Tradition meets innovation in this new Zenith Defy model with its dramatic setting to host two watchmaking classics: a fusée-and-chain escapement and a tourbillon. In keeping with the avant-garde spirit of the Defy family, Zenith stages the show in a gravity-defying, 3D, openworked setting that reveals absolutely everything. Available in full carbon or platinum cases, these limited editions are not for the faint of heart.
Staging a mechanism that was originally invented in the 15th century in a radically modern setting requires guts. It’s a bit like doing Shakespeare in space-age costume. Fusée-and-chain transmissions are extremely complex to manufacture, difficult to adjust, and for the most part, have become properly scarce. However, a few of the upper echelon brands, like A. Lange & Söhne, Romain Gauthier, Ferdinand Berthoud and Zenith’s top-of-the-line Georges Favre-Jacot have resuscitated the fusée-and-chain transmission pulling off some of the most impressive watchmaking feats today. Usually housed in classic cases, few had dared to “package” this historic transmission in such a bold, defiantly modern context: welcome the Zenith Defy Fusée Tourbillon.
There are skeletonised movements and then there are skeletonised movements; this one belongs to the latter category. There are no secrets here and practically every component is exposed on either the dial or reverse side. The architecture is bold and dynamic and the bridges form as much a part of the scenery as the animated stars of the show.
An openworked tri-spoke bridge occupies the centre, surrounded by three smaller boomerang-shaped bridges. The top two bridges sustain the fusée and chain constant force mechanism, while the third bridge at 6 o’clock anchors the one-minute tourbillon. A touch of colour enlivens the scene with rubies in the bridges and a blued treatment to pick out the chain and the tourbillon cage. All the bridges are secured on or under the hours flange where, at about 5 o’clock, you can see a red stripe and a small red-tipped hand representing the power reserve, which in this case is of 50 hours. The hands are not that easy to distinguish but are picked out with a strip of Super-LumiNova to glow in the dark.
Fusée and Chain Transmission and Tourbillon
Even more ancient than the tourbillon, the fusée-and-chain method was invented in the 15th century. Used in spring-driven clocks and later in marine chronometers, this type of transmission was devised to improve isochronism by ensuring the barrel transmits a constant torque or a steady flow of uniform energy from beginning to end – you can read an in-depth explanation of this mechanism in Xavier’s excellent article on the dilemma of constant force escapement.
Like a miniature bicycle chain, the chain is coiled around a conical “fusée” and attached to the mainspring barrel. As the mainspring unwinds, more of the chain wraps around the barrel, detaching itself from the wide conical base of the fusee. The greater turning movement provided by the fusée compensates the weakening mainspring pull, thus maintaining the torque and, consequently, the amplitude of the regulating organ constant throughout the duration of the mainspring’s autonomy. For the record, the blued chain used on this Defy model is made of 575 individually hand-assembled components (just that…)
In addition to the exceptional transmission, the watch is endowed with a one-minute, high-beat tourbillon regulating organ. The tourbillon cage, with its off-centred balance wheel, is also picked out in electric blue colour. The Defy Fusée Tourbillon is fitted with a manual-winding El Primero 4805SK movement. With 807 components and a frequency of 36,000vph/5Hz, the movement offers a power reserve of 50 hours.
A light or a heavyweight case?
Although we only had the carbon version for our hands-on session, there is a second limited edition of 10 pieces in platinum (see here). The first consideration regarding the 44mm case concerns weight. Obviously, the difference in weight between the black carbon and platinum 950 is enormous, but so is the difference in looks. The black carbon displays the characteristic mottled effect and shimmer of this material emanating a high-tech, contemporary air. The 10-piece platinum edition, with its contrasting polished and satin-brushed finishes, is slightly more “conventional” and might not “tire” the wearer as much as carbon in the long run.
The never-ending quest of many contemporary watch brands is to present revered horological inventions in a fresh, new light. In that sense, Zenith has scored a ten. The look is defiantly contemporary and exploits the current phenomenon of openworked movements to the full. For collectors who enjoy flying in the face of tradition and not missing a beat in the movement, this might just be the watch for you. A quick question: can any of you see the two blue eyes and open mouth on the dial?
Availability, price and straps
The 50-piece black carbon Zenith Defy Fusée Tourbillon comes with a black rubber strap with a ‘cordura’ fabric effect and blue stitching, along with a second strap in black rubber with a woven carbon effect to match the case. The clasp is a double folding titanium clasp with a black carbon head. The platinum model, limited to just 10 pieces, comes with a strap made of black rubber coated with black alligator leather and a titanium and white gold double folding clasp. The black carbon model retails for EUR 80,100 and the platinum for EUR 102,500.
More information at www.zenith-watches.com.