Baselworld 2017 Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Chronograph

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While Defy is often associated with a rather confusing period of Zenith’s corporate history under Thierry Nataf, the reality is that the Defy (originally known as Defi) has existed since Georges Favre-Jacot started the manufacture in 1865.For a century and a half, Zenith has been innovating its way through traditional Swiss watchmaker as the supplier of movements to other watchmakers before it finally hit its greatest hit – the El Primero Striking 10th, timing a 10th of a second. For Baselworld 2017, it’s poetic that the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Chronograph heralds a new age with a 100th of a second chronograph calibre.

Baselworld 2017 Zenith Defy El Primero 21 Chronograph

Launched in 1969, Zenith revolutionised the chronograph genre with the El Primero, an integrated column wheel automatic chronograph with a high beat 36,000 vph which enabled the calibre to be chronometer specced to time a tenth of a second. To date, it’s the world’s most accurate series-made chronograph. The new Defy El Primero 21 is 10x faster and more precise than its legendary predecessor thanks to its 50Hz (vs then 5Hz) escapement, but allow us to explain:

Remaining true to its legendary roots, the new Zenith Defy El Primero is a COSC-certified in-house movement; the high frequency 36,000 vph balance returns obviously but with it comes a secondary escapement just for the chronograph running at 360,000 vph; it’s the secondary escapement which makes the hundredth of a second display by the central hand possible – in laymen’s terms: when the chronograph is running, the seconds hand completes a complete round in just one second to 100 increments. The elapsed seconds are then counted on a 60-second subdial at 6 while the elapsed minutes are indicated on the 30-minute subdial at 3 but most importantly, the terrible stress and power drain of operating a 360,000 vph escapement means that your chronograph can only be run for a maximum of 50 minutes, thus making a power reserve indicator for the chronograph alone necessary at 12.

Beyond the immense power drain (approximately 10x more than the original Striking 10th) of the impressive 360,000 vph escapement, the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 carries two independent “gear boxes” or trains to measure time and the other for the chronograph; Each has its own transmission and escapement system without coupling clutch, stemming from the need to avoid risk of high stress chronograph operations from interfering with smooth running of the watch.


Carbon-Matrix Carbon Nanotube Composite Balance Spring of the Zenith Defy El Primero 21

Since the invention of nivarox and later silicium, improvements to the balance spring have made more achievements in chronometry and precision possible. Baselworld 2017 also sees the patented invention of new balance-springs developed by the LVMH group engineers.

The carbon-matrix carbon nanotube conveys exceptional physical and mechanical properties to the Zenith Defy El Primero 21’s balance-spring thanks to its graphene matrix rendering temperature resistance and amagnetic to fields of 15,000 Gauss standard.

Beyond the innovative new material for its balance spring, the new Zenith Defy El Primero enjoys double-chain architecture and a patented chronograph-reset control mechanism composed of three heart pieces and an exclusive starter mechanism, ensuring simultaneous resetting of the seconds as well as tenths and hundredths of a second.

The next generation El Primero comes with twin barrels, one for central hours, minutes, and small seconds at 9 o’clock. While the other manages power supply for the high frequency assortment driving the 100th of a second central chronograph seconds hand and the elapsed times, tracked by the chronograph power-reserve at 12.

The automatic chronograph can be manually wound via a crown with two positions (for winding and time-setting), manual winding works in both directions: clockwise for the chronograph, counterclockwise for the basic time display.


This innovative new mechanism is ensconced within a case of equally impressive design  – 44 mm-diameter case in grade 5 titanium inspired by the original El Primero models, connecting the neo-futurist model with its historical predecessor.

The new generation Zenith Defy El Primero range also features distinctive openwork dial revealing the high horology genius which makes it all possible. A star-tipped sweep-seconds hand, large luminescent baton-type hands and facetted hour-markers: all the key identifying characteristics symbolic of the original El Primeros like blue and anthracite grey counters anchor the future of Zenith firmly in its provenance.

The Baselworld 2017 Zenith Defy El Primero delivers enhanced performance through new regulating organs as well as a patented chronograph control mechanism, is chronometer-certified by the COSC and has a 50-hour power reserve, matched by a 50-minute run time for the hundredth of a second chronograph.

The new Zenith Defy El Primero in titanium with solid silvered dial is priced US$9,600 while the titanium with skeletonized dial is priced US$10,600. Black ceramic aluminum will retail for $11,600.



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