Zenith sets the week ablaze with their new Defy Skyline – a non-chronograph El Primero with a flying seconds hand. We got our hands on this novelty for an extended hands-on session with photography. Here is our comprehensive review.
Comprehensive Review: Zenith Defy Skyline
The new Defy Skyline is available with three dial options, and retails for SGD 12,400 / CHF 8,700. Prices are inclusive of Singapore GST/Swiss VAT.
- Reference: 03.9300.3620/01.I001: white dial, with SS bracelet and green rubber strap
- Reference: 03.9300.3620/51.I001: blue dial, with SS bracelet and blue rubber strap
- Reference: 03.9300.3620/21.I001: black dial, with SS bracelet and black rubber strap
The Defy collection is often seen as recent innovation, revived by the marketing genius of Jean-Claude Biver. But the Defy collection can trace its origins back to 1969 where it was first used to convey the audacious spirit of Zenith. And then, even further back to 1902, where the original Defi (note different spelling) line of rugged and precision pocket watches were made by Zenith.
The new Defy Skyline series is based on a geometrically structured dial with a pattern of four pointed stars – in an inspired reimagining of the Zenith “double Z” logo of the 1960s. This motif is drawn from the impression of the night stars over manufacture in Le Locle. It began when Georges-Favre Jacot had dreamt of creating the most precise watch of the time, and chose as a brand name the highest point in the sky directly above the observer – known astronomically as the zenith. And continues with this novelty.
The case, dial and hands
The immediate look, at first glance is one which is reminiscent of a number of luxury steel watches, personified by the likes of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo. This is not necessarily a bad thing – to have a highly recognizable and successful silhouette. But it is merely an optical illusion. Perhaps a suggestion of the more famous RO imposing itself on one’s psyche. The Defy Skyline’s bezel is not even octagonal, but is 12 sided. The bezel is clean and decorated with straight graining, and without the signature screws which pierce the bezel of the RO. And the polished slopes take on the round shape of the top surface instead of being 8 sided. The design elements of the Defy Skyline has indeed not even taken inspiration from Gerald Genta’s 1972 design, but rather from its own historical roots. The design is based on the original Defy, released in 1969, more than 3 years before the AP. The 1969 Defy has a 14 sided bezel and uses the same angular design language. Incidentally the 1969 Defy is faithfully reproduced and re-issued in another Defy released today – the Defy A3642, but that is another review for another day.
The bezel has a dodecagonal base, echoing the hour markers, and has polished slopes leading to the top plateau. This sloped shoulder is round, and top is finished with straight graining, providing contrast and depth to the design. The case itself is an angular shape, with flat alternate surfaces which are brushed finished with chamfers which are polished. The design is largely lug-less, with mounting points for the bracelet and (the included) interchangeable rubber strap located in the rear of the watch head. The screw-down crown is rather large, and is emblazoned with the star emblem and ribbed sides. Water resistance of the case is 10 ATM.
The dial is rather interesting. The entire surface of the dial is covered by divots of four pointed stars arranged in a lattice geometrical pattern. These stars are little indentations on the sunburst dial and provide visual interest and depth to the dial, which in our view is very attractive. The hour markers are bar shaped appliqué with faceted and polished edges, infilled with lume. The hands are javelin style, also faceted and polished with lume infill. Minute markers are transfer printed strokes around the periphery of the dial, and an aperture is open at 3 o’clock to show the date, replacing the marker. But the most interesting part of the dial is found in the small sub-dial at 9 o’clock, This is the seconds hand, and is a constantly running to make one complete revolution every 10 seconds. The hand makes 10 tiny jumps each second, to do a total of 60 steps to complete each revolution.
The Zenith star and the “ZENITH” label sits below the 12 o’clock index to proclaim the manufacture, and the high polished vertical rehaut completes the dial.
The lume is bright enough for the dial to be highly legible in poor lighting. And the design and layout of the dial itself lends to excellent legibility in good lighting.
Our pick of the three new models is the blue dial. We particularly like the blue hue of the dial which is a kind of a dark-ish blue with a rather muted vibe, endearing itself to us. The four pointed star punctuations add to the character. The look is very sober and professional with the steel bracelet, and takes on a brighter and more fun outlook with the bright blue rubber strap attached. The white dial version is also rather attractive to our eyes, especially when outfitted with the khaki green rubber strap. In our view, the black version is perhaps the safest, and most classical of the three new Defy Skylines.
