Z-Factor – Harry Winston’s Project ZBy Sumit Nag
Opus and Histoire de Tourbillon watches are created to showcase Harry Winston’s determination to explore unchartered realms of watchmaking, the Project Z family of watches, exemplifies the brand’s pursuit of novel material innovation unlike any other watchmaker. While Opus is meant to bring together watchmakers from all walks of life to paint the Harry Winston canvas with their own colors and the Histoire de Tourbillon is an adventure in ever more daring executions of the regulating organ, the Project Z is solely focused on the use of Zalium for the cases of a very special segment of watches created under the brand’s Ocean collection.
Zalium was developed by Ronald Winston, son of the founder of the House of Harry Winston. Ronald was an accomplished chemical engineer and shared his father’s keen intuition for being able to identify great diamonds apart from good ones.
As a chemical engineer, he was initially working as a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where his focus was rocket propellants. It is there that he became an expert on the subject matter of zirconium alloys, which are commonly used in jet and rocket engines. It is known that the metal and its alloys tend to be able to retain its material within the sort of engines that Ronald would have been working on.
But knowledge of physical and chemical properties aside, it is only someone with an upbringing the likes of Ronald Winston’s, who would have been able to put two and two together to realize that the material therefore presented the possibility to create robust wristwatches. Upon further study it was determined that zirconium is also non-reactive and hypo-allergenic, which is why it is also used in surgical implants and instruments; it’s harder than titanium and almost as light. Ronald Winston also noticed that the metal had a certain sheen that would be desirable on wristwatches. So, there was a decision made to amplify this by forming a compound with aluminum, and thus we have Zalium, a proprietary alloy belonging to the House of Harry Winston.
To date, Harry Winston has produced several chapters of Project Z. Starting with the very first Project Z1 (limited to 100 pieces), in 2004. The timepiece was a 44mm automatic chronograph with the House’s signature retrograde indications — triple retrograde indications to be precise. The hours and minutes in an offset subdial at 12 o’clock, 60-second retrograde chronograph counter at six, 30-minute retrograde totalizer at three and lastly the 12-hour totalizer at nine. The timepiece was powered by the calibre 1185.
In this manner, Harry Winston set itself a pace to release one new Project Z timepiece annually, progressing the entire narrative. But, of course, it was the Project Z1 that set the tone for everything else that was to come.
In 2005, the House gave us the Project Z2 (limited to 200 pieces), which no doubt took on a much more aggressive 46mm case design, but in Zalium. This was the first Zalium diver’s chronograph, water-resistant to 200m. The watch wasn’t all Zalium, curiously, the dive bezel of the watch was in platinum, making for a timepiece in two rare materials. This time round, although the dial of the watch had a more traditional chronograph dial layout, was also powered by the calibre 1185.
2006 then gave us the 47mm Project Z3 (limited to 80 pieces) that was vastly more sober compared to the Z2, save for the fact that this was a time-only piece, regulated by a tourbillon. The watch is said to have been realized with respected master watchmaker, Peter Speake-Marin in the play. Very simply the timepiece had an offset subdial with hour and minute display at 12 o’clock and the tourbillon at six. Interestingly enough, the Project Z3 Sport Tourbillon boasted 110 hours of power reserve, courtesy of the calibre HW401A.
The 44mm Project Z4 (limited to 100 pieces) is up next, introduced in 2007. The watch provided for a dual time indication, using a larger hour and minute subdial at one o’clock and a secondary subdial at nine o’clock. Both time subdials had their own day and night indicators, to help keep track of AM/PM hours. The watch allowed you to set each time subdial independently and there was a trigger incorporated on the case at ten o’clock to quick set the hours on the secondary time subdial. Lastly, the watch also had a vertical date display. All of this was enabled by the calibre GP 3196.
Project Z5 (limited to 150 pieces) once again incorporated a dual time display and included this time a 1-minute tourbillon. Launched in 2008, local time on the 45mm timepiece was included as a subdial at two o’clock, while home time was a subdial at nine. But it wasn’t just a time display for home, it also incorporated a day/night indicator within the subdial and a small aperture just above it to show a city, representative of a timezone that home time would be tracking.
Project Z6 (limited to 150 pieces) comes next, in 2010, and introduced a fresh new complication to the family. This was courtesy of a hand-wound, 24- hour alarm clock movement developed specially for and exclusive to Harry Winston Timepieces. The timepiece presented an offset hour and minutes indicator paried with a day/night indicator at two o’clock. At five o’clock you’re presented with a digital display that made it possible to set the alarm time correct to the nearest fifth minute, using the crown. You could also activate or deactivate the alarm using a trigger incorporated into the case of the watch at four o’clock. Harry Winston also wanted to make sure that this is an alarm that you could hear and see, so the 44mm timepiece had the hammer for the function, visible on the dial side.
