Harry Winston Project Z13: Material Intent
Have you heard of that brand-new exotic material being used by your favorite shoemaker in your favorite kicks? Well, it may not be as groundbreaking as it seems. Designer materials can often be less of a single brand’s passion project and instead more of a combination of scientific ingenuity and marketing creativity if you look closely.
The people developing new materials – researchers, engineers, and material scientists – are usually seeking a specific material property to fulfill an engineering requirement. If that isn’t the case, then a new material was likely discovered out of pure research and then studied to understand any unique properties.
This typically happens in educational research environments and advanced lab settings, far away from most product development. But it isn’t always the case; some materials are developed specifically for a client who has requested an alternative that is not available in the market.
These clients are usually the largest corporations or the most advanced technology companies with loads of capital to throw at the problem. Luxury brands, though? Not so much.
If you take a gander at the variety of materials that consumer product companies “develop,” very rarely are they new materials: instead, they only new to that industry. This is because inventing materials is not a linear process like most product development; it is frequently filled with dead ends and undesired results.
Because of the cost and risk, many companies are always on the lookout for new or interesting materials that aren’t used regularly in their respective industries, mainly so they can have a novel application and have the words “first ever” tied to their product.
This still is no small feat as introducing a new material may require major research and development to make it work with a product, which is also why many brands can patent the new use.
By developing a new process for manufacturing with said material – or a new way to use the material – a brand can file for a variety of utility patents that can add even more perceived value to the end product. This is usually sealed with a new trade name for the material, one that is loosely related to the original trade or material name and unique to the brand who introduced it.
However, the claims of having developed a new material can still be a bit misleading at times, and the best way to know is to see how a brand discusses its creation. It is likely the development is revealed to be a cutting-edge material used exclusively in (insert high-tech) industry and is a first for their product. Headlines may boast about the “development,” but the copy reveals the truth.
The watch industry is familiar with these tactics due to the efforts of brands to distinguish themselves from competitors. Many fantastic materials and technology have infiltrated the watch industry thanks to this, and the products have been made largely the better for it.
So today as I discuss the Harry Winston Project Z13, this topic is inevitably close at hand since the Project Z timepieces were launched in 2004 with the introduction of a new material: Zalium.
Zalium and Harry Winston’s Project Z
The launch of the Project Z1 in 2004 was instigated by the integration of a new alloy for use in watch cases and associated components. The “Z” in “Project Z” stands for Zalium, which is the trademarked name for a zirconium-aluminum alloy previously used in aerospace and medical components.
The material was co-opted and developed from its previous implementation, and with that development came a patent for the use of said alloy in watch cases and the ability to create a trademark for the material.
Detailed information on the specific alloy used is sparse, but in general Zalium is likely a bulk metallic glass (BMG) thanks to the unique ability of the zirconium and aluminum to resist forming a solution, which leads to it becoming an amorphous metal when cooled rapidly.
Regardless of the exact formulation, the Zr-Al Zalium alloy is a very strong material with properties of both ceramics and metals.
This creates a hard alloy resistant to abrasion and dents as well as cracking from hard impacts. It is claimed to beat titanium in hardness, though without the exact alloy information that can only be speculation.
Still, Zalium represents an investment from Harry Winston in material research that helped open the door for more high-tech materials to become commonplace among more adventurous brands.
Project Z1 through Z12 (released in 2018) have demonstrated conscious development of advanced materials, avant-garde design, and interesting mechanical creations. The latest release, Z13, is another step along the Zalium path, this time focusing on a retrograde date and unique and distinctive moon phase.
Harry Winston Project Z13 is over the moon
As regular readers may know I’m a sucker for a moon phase, and anything unique about it makes it extra special.
In the case of the Z13, the moon phase is an interesting shape: a dodecagon (12 sides) that features a shuriken symbol (basically a ninja throwing star) that for some reason is a hallmark of the brand seen repeatedly across watches and jewelry.
The moon is set against a field of blue flanked by stars and rotates underneath a black disk that kind of looks like a winding rotor.
