New: Zenith Defy 21 Urban Jungle: Hands On Review

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Zenith adds a ceramic case in a cool urban green to their innovative Defy 21 chronograph collection for the 2021 edition of the LVMH Digital Watch Week.

Other than the talk of the town – the evolved El Primero powered edition of the Chronomaster Sport (full hands on review coming soon), and the El Primero in the Chronomaster Revival A385 (full hands on review also coming soon), Zenith also announced the release of this Defy 21 in cool matte green ceramic case.

The Zenith Defy 21 debuted with a great disturbance of the horological force in 2017. The 1/100s timing capability of the chronograph is one which pushed the envelope of chrono-timing as much as the pricing level set. The lineup was updated with the Defy 21 Carbon in 2019 and the Defy 21 Black and White in 2020.

Review: Zenith Defy 21 Urban Jungle in green ceramic

Retail price is set at SGD 21,200 inclusive of GST or CHF 14,400 before taxes.

The new Defy 21 Urban Jungle is much the same watch as the Defy 21 launched in 2017. Our detailed review is a good place to read all about the background and technical aspects of the ground breaking movement.

What’s new in this release is the case. The case shape and size remains the same 44mm x 14.5mm, but now in a cool looking khaki green ceramic. Zenith calls this urban jungle green, and it is indeed in a somewhat dirty, shady matte green – khaki hue. Having it on hand and examining the watch does remind us of the urban landscape. And is absolutely apt in what Julien Tornare, CEO Zenith, described to us as “Audacious yet subtle”.

The case, dial and hands

As mentioned, the case shape is retained. A tonneau shaped base with integrated lugs and a round bezel with sloping shoulders, now both executed in the khaki green ceramic. The crown is fluted with rectangular chronograph pushers also remain unchanged, and works well aesthetically with the case with its short stubs which make up for lugs.

The dial layout is typical of Zenith. With subdials located at 3/6/9 position, giving the dial a stable, grounded look. A power reserve indicator is displayed above the center pinon, just below 12 o’clock marker. The classic El Primero 3/6/9 layout is retained. But on the El Primero 21, the design calls for the small seconds at 9 o’clock, a 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, seconds and tenths of a second at 6, and a 100th of a second central chronograph hand sweeping around a scale on the circumference.

The base plate of the movement is visible through the highly skeletonized dial, and is also tinted khaki green. Zenith does not describe how the hue is achieved, but our best guess is that it is anodized to the hue. The plate has a straight graining finish, and provides a nice continuation of the bezel and a good contrast to the white and black sub-dials.

Though legibility is not the best of the best, the Defy 21 Urban Green manages remarkably well. The overall dial is very readable, especially in consideration that this is a skeletonized dial. The hour and minutes almost jump out from the background of green. Even the chronograph counters are legible, as the designers have provided nice contrasts between the hands, the sub-dials and the background green.

The movement: El Primero 9004

The movement is the same as previous renditions of the Defy 21. It features two trains. a regular wheel train beating at 36,000 bph which runs the timekeeping functions, and another with a separate escape wheel which starts only when the chronograph is activated. This second train runs at 360,000 bph, and allows the watch to resolve to 1/100th of a second.

In this Urban Jungle rendition, the rear bezel, also in khaki green ceramic is fastened to the case with 4 screws. And the star shaped rotor carries over the khaki green theme.

When activated, the centrally mounted chronograph second hand runs at a furious 1 revolution every second. As the train which powers this hand runs on an escapement beating 360,000 bph, this hand makes 100 discrete steps every revolution. To the naked eye, these small steps, each 3.6° arc is not discernable, and the hand looks like it is moving smoothly across the dial. When stopped, it is then able to rest in any of the 100 positions, giving the 1/100th second resolution.

Our video of the 2018 Defy 21 doing its thing. Note the furiously fast chronograph seconds hand.

The movement uses three heart shaped cams in the chronograph mechanism, controlled a cam mechanism in place of the more traditional column wheel. The movement also features the Zenith patented balance spring made from a Carbon Matrix Nanotube composite, which is reputed to be totally impervious to gravity, temperature and magnetism.

The movement finishing is not at haute horologie levels, but is typical of Zenith. We would describe the finishing as at an adequate level meeting good engineering standards, but with a good eye to aesthetics.

Competitive landscape

The competitive landscape is the same as for the other Defy 21. The rather rarified world of chronographs capable of timing to 1/100th of a second is very small.

And other than competing against itself in the form of other models of Defy 21, it also draws comparison to sister company TAG Heuer’s offering of the TAG Heuer Carerra Mikrograph, the Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph 1000 and the F. P. Journe Centigraphe Souverain. All of which are way more expensive than the SGD 21,200 asking price for the Defy 21 Urban Jungle, making it somewhat of a bargain.

Concluding thoughts

This year’s Zenith novelties to the LVMH Watch Week is rather exciting. As mentioned, the star commercial piece is the Chronomaster Sport, which we will be doing a detailed take soon. But our favourite is the Defy 21 Urban Jungle.

For us, this Defy 21 is far more interesting. Yes, its not exactly groundbreaking or even new. But we are taken by the advanced movement and innovation. We are mesmerized by the superfast chronograph hand, and the 1/100th second precision timing offered. The visual impact is truly exceptional. Though perhaps not an absolutely practical application as human reaction timings (fastest conscious human reactions have been recorded around 0.15 s for the fastest among us, though the average is 0.2 s) are far coarser than the Defy 21 can resolve. But still, this is fascinating stuff. And when offered at this rather reasonable pricing, it becomes irresistible.

Photo Notes

Photographed at the Zenith offices in Ngee Ann City with Hasselblad H3D-39 with HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 lenses with and without H28 extension tubes. Strobe lighting by Profoto.

Zenith Defy 21 Urban Jungle Specifications

Reference: 49.9006.9004/90.R942

Key points: 1/100th of a second Chronograph movement. Exclusive
dynamic signature of one rotation per second. 1 escapement for the
Watch (36,000 VpH – 5 Hz); 1 escapement for the Chronograph (360,000
VpH – 50 Hz). Chronometer certified.

Movement: El Primero 9004 automatic
Frequency 36,000 VpH (5 Hz)
Power reserve approx. 50 hours
Functions : 1/100th of a second chronograph functions. Chronograph power-reserve indication at 12 o’clock. Hours and minutes in the centre. Small seconds at 9 o’clock, Central chronograph hand, 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 60-second counter at 6 o’clock
Finishes: Khaki green colored main plate on movement + Special khaki green colored oscillating weight with satined finishings

Material: Khaki green ceramic
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Dial: Openworked with two different-coloured counters
Hour markers: Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with Super-LumiNova®SLN C3
Hands : Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with Super-LumiNova®SLN C3
Bracelet & Buckle: Black Rubber with khaki green “Cordura effect” rubber. Microblasted titanium double folding clasp.


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