Gisbert L. Brunner has been a journalist writing about watches since 1981.
- The Zenith Academy Christophe Colomb Cohiba
- The Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba Edition, pink gold
- The Zenith El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba Edition, steel
What do mechanical wristwatches and cigars have in common? At first glance, perhaps even second, probably not all that much. But that will change when you go and visit a fine cigar factory. Cohiba, the undisputed flagship of Habanos S.A., is headquartered in a glorious 1920s mansion. El Laguito, as the factory is called, is located in the Cubanacán district of Havana, where the noble past is still plain to see. But visitors are essentially unwelcome. Not because Cohiba has anything to hide, but so that the 300 or more members of staff can go about their work undisturbed.
As any trip will show you very impressively, a Cohiba is 100% handmade, even in the 21st century. And anyone who gets to work the best tobacco in the holy grail of Cuban cigar culture has certainly earned their place. If you want a job there, you first have to complete nine months of in-house training. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t have the talent for it. You need plenty of skill, instinct and the ability to work for eight hours at a time while maintaining the same high quality. There’s no room for sloppy work.
Just like a mechanical watch, a Cohiba will have gone through any number of quality control procedures before it leaves the factory. Anything that doesn’t meet the strict standards is mercilessly weeded out. And sloppy workers will be found out straight away; a slip of paper with the number of the roller accompanies every item. Anyone who makes too many mistakes too often will soon be banished from cigar heaven.
Because Cohiba – founded in 1966 – has a reputation to live up to and there is always the chance for the best employees to rise up the organisation. In this sense, there’s no denying a certain similarity to the watchmaking industry.
Watchmakers start off on simple calibres but after the relevant training, they may find themselves one day working in the complex timepiece workshop. Cigar-rollers are graded from one to three. As with the complications on mechanical watches, there are nine different Cohiba levels. You won’t be surprised to hear that only the best rollers are given access to grade eight and nine cigars.
Against such a backdrop, the joint venture between Zenith and Cohiba initiated in 2015 by Jean-Claude Biver makes perfect sense. To mark the 50th anniversary of Cohiba’s founding, heritage watchmaker Zenith, itself established in 1865, is now launching a total of three limited-edition watch ranges.
Only five of the Academy Christophe Colomb Cohiba have been made. To be specific, this wristwatch is a marine chronometer for the wrist. But unlike on a ship’s clock, here the oscillation and escapement system is stored in a gimballed container for space reasons. It means the balance wheel can always oscillate in a horizontal position. Problems caused by gravity are thus completely eliminated – at least in theory. However, the main challenge for designers and watchmakers is in how to transfer the frictional energy from the train to the escapement at a 90-degree angle.
Zenith has produced 50 samples of the pink-gold El Primero Chronomaster 1969 Cohiba Edition. In the 42mm case with transparent back, the tried and tested El Primero 4061 automatic calibre ticks away with an industrious 5Hz. You can see the escapement through the prominent gap in the brown dial with the arresting Cohiba logo. The escape wheel and escapement are made of silicon. An official chronometer certificate attests that it will be no more than four seconds slow or six seconds fast a day. You operate the chronograph with a classic flywheel.
Zenith is also offering the same watch with a steel exterior with 500 samples being made available.