It’s not fully known why the Project Z was given a hiatus at this point, with no additions made to the collection from 2011 into 2013. Eventually, when the next chapter was launched, it was 2014 and was called the Project Z8. It most likely had to do with the fact that the company was acquired by Swatch Group in 2013, but still no publicly known reason for why three years and the Z7 was skipped.
Nonetheless, the 44.2mm Project Z8 (limited to 300 pieces) featured an offset hour and minute subdial that would serve as home time, paired with a day/night indicator at just about three o’clock. Date indicator is placed at about five o’clock and, of course, the unmistakable retrograde time display for the local time. Curiously, the watch was able to have you adjust the time on the local time indicator by using the crown to precisely place the hour on the little wheel that sits right smack in the center of the watch. Once set, the retrograde hand would swing into the hour to indicate as necessary. All of this was enabled by the calibre HW3502, which also introduced the use of silicon balance springs into Project Z.
2015 then gave us the Project Z9 (limited to 300 pieces) at Baselworld. The 44.2mm timepiece featured a flyback chronograph with 30-minute and 12-hour counters, in a very classical layout. What made it not-so-classic is for sure the dial which was openworked to provide a very architectural feel. The dial also presented a date indication at six o’clock. In order that the calibre HW3304 movement used for the watch would provide great accuracy when using the chronograph, it had a 5Hz frequency.
The Project Z10 (limited to 300 pieces) was launched late into 2016. At 42,2mm the watch featured an offset hour and minute subdial, a retrograde seconds display at eight o’clock, a retrograde day display at four o’clock and a date display at six o’clock set with magnifier. The timepiece was enabled by the calibre HW3305.
Project Z11 (limited to 300 pieces) comes into the picture next, in 2017, with an offset hour and minute subdial taking up the upper half of the dial and a large, grand-date display taking up the lower half. The date display involved two discs that rotate to come together to form the digits necessary. The movement used for the Z11 was the calibre HW3206. After Projects 8 through to 11, we can see that Harry Winston was more intentional about the dial design language used: a very, trusses and rods-inspired openworked structure, which was meant to recall the steel jungle that is the House’s hometown of New York City.
Baselworld 2018 then saw the launch of the Project Z12 (limited to 300 pieces), measuring in at 42.2mm. The watch’s defining feature was what is a large, arched bridge that straddles the central axis of the dial. Over the top of this bridge is a retrograde hour display and a retrograde minute display under the bridge. Lastly, you have the date display along with periphery of the dial. The movement within the watch is the automatic calibre HW3306, which boasts a power reserve of up to 68 hours.
As the Swatch Group exited the Baselworl fair after its showing in 2018, 2019 was the first and only time they held the Time to Move fair, consisting of Breguet, Omega, Blancpain, Jaquet-Droz, Glashutte Original and, of course, Harry Winston. Here the House unveiled the 42.2mm Project Z13 (limited to 300 pieces), which for the first time added a moon phase and a retrograde date display to the family. Again, we have an offset hour and minuste subdial at 12 o’clock, with the moon phase and a retrograde date display occupying the lower half of the dial. The timepiece was enabled by the automatic calibre HW3202 with 68 hours of power reserve.
2020 then was a strange year and without getting into the whole reminiscing over year it was, it’s important to point out that in the middle of the year Harry Winston went on to announce the 42.2mm Project Z14 (limited to 300 pieces). Timepiece featured the now-staple offset subdial with hour and minute display at 12 o’clock. The lower half on the dial for the Z14 is occupied by a retrograde seconds display against a 30-second scale. The movement here was the self-winding calibre HW2202.
For the latest addition to the Project Z, in 2021, Harry Winston unveiled the 42.2mm Project Z15 (limited to 300 pieces). Here on the offset dial at 12 o’clock the watch only presents an hour display. The minute is shown using a central hand that runs along a 60-minute scale on the perimeter of the dial. Seconds are indicated by a small retrograde indication at six o’clock. At the point of the watch’s announcement, Revolution’s editor-in-chief for the Mexico and Latin American editions, Israel Ortega wrote saying, “Always unmissable, here’s the new “Z”, the fifteenth edition of the brand’s Zalium saga. Harry Winston’s Project Z is distinguished by its fusion of classic horological composition with the Big Apple-inspired architectural elements. Incorporating a partially skeletonized minute hand in the brand’s signature blue hue, the Project Z15 is a modern interpretation of the regulator clock, where its design “deconstruction” separates the time indications. The very cool Z15 will be limited to 300 units globally.” The Project Z15 is run by the calibre HW3207.
Fourteen chapters in, and with a relatively regular release schedule, the Project Z endeavor of Harry Winston’s has been on a great trajectory with a very solid identity established to date, beyond just the use of the proprietary alloy a proprietary alloy, Zalium. Therein, while the House has not yet said that there is an end in sight for Project Z, we can surely expect Project Z16 in the coming year.