This is the watch Felix Baumgartner wore for his amazing jump from the edge of space. With prices from $4,800 to $14,750, it’s definitely out of my price range, but it’s a striking piece.
From Gear Patrol:
Before 1969, chronographs were all hand-wound; the problem of integrating a self-winding mechanism into the tight space of a chronograph movement was yet unsolved. But in that year that saw the space race reach its zenith, the world also saw another sort of race — one that culminated with Zenith’s creation of the world’s first integrated full-rotor automatic-winding chronograph: the El Primero.
The El Primero movement is unique not only for being the first automatic chronograph, but also due to the high speed at which the movement’s balance oscillates. The balance wheel swings back and forth an astonishing 36,000 times per hour (that’s ten times per second). The significance of this high frequency, other than making for a smoother traveling seconds hand, is in making the chronograph more precise and enabling it to subdivide time into smaller segments. In fact, the El Primero is capable of timing events down to one-tenth of a second. Never mind that your finger’s reaction time is far slower; from a watchmaking perspective, this is no small feat.
Despite the advent of the automatic chronograph, 1969 also brought about the quartz revolution. New, Japanese battery-powered timepieces — precise, rugged and cheap — spelled doom for the Swiss watch industry. Zenith was eventually taken over by the American electronics firm of the same name (Zenith TVs anyone?), and the company’s new owners saw mechanical watches as a thing of the past. They instructed employees to dismantle and destroy all the plans, parts and tooling for the El Primero movement and focus on quartz. At the risk of being fired, one employee, Charles Vermot, squirreled away the necessary bits for making the El Primero in a dusty corner of the Zenith factory’s attic, where it would wait for years for the brand’s resurrection.