The origins of the name Defy, as used by Zenith, date back 120 years. It was in 1902 when Zenith introduced the designation “DEFI” with an “I” at the end, to indicate a line of more robust and precise pocket watches. This was later transferred to a collection of wristwatches bearing the name “DEFY” now with a Y instead. Introduced in 1969, this was again used to distinguish a more robust line of watches and since has stood for a forward-thinking approach to watchmaking for Zenith. In 2022, Zenith presents a new chapter in this long lineage of robustness and precision. This new range of sports watches combines all the traits of the original Defy concept, mixed with the brand’s El Primero history, into the contemporary Zenith Defy Skyline collection.
The story of the present-day Defy collection starts with the 1969 Zenith Defy. Back then the idea was to present a more robust and precise wristwatch through a sturdy case and movement construction. With a patented movement suspension system, a flexible elastic shock-absorbing ring and a bulky steel case it quickly became known as the “Tough Guy”. It was even marketed as “Un Coffre-Fort”, or Vault, in advertisements.
With the recent A3642 Revival still fresh in our minds, the original Defy serves as a direct inspiration for the 2022 Defy Skyline. The edgy design of the octagonal case and the Defy spirit is carried over into the modern-day equivalent. It shouldn’t be perceived as a vintage-inspired collection though, as it very much represents present-day Zenith and looks towards the future as well. It looks and feels very contemporary, has a modern construction and cutting-edge mechanical movement. In short, it bears all the typical codes of a luxury mechanical sports watch.
A touch less extreme
With the introduction of the Defy Skyline, Zenith combines the styles of the Defy Classic and Defy Extreme into a new interpretation of a luxury sports watch. Retaining the spirit of the Defy range that started with the A3642 in 1969, the Zenith Defy Skyline nestles nicely between the two. But the collection is far more than just a nice mix of both styles, as there are numerous new elements that set it apart from the others.
The Defy Skyline represents the latest evolution of the Defy collection, following the introduction of the rather bold Defy Extreme last year. The design can be traced back to the original Defy, with a sharp and angular looking case but in a refreshed, more modern execution. The sharply defined stainless steel case (not titanium anymore, as in previous versions of the Defy) measures a reasonable 41mm across and 11.6mm in height. The case is finished with a mix of straight brushing and polished edges, resulting in a sleek overall look. The faceted 12-sided bezel (but not 14-sided as in the 1969 model) is another Defy element, again with polished and brushed finishes. The screw-down crown is emblazoned with Zenith’s star-shaped logo and ensures a water-resistance of 100 meters. Turning the watch over reveals its mechanical heart through the sapphire crystal caseback, which we’ll get to a little bit later.
It’s quite challenging to create a unique and visually striking dial pattern without falling back to guilloché decoration, waffle- or wave-like patterns or classic concentric circles. What Zenith has done for the Defy Skyline is make clever use of its long-standing love for the stars. The silver, blue or black dials each have a perfectly aligned grid of engraved four-pointed stars. The pattern looks distinct and adds quite a feel of depth and life to the dial.
The outer minute track, and the track for the subdial for that matter, sit slightly lower than the main portion of the dial. The outer tip of the hour indices is suspended over the minute track ever so slightly, again giving the dial a bit of character. The large, faceted markers are polished, with a good dose of Super-LumiNova on top. The central hour and minute hands have a very modern shape to them, with a black centre line interrupted by a Super-LumiNova insert for that extra bit of legibility at night.
Next to the central hour and minute indication, we have two more features on the dial. The first is the most simple one perhaps; the date. Positioned at 3 o’clock, a recessed window reveals the date disc underneath. The disc is colour-matched to each dial variation and is large enough to be ready easily. What remains is the sub-seconds, or rather the sub 1/10th of a seconds display, which should be a clear indication of the movement’s origins to people with a bit of knowledge on Zenith Calibres. The hand of this sub-dial rotates in 10 seconds and each second is clearly divided into 10 segements.
El Primero heart
It might not be obvious straight away when looking at images, but the 1/10th of a second indication is a very important element for the Zenith Defy Skyline. It is a first in the industry to display this in a three-handed watch, yet something that is intertwined indissolubly with Zenith. Powering the Defy Skyline is indeed an El Primero-based movement, even though it does not have chronograph indications. This new movement 3-hand is based on the recent evolution of the El Primero chronograph found in the Chronomaster Sport and Chronomaster Original. And as the El Primero and original Defy A3642 were both introduced in 1969, the Defy Skyline comes full circle really.
Built upon the iconic El Primero architecture, the new Calibre El Primero 3620 beats at the well-known 5Hz pace, or 36,000vph. This frequency is what gives the movement its 1/10th of a second display, as the sub 1/10th seconds hand takes its energy directly from the escapement. This “natural” fraction-of-a-second indication really connects the Defy Skyline with Zenith’s undeniable legacy in chronograph watchmaking. It’s probably not the last time we will be seeing this type of indication in the Defy Skyline range.
The movement is finished in various tones of matte grey for a subdued, contemporary, almost industrial look. A touch of contrast is provided by the blued screws, engraving on the mainplate, the balance wheel and other components. The single barrel holds up to 60 hours of energy, provided by the satin-finished star-shaped rotor topping the movement. The movement is endowed with a stop-seconds mechanism to precisely set the time, again in the spirit of the quest for robustness and precision through the Defy concept.
The new Zenith Defy Skyline follows current trends and comes with a fully interchangeable strap system. As such, the integrated stainless steel bracelet can be easily exchanged in favour of the rubber strap that is supplied with all the watches. The silver dial Defy Skyline comes with a khaki green rubber strap, and there are dial-matching blue or black rubber straps for the other two. Each strap has the same starry sky pattern down the centre section as the dials, and come with its own steel folding clasp.
So what exactly do we have here? Is it merely a Zenith Greatest Hits, or is it more than just that? Well, for us it’s the latter really. The Defy legacy, introduced 53 years ago is kept very much alive through the new Defy Skyline. And although the use of the El Primero architecture is not new to the Defy line, seeing it adapted to a three-handed style showcases Zenith’s forward-thinking yet again. It ties in the collection with the various chronograph models available, such as the Defy 21 and Defy Extreme models.
Reworking the Defy and El Primero DNA into a sleek, fresh-looking luxury sports watch shows Zenith isn’t resting on its laurels. As a result, the Zenith Defy Skyline is a very attractive watch, following the typical codes of a luxury sports watch as stated earlier. And yes, that does mean you can see some similarities to other heavy-hitters available. However, we are convinced it can stand its ground and is a worthy new entry to this heavily contested segment.
The Zenith Defy Skyline collection retails for CHF 8,400 and will be available from February 2022 onwards. For more information, please visit Zenith-Watches.com