LVMH Watch Week: Introducing the Zenith Defy SkylineBy Ross Povey
An Urban Definition of a Classic
1969 was a key year for Zenith for two reasons. The Le Locle-based brand, that was founded in 1865 is regarded as one of the first, had two significant releases that the year. The first was the El-Primero movement, which was the world’s first fully-integrated, non-modular, automatic chronograph movement. Capable of measuring time at 1/10th second intervals it was both compact and very precise running at 36,000 vph. The El-Primero continues to make its mark on the watch world, as does the other product that Zenith launched in 1969, the Defy. Last week week I wrote about the re-edition of the original Defy A3642 here and now Zenith is adding a new riff on the well-established Defy line with the Defy Skyline.
Whilst the ‘Defy’ story began in 1969, in fact it was in 1902 that Zenith launched its ‘Defi’ range of pocket-watches. Much like its younger namesake, the original Defi was both a rugged and precise instrument and it was this adventurous spirit that the brand rekindled in the original Defy reference A3642. Known by its nickname the coffre-fort, which is French for bank vault, the original Defy was a serious chuck of watch and had a real presence on the wrist. The 40mm steel case had a scalloped octagonal case on which a fourteen-sided bezel was affixed. With vintage examples of the original defy gaining pace with collectors, it came as no surprise that the 250 pieces of the re-edition sold out on the day it was launched!
Keeping the modern, 21st century iterations of the Defy line alive and kicking, fresh for 2022 is the Defy Skyline collection. The watches are, according to Zenith, inspired by the nightsky atop a bustling cityscape. The sky has always been a key theme for Zenith, the name of the brand coming from the highest point of the night sky and christened for this reason by founder Georges-Favre Jacot who was a literal star gazer. In line with this, the new Skyline watches have a ‘starry sky’ pattern on the dial. The sunburst dial has the star motif engraved across its surface, to create a shimmering effect of stars.
The case measure 41mm and is in brushed stainless steel with polished chamfers. Whilst it might have a 1mm edge of the original Defy, the case has been reimaged as a sleeker yet more ‘architectural’ version for the Skyline. The octagonal case has been replaced with an angular case that effortlessly flows into an integrated-esque steel bracelet. It really is the era of the integrated bracelet steel sports watch and this watch sit perfectly and quite comfortable within the genre. The clever twist is that the bracelet and quickly be removed and interchanged with the supplied rubber strap thanks to a quick-switch system. So no more gouged cases and scratched lugs when you’re trying to give your watch a new look!
Paying homage to the original tetradecagonal bezel, 14 becomes 12 with the Skyline’s dodecagonal bezel. Each of the 12 edges acts as an hour marker with a brushed-finish circular top of the bezel that softens the aesthetic quite nicely to my eye. The watch has a screw-down steel crown that enables the watch to be waterproof to a useful 100 meters, making it amply waterproof for all pursuits above or below the skyline.
My opening comments about the El Primero are especially relevant when it comes to taking a look under the hood of the Skyline watches. Whilst Zenith, Seiko and the Breitling/Heuer/Buren consortium all got auto-chrono movements out in 1969, it is only the El Primero that is still in production today and is in fact a key-ingredient in the Zenith recipe for success. The Defy Skyline houses the new El Primero Caiber 3620. Fans of the El Primero chronograph will be familiar with the running seconds counter at nine o’clock on the dial. In fact I’m wearing an early 90s Zenith-powered Daytona as I type this (Zenith provided Rolex with El Primero movements for the first automatic Daytonas from 1988 to 2000)! The Skyline features a small seconds at nine o’clock on the dial that constantly displays 1/10th seconds, with the hand completing a full revolution every ten seconds.
The technology behind this feature is derived from the El Primero 3600 1/10th second chronograph that was a huge success when launched in January of last year in the Chronomaster Sport, with what Wei Koh called Active Lightening Mode. What Zenith have to call their ‘1/10th second hand’ is driven directly by the escapement, which beats at 5Hz or 36,000 VpH and so is a natural faction-of-a-second indicator. The bi-directional rotor keeps the movement powered up and allows a 60-hour power reserve. All of this can be seen through a sapphire display case back.
Zenith Defy Skyline
Case: 41mm steel case
Dial: Silver, black or blue sunburst ‘starry sky’ patterned dial. Small 1/10th seconds sub-dial at nine o’clock.
Movement: Zenith El Primero 3260 automatic movement with High frequency 1/10th of a second function.
Strap: Steel bracelet with folding clasp. Comes with a rubber strap with starry sky pattern and folding clasp.
Price: USD 8,400
More information: zenith-watches.com