The movement: Zenith El Primero 3620
The movement in the new Defy Skyline is the El Primero 3620. This movement is built on the same architectural blueprint as the El Primero 3600 chronograph movement. The El Primero 3600 is itself also a rather new movement, having first being seen on the Zenith Chronomaster Sport and the Chronomaster Original.
Automatic winding is provided by a bi-directional rotor with a star motif and delivers about 60 hours of autonomy. The 1/10th second hand display is directly driven from the escapement, which beats at 5Hz (36,000 bph). The beat rate provides a natural 1/10th of a second step with each half oscillation – making a natural fraction-of-a-second indication.
The movement has a hacking mechanism, and finishing is generally good, but sans the high end embellishments found in movements with haute horlogerie aspirations. Given the somewhat modest pricing of the Defy Skyline, this level of finish is on point, and appropriate. In our experience, Zenith movements are robust and reliable with good timekeeping performance.
The Defy Skyline is a rather unique watch, as the seconds display is very unusual. Off the top of our heads, we cannot think of another watch which provides this style of seconds hand display. The subsidiary seconds hand is not only directly driven, but moves 6 times faster than a regular one. Perhaps it might attract comparisons to a foudroyante, but that complication is often indirectly driven and revolves at an even more furious rate.
A good example is the Habring² Foudroyante Felix. Dial layout is similar, but instead of the 10s sub-dial at 9 o’clock, the Habring² has a foudroyant hand, making one complete revolution every second and stopping briefly at each 1/8th second. Design is a very classical looking watch, and is priced at a similar EUR 8,000, but Richard Habring has tapped the foudroyant complication to provide a seconde morte feature for the centrally mounted seconds hand.
And based on the visuals alone, perhaps the Tissot PRX Powermatic 80 might be of interest, though the Zenith outclasses it in almost every comparative category except price, where it retails for under SGD 1,000. The case shape is mildly similar, but the PRX has a completely round bezel, which is also very small. The dial is also textured, but with a more conventional Clous de Paris styling, closer in essence to the AP Royal Oak. Aesthetically, the Tissot offers a much more mainstream design. The movement is also standard, with no interesting complications, with an even more basic level of finishing. So totally a different kettle of fish.
The Zenith Defy Skyline is a beautiful watch. The entire package gels together making the whole even more attractive than the individual parts. The dial, with the divots of four pointed stars is certainly attractive. The simplicity of the dial layout is an advantage in this complicated world, where refuge can be sought with this application of KISS principle…with a twist. The additional touch of a fast revolving seconds hand, making one complete revolution every 10s creates additional visual interest. And adds a sense of urgency though its animation on the dial. The finish of the case is excellent. And at 41mm in diameter, it wears beautifully on most wrists, as exemplified by the wrist shot of the blue dial version on our Chief Editor’s wrist.
Is this a new direction for Zenith? Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. We do like what we see. And as we have also secured a one on one interview with CEO Julien Tornare for the upcoming Watches & Wonders, we will be asking him the questions of the future of Zenith. And report back to you here. Do comment below if you have questions you would like him to address.
The Zenith Defy Skyline was photographed in-situ at the LVMH Zenith offices in Singapore. Fujifilm GFX 50S II with Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro and HC 2.8/80 + H26 Extension Tube, via H Adapter G. Profoto strobes.
Zenith Defy Skyline Specifications
Key points: El Primero 3-hand watch. High frequency indication : 1/10th of a second subdial at 9 o’clock. Silicon escape-wheel and lever. Starry sky pattern on the dial. Screwed-in crown. Full Interchangeable strap system.
Movement: El Primero 3620, automatic
Frequency 36,000 VpH (5 Hz)
Power reserve approx. 60 hours
Functions : Hours and minutes in the centre. 1/10th of a second counter at 9 o’clock.
Date indication at 3 o’clock.
Finishes: Special oscillating weight with satined finishings
Material: Stainless steel
Water resistance: 10 ATM
Dial: Silver-toned sunburst-patterned, Blue-toned sunburst-patterned or Black-toned sunburst-patterned
Hour markers: Black ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1
Hands : Black ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1 for the white dial, and Rhodium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1 for the blue and black dial
Bracelet & Buckle: Stainless steel bracelet and folding clasp. Comes with a khaki green rubber for the white dial, blue rubber for the blue dial, and black rubber for the black dial strap with starry sky pattern and folding clasp.