That disk is supported by two blue carbon fiber arms that give the illusion of crisscrossing behind the moon phase. The whole moon phase display also looks to float above the movement as the area around it is open through to the movement main plate behind it.
Arcing below the moon phase display is a retrograde date scale indicated by a blued steel hand-tipped with red. This hand sweeps across the dial from right to left before snapping back at the end of the month.
The top of the dial is home to the time display, a heavily pierced disk with applied hour indicators and a small minute chapter ring with matching blue carbon fiber peeking out from underneath.
This dial also appears to be supported by shaped bridges mounted near the edge of the movement, adding a distinct aesthetic to the entire dial. The assembly, like all the other Project Z watches, feels like a combination of art deco details applied to mechanics, similar to how steampunk is Victorian details applied to machinery.
The aesthetic is carried through all of the Project Z pieces, growing a bit more mechanical over time.
At the back we see the HW3202 caliber that powers the Z13, a fairly standard-looking movement that allows the front to be the star of the show. That makes sense too, as Project Z feels a bit like a pet project that the brand plays with as a way to keep the spotlight on its use of Zalium.
It isn’t the mechanical mindblower like the Opus series, and it doesn’t double down on extreme tourbillon application like the Histoire de Tourbillon pieces. No, Project Z is well positioned as a kind of “entry-level” series for Harry Winston’s creative horology.
Like most timepieces from Harry Winston the Z13 is a limited edition, but it is relatively accessible compared to the CHF 430,000 Opus 14 or the Histoire de Tourbillon 10 that comes in at a whopping CHF 700,000.
At CHF 24,000, Project Z13 is a true everyman’s watch. Okay, it isn’t an everyman’s watch but it still allows access into the Harry Winston circle for the price of a decent new car instead of a very large house.
Honestly, though, that isn’t what any of these watches are truly about. The Z13 is a showcase for materials and creative design first, and that keeps it from becoming a totem for wealth like some pieces.
Having a moon phase is an excellent way of getting me on its side. Still, the intention behind a piece matters, and it is clear that the designers wanted to experiment with the moon and drop it into the brand’s special case material.
The design proves the focus is on that moon phase, and the details help support it – visually and literally.
Strangely, I didn’t think I would end up here when I first considered writing about this watch, but I am beginning to realize how much I value why a brand does something nearly as much as how.
It isn’t always clear, and sometimes it’s clear for the wrong reasons, but Harry Winston seems to have had true intentions with the Z13 and the entire Project Z along the way, and that keeps me excited for the Z14!
You can’t break me, but you can break this watch down!
- Wowza Factor * 8.4 How often do you see a moon in the shape of a dodecagon with a ninja star on it!?!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 84.0» 823.758m/s2 The moon is meant to help you see at night, so this has the power to keep you up till the wee hours!
- M.G.R. * 58.9 The movement is clearly high quality, though fairly straightforward mechanically. Still the retrograde date and moon phase aren’t trivial matters, either!
- Added-Functionitis * Moderate A retrograde date and moon phase is more than enough to bring on a case of added-functionitis that requires extra-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream!
- Ouch Outline * 9.411 Sleep deprivation headache! There comes a time in everyone’s life when he or she must admit they are not young anymore and cannot survive on a ridiculously small amount of sleep and still function normally. Coffee, energy drinks, and donuts cannot replace the metabolism and natural hormone levels of a 19-year-old. Still, I’d stay up late all week if it meant getting the Z13 on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Wait, that moon isn’t round! For someone that looks at a lot of moon phase watches, I was more than delightfully surprised to see that the moon was geometrically artistic! Better call the preacher!
- Awesome Total * 982 Begin by taking the number of the model (13) and multiplying by the number of sides on the geometric moon (12) and the water resistance in bar (10), then subtract the number of components in the movement (278) as well as the number of pieces in the limited edition (300) and the result will be one Zeriously awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.harrywinston.com/en/project-z13.
Quick Facts Harry Winston Project Z13
Case: 42.2 x 11.27 mm, proprietary Zalium
Movement: automatic Caliber HW3202, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency, 68-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes; retrograde date, moon phase
Limitation: 300 pieces