Zenith Defy Skyline Revealed (LVMH Watch Week 2022)

by Samuel Kan
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Let’s take a walk down memory lane. It won’t take long as we’re not going far. Just to the year 2020, when everyone was seemingly in love with stainless steel watches and integrated bracelets, featuring a blue dial. Of course, this was just before the whole watch world went nuts for green dials, and before paying $470k for a particular sports watch with a green dial was a thing. You remember the time right? The main players were, of course, the AP Royal Oak, the VC Overseas and the PP Nautilus. Even though the Zenith Defy design preceded all of them, it wasn’t continuous and thus easily faded from recent memories for most people…

So, rather than just being nostalgic and dwelling on the past, let’s instead revive it, give it a good polish and make everything 70s new again. Ah… in case you feel I’m dissing certain watch brands out there, well not really. I happen to really like the 70s styling. When designs were adventurous and modern, and although 50 years old now, looks just as fresh today. The only real problem is, when every Tom, Dick and Harry (or perhaps in Swiss terms, every Jacque, Luc and Romain) has a watch in the range inspired by the 70s, it comes increasingly difficult to stand out. Especially when the historical link isn’t as evident.

When Zenith re-launched the Defy range back in 2018, it was a bit of a sleeper hit. To some, the Nataf connotation hasn’t been completely repressed yet, and others felt it was too Hublot-lite or even Tag-heavy. The middle child syndrome was well and truly alive. Zenith in the past had an innovative streak, which was only broken due to the Quartz era, and yet people were not willing to let go; let Zenith be Zenith and innovate. To defy, so to speak. It was a brave move to introduce a skeletonised style, with a 1/100th of a second chronograph, engineered for serial production (read: reliable and robust enough for everyday use) almost as a halo piece that was still relatively well priced and also, 2 versions that were to be the bread and butter of the newly updated Defy range; the Classic. 

Whereas the skeletonised Defy Classic took on a life of its own and gained acceptance, the solid blue dial was left behind. Granted, there were certainly fans, as it is very understated in its elegance. It will likely age better than its skeleton counterpart, but this is a completely biased opinion given I am one of the few proud owners of the Defy Classic blue dial. The general consensus, from dealers and collectors alike was that it didn’t stand out enough. There weren’t really any defining features to distinguish it in the sea of blue dialled sports watches to warrant a second look. It wasn’t competitive on price either, even though it featured a full titanium case and bracelet construction, reliable workhorse in-house movement, the silicon escapement, and 50 hours power reserve. 

Presenting in 2022 at the LVMH Watch Week, the updated Defy Classic, now named Skyline. Clearly, an evolution in design, featuring a more chiselled case, and the 12-sided bezel inspired by the past as well as the Defy Extreme from last year, the Defy Skyline has a more purposeful character and stance. It now also boasts a quick-change strap system, something that was lacking in the previous model and was lagging behind the competition. The dial now comes with a distinguishing feature – using the vintage “double Z” four-pointed star as a pattern, akin to the tapisserie dial or the horizontal lines, but with a legitimate historical link. 

Ahhh but what’s this thing at 9:00? It might look like a small second, but it is your visual clue to the biggest change that lies beneath. Gone is your traditional second’s indication. We live in a time when even a fraction of a second count. There’s no time to waste and the pace is only increasing. In order to remind you of the fleeting nature of time as well as the precision of Zenith watches, the Defy Skyline is powered by a brand new time-only El Primero movement, based on the Calibre 3600 features a running 1/10th of a second display right where you think a regular small second is at. The hand will do one rotation every 10 seconds, reminding you to never stop; to keep on moving so that you waste no time reaching your star. 

An El Primero time-only watch isn’t new. Such a thing did exist, based on the calibre 400. It was given the designation of calibre 4650 and was essentially the same movement with all the chronograph bits removed. Oh, and the running seconds was relocated from its usual 9:00 position to the centre (which would’ve required a bit of re-engineering.) I have a feeling this watch (the Espada) didn’t sell in huge numbers, but it could be a case of being ahead of its time, as today it would’ve been a good contender against the likes of entry-level Rolex models and even GS high beat models. The Espada was succeeded by the Synopsis, which was an open-heart version of the Espada. Which sold in even smaller numbers…

So, a more characterful stainless steel case, matched to a high-beat movement, is it enough for the Defy Skyline to stand out from the crowd? Or does the market now demand uh, a different (lighter) shade of blue for the dial (if not green)? Regardless, you get a choice of 3 different colours (white, blue and black), all coming with a matching rubber strap in addition to the steel bracelet, at a very wearable 41mm diameter (lug to lug unclear at the moment – but a guesstimate would be somewhere in the 45-46mm mark, depending on how you measure it). You’ll also have a screw-in crown with 100m water resistance, so you could possibly swim with it if you choose to, making it a fairly well-rounded everyday watch.

Specification:

  • Case: 41 mm
  • Case Material: Steel case
  • Dial: White, blue, or black-toned sunburst-patterned. Starry sky pattern on the dial.
  • Crystal: Sapphire Crystal – Open Caseback
  • Water resistance: 100 meters
  • Movement: El Primero high frequency indication : 1/10th of a second subdial at 9 o’clock. Silicon escape-wheel and lever. 36,000 VpH (5 Hz) 
  • Power reserve: minimum of 60 hours
  • Strap: Full interchangeable system: Stainless steel bracelet folding clasp. Comes with a rubber strap with starry sky pattern and folding clasp. 

Australian Retail Pricing: $12,200.00

Availability: January 2022

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