main plate. Introduced in 2014 and produced between 2015 and 2020, these variations never appeared. Instead, Zenith re-focused on the original compact Elite movement family.
Although not intending to be a movement supplier, Zenith has made their movements available to other companies. Panerai used a version of Cal. 680 as “OP VII” for the Radiomir GMT in 2001. Since 2004, the Elite movements were also used by Dior for their women’s models. Hublot uses Cal. 670 as their Cal. HUB1710 in various Big Bang models. And Urwerk used a Zenith Elite base for some movements.