The year 1969 is remembered by many as the year that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, as the year of Woodstock and the Beatles’ last performance. Watch fans will remember 1969 as the year that Zenith launched the world’s first high-frequency automatic chronograph movement, El Primero, and with somewhat less fanfare, the launch of its heavy-duty Defy model. Following the well-received reproductions of historical El Primero models from the 1960s and 1970s (A3817, A385, A386), Zenith turns its attention to the earliest Defy model of 1969, reproduced with accurate details using the original production plans. Meet the Zenith Defy Revival A3642.
The tough guy
Often regarded as the precursor to the elaborately shaped cases of luxury sports watches that materialised with Gérald Genta’s Royal Oak, the Defy tapped into the design mood of the late 1960s and early 1970s with its outrageously angular octagonal case and tetradecagonal (14-sided) bezel. A robust beast of a watch with a chunky 37mm water-resistant case, screw-down crown and caseback and a mineral crystal, the Defy was described in ads of the day as a “vault”. The Defy-Plongeur – ref. A3648 and A3650 – offered an impressive 600m water-resistance, while the regular Defy models – the A3642 but also the A3643 (silver dial) and A3645 (black dial) – delivered a very satisfying 300m water-resistance. Fitted with a patented movement suspension system and a flexible elastic shock-absorbing ring, the Defy is as robust a sports watch as they come. The first Defy models were powered by the Zenith calibre 2552PC with a 3Hz frequency and then the calibre 2562PC with a 4Hz frequency.
The octagonal case design of the original Defy, with its scalloped edges, contrasting brushed and polished finishings and the dizzying 14-sided bezel, is radical and edgy. Coupled with the gradient or fumé dial – one of the first of its kind in 1969 – the hour markers with horizontal ridges added a dynamic sense of motion to the dial. The steel ladder bracelet designed and manufactured by Gay Frères could be adjusted and came with a safety clasp. Naturally, the markers, hour and minute hands and central seconds hand with its paddle tip were treated with tritium to glow in the dark.
However, like many other watchmakers, the rampage of cheap quartz watches flooding the market during the 1970s and 1980s had its effects, and Zenith turned to quartz. Following its acquisition by the LVMH group in 2000, the Defy line was revived in 2006 and is now the springboard for Zenith’s technological innovations incarnated in models like the Defy Lab of 2017 with its revolutionary oscillator, the Defy Extreme with two escapements, or the Defy Zero-G and Defy 21 Double Tourbillon Sapphire. The Defy collection also houses less extreme models that display their defiantly contemporary spirit thanks to avant-garde materials and radical skeletonisation.
The Zenith Defy Revival A3642
As we mentioned, the revival version of the Defy A3642 was created using original production plans to produce an almost perfect reproduction. The formidable geometry of the 37mm case with a case height of 13.6mm is faithfully recreated with its thick octagonal and scalloped base and 14-sided raised and polished bezel. Using contrasting brushed finishings on the surface of the case and polished bevels, the dynamic architecture of the watch comes to life. The large screw-down crown ensures the 300m water-resistance of the case, although the original screw-down caseback with its four-pointed star has been replaced with a sapphire crystal glass.
The taupe fumé dial is identical to the original with a lighter tone in the centre that intensifies as it reaches the white minute and seconds track on the perimeter. The iconic rectangular hour markers are faceted, rhodium-plated and polished to highlight the ridges. Placed discreetly underneath the markers are dots of lume that match the Super-LumiNova used to treat the faceted and rhodium-plated hour, minute and paddle-shaped seconds hands. Like the original, the date window is tucked in between the 4 and 5 o’clock markers. Along with the Super-LumiNova SLN C1, another concession to modernity is the replacement of the original mineral glass over the dial with a sapphire crystal, like the caseback. The inscriptions on the dial and the typography are similar to the 1969 Defy. The applied Zenith star is at noon along with the words ZENITH, automatic, and DEFY, but the mention of the frequency found at 12 o’clock on some models (those with 4Hz movement) has been removed here.
Although the stainless steel bracelet is no longer made by Gay Frère, it replicates the ladder bracelet with its open rungs and is brushed throughout with a foldover clasp. The lug width is 18mm.
Calibre Elite 670
Zenith’s Elite 670 calibre is an automatic movement with central seconds and date. Developed by Zenith in 1990 and presented in 1994, calibre 670 (automatic) and calibre 650 (hand-wound) were conceived as modular ultra-thin calibres that could be made entirely in-house. With a diameter of 25.60mm and a height of just 3.47mm, this ultra-thin movement operates at a frequency of 4Hz/28,800vph and delivers a power reserve of 50 hours. The rotor is openworked and the bridges and plates are decorated with Geneva stripes and circular graining.
Availability & Price
As Zenith mentions in its press release, a modern successor to the Defy with a sleeker case and a “whole new level of performance” will soon be unveiled (to be expected in a week, for the LVMH Watch Week 2022). The Zenith Defy Revival A3642 is limited to 250 pieces and retails for CHF 6,900.
More information at Zenith-watches.com.