The natural affinity of cars and chronographs is a relationship that has long been exploited with countless sponsorships involving watch brands and fast cars/racing events. Zenith and the famous British manufacturer Land Rover hooked up in 2016 and since then a variety of watches have marked this alliance: the rugged yet understated El Primero Range Rover model with discreet Range Rover branding of 2016, followed in 2017 with this Range Rover Velar Special Edition and a skeletonised edition in 2018, the Zenith Defy Classic Range Rover. For 2020, Zenith decided to dedicate a watch to the new Land Rover Defender, an entirely redesigned upmarket SUV. The model selected for this task comes from the El Primero Defy 21 family, renowned for its 1/100th of a second chronograph movement and twin escapements. Let’s take a closer look at the new stealth-clad Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover, a limited edition of 250 watches.
Defying and Defending, or how two brands upgraded an icon for the new era
1969 witnessed the launch of Zenith’s high-precision automatic chronograph movement, christened as the El Primero. Beating at 5Hz, the El Primero movement has become something of a celebrity throughout its fifty uninterrupted years of life. In 2017, Zenith decided it had to increase the cachet of the El Primero and create a new movement in line with 21st-century mechanical expectations. The answer was the Defy El Primero 21 with its speedy central chronograph hand racing around the dial once per second recording elapsed times with 1/100th of a second accuracy. Equipped with not one, but two separate escapements, one for the watch beating at the classic speed of the El Primero (5Hz) and the other for the chronograph beating at 50Hz, the Defy El Primero 21 was first declined in a more classic closed dial version and since then has appeared in numerous skeletonised versions, including this personalised model for DJ Carl Cox.
Unveiled in 2019 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the new Land Rover Defender replaces the iconic Land Rover Defender (born in 1948 and axed in 2016) and its illustrious 70-year, 4×4 off-road career. Sparking controversy among some for abandoning its military/utilitarian roots and taking on board luxury high-tech gizmos and pampered styling, the new Defender is more in line with the upmarket Range Rover and caters to urbanites with a taste for the occasional adventure.
In a way, both the Defy El Primero 21 and the new Land Rover Defender are spruced-up versions of legends offering extraordinary performance capacities but probably rarely used for their intended purpose. How often do you need to time something to 1/100th of a second? How many times are you really going to expose your EUR 90,000 Defender to desert sands or Alpin muds? However, there is always that reassuring feeling that just in case you find yourself in a snowstorm in Siberia or are asked to time an Olympic event, you have all the goodies on board and could theoretically face any situation/environment.
Not the first time Zenith and Land Rover team up for an adventure
Rugged outdoor adventures are like magnets for brands and sure enough, the British Trans-Americas Expedition proved to be a high-profile showcase for British carmaker Rover (later Land Rover), which supplied the crew with two brand new 1970 4×4 Range Rovers. The goal of the British Trans-Americas Expedition (1971 to 1972) was to drive from Anchorage, Alaska and finish at Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. A formidable 29,000 km journey from head to toe of the Americas, the biggest obstacle was the Darien Gap, the missing stretch of the Pan American highway separating Panama from Colombia. With no roads, no bridges and no tracks, it took the expedition three months to hack its way through the diabolical swampy jungle infested with deadly snakes, killer bees, malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and vampire bats.
Expedition leader, Major John Blashford-Snell (Blashers), equipped with a pith helmet and a track record of dangerous missions – including an assignment from Emperor Haile Selassie in 1968 to explore and descend the 805 km long Blue Nile – happened to be wearing his 1969 Zenith El Primero chrongoraph during the Trans-Americas adventure. A couple of years ago, archivists at Zenith came across a faded press cutting of the handsome British Army Major wearing an El Primero chronograph on the expedition and swiftly made hay inviting the charismatic gentleman to become a friend of the brand and regaling him with an El Primero Striking 10th, although his 1969 watch was still in perfect working order and was donated to the museum.
Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover
Emulating the matte metallic paint of the new Land Rover Defender, the 44mm x 14.50mm case, caseback, bezel, pushers and crown are all made from titanium and micro-blasted to achieve a matte, uniform, non-reflective surface. A dash of orange on the crown provides a welcome bit of contrast to the monochromatic grey.
Thanks its closed dial and its monochromatic look, we have here the most rugged version of the Defy 21.
Handling the watch is extremely pleasurable, it is lightweight and the matte grey surfaces make the watch look a lot smaller than its 44mm diameter would suggest. The architecture of the case retains its monobloc base, a raised round bezel and integrated lugs. Water-resistant to depths of 100m yet extremely lightweight, the case combines the rugged yet comfortable philosophy of the Land Rover Defender.
As opposed to the busy openworked dials of the Defy 21 family, the closed dial of this model immediately improves legibility and is a far better solution for a watch of these high-speed characteristics. The skeletonised models might be spectacular to look at, but they are devilishly difficult to read. Another curious (but enjoyable) detail is that there is no Land Rover branding on the dial.
With the presence of the super-fast central chronograph hand, Zenith had to alter the dial display. Unlike the original El Primero chronograph, the El Primero Defy 21 family substitutes the tachymeter for a 1/100th of a second counter, and instead of the 12h counter at 6 o’clock has a 60-second elapsed time counter. Another difference from previous Defy 21 models is the reshaped power reserve indicator. Formerly an arched-shaped indicator just below 12 o’clock, the new one is linear with white and orange markings. Orange is also used to highlight the chronograph indicators and contrasts well with the monochrome grey while the markers and inscriptions are white. The Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover comes with an integrated matching grey rubber strap with an embossed tiled pattern in its centre and a second grey rubber/fabric strap with orange stitching, both attached to the wrist with a titanium double-folding clasp.
Accelerating from 5Hz to 50Hz
Tucked under a five-spoked rotor is Zenith’s impressive automatic twin escapement engine, calibre El Primero 9004. As you can imagine, a chronograph with a 50Hz frequency is a power guzzler. To avoid depleting the power reserve by accelerating the chronograph, the Defy El Primero 21 is based on a dual-balance architecture: one of the escapements beating at 5Hz/36,000vph (just like the original 1969 El Primero) is dedicated to keeping the hours, minutes and seconds in sync while the second escapement, beating at 50Hz/360,000vph, is devoted exclusively to the chronograph. Each balance has its own transmission and escapement system, and there is no coupling clutch. This means that two barrels are necessary and the crown can be turned clockwise to charge the chronograph and counterclockwise to charge the watch. For an in-depth explanation of the movement, please consult Brice’s article, complete with video, here.
As mentioned, there is no Land Rover branding on the dial. Instead, the five-spoked rotor is designed to evoke the alloy wheels of the Land Rover Defender and the word Land Rover is featured on one of the spokes and on the lower part of the caseback.
The uniform matte grey case, dial and strap create a very tight stealth mood. A watch with contemporary 21st-century looks and mechanical capacities, the matte sandblasted titanium surfaces give the watch a cool, technical feel. Discreet enough to avoid radar detection, the lines of the bodywork are clean, and the overall effect is one of elegant minimalism. Like the ergonomic seats inside the Land Rover Defender, the titanium case proves to be exceptionally comfortable on the wrist. Another positive aspect of this closed dial watch over the skeletonised versions is that you can actually read the time, the elapsed times and enjoy the high-speed rotations of the chronograph hand.
Availability and price
The Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover (ref. 97.9000.9004/01.R787) is a limited edition of 250 pieces and retails for EUR 13,700. More information at zenith-watches.com.