Zenith X IWC Beta21

Friday, February 2, 2024

There are still some mysteries in Beta21, the CEH project of developing the first (Swiss) quartz-watch, that joined forces of the Who-is-Who in Swiss watchmaking: Patek, Rolex, Omega, JLC, Piaget, IWC, Zenith, Bulova, Audemars etc.

Zeniths Heritage for example believes that Zenith made approx 200 Zenith-Beta21-watches -- believes, because they cannot support it with detailed notes and it seems that the archive overall has (at least for this watch) some dark spots. The 200 seemed to be rather derived from the capital share of Zenith to the project CEH (see the book "Electrifying the Wristwatch") -- for example Patek had a share of almost 400 pieces of the planned Zero Series of 6'000 movements / watches -- than from exact notes or archive-data.

What is striking are two things regarding the Zentih Beta21: 1.) It is a very rare bird. Much rarer than one would expect if there were made 200 pieces. I know of just 3 examples. One is in our portfolio, a second excellent preserved and NOS example and a third one in fair condition with much more signs of age -- but thats it. And colleagues and collectors, also deep in the Beta21-topic, have not seen any other than one of these three pieces. Now, thats a bit strange, when they made half of the number of the Patek ref3587 (approx 400pcs), which is around much more often. And 2.) it has the exact same case as the IWC Beta21 International ref3003 (ref3203 in 18K) and was also made by the same case-maker (Hammer[143], Pierre-Antoine Nardin & Cie). The same screws are used, and even the movement-holder (plastic) is exactly the same in both watches.

So, that brings up a question: Is it possible that Zenith never made 200pcs of its Beta21 and instead sold the movements and the cases to IWC after making a handful examples for the April 1970 Basel fair? Maybe the engagement was stopped abruptly because Zenith simply didnt have the customer-base for such an expensive watch? Maybe the typical Zenith customer was into a automatic chronograph but not a Quartz-watch?

And there is another indication for this assumption: IWC is the only brand that had three (3) different cases for its Beta21-movements:

  • the round one (ref3001 as watch or pocketwatch)
  • the hexagonal DaVinci (ref3501 / ref9500)
  • the cushion-shaped (ref3070 / ref3003)

And this does not make much sense for a couple of hundred watches. But it would be plausible when the third (cushion-shaped) came with additional movements, that obviously were in high demand by the IWC customers -- the almost 200 pieces from Zenith.