1969 was one of the most pivotal years in the history of watchmaking. The last year of the 1960s saw a flurry of both technological advancements and bold new design ideas, and perhaps no other brand pushed the envelope in this year of innovation as much as Zenith. Although its introduction of the El Primero, the world’s first automatic chronograph movement, is well known among enthusiasts, Zenith’s other major breakthrough from 1969 is more of an unsung hero. The stylish and innovative Zenith Defy also made its first appearance in 1969, delivering exceptional performance and creating a legacy of avant-garde design that stretches all the way from the very first Defy model to its limited-edition modern revival and the newly released Zenith Defy Skyline series.
The Defy series’ forward-thinking design ethos began with the original 1969 Zenith Defy A3642. The very first model to bear the Defy name, the A3642 combines immense durability with a bold and dramatic design. The A3642’s 37mm stainless steel case, with its sharp facets, idiosyncratic curved cutouts, and brilliantly chamfered 14-sided bezel, creates an instantly recognizable profile, one that communicates both ruggedness and refinement. The intricate use of finishing for stainless steel, along with the A3642’s use of a semi-integrated ladder bracelet, made this design ahead of its time in 1969, predating the explosive rise in luxury stainless steel sports watches during the 1970s. This powerful design is far from just an attractive look, however, as the Defy A3642 is also a ruggedly capable sports watch with a 300-meter water resistance rating.
Zenith continues this legacy of performance and daring design into 2022 with two new Defy series. The first is the Zenith Defy Revival A3642, a faithful re-creation of the 1969 original built using the brand’s original production plans. Every aspect of the case is perfectly duplicated, including the original size and finishing, but this accurate revival adds modern material improvements including a more scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and a display caseback to showcase its cutting-edge in-house movement. The dial is a spot-on re-creation of the 1969 original, as well, with a striking and nuanced brown fumé finish featuring a gradient from delicate latte hues at the center to a rich shade of chocolate brown at the edge. The distinctive ridged hour indices give this design a dynamic flash on the wrist, and the broad tapering hands make this rugged design easy to read at a glance. Even the bracelet faithfully reprises the iconic Zenith “ladder” design, with modern fit and finishing. Although the look of the Zenith Defy Revival A3642 may be straight out of 1969, the in-house Elite 670 automatic movement inside the watch is refined and modern. With stunning finishing including a custom star cutout rotor and radial Côtes de Genève across the bridges, the Elite 670 is a glittering demonstration of Zenith’s modern horological prowess. The robust 50-hour power reserve and smooth 28,800 bph beat rate ensure the Elite 670 performs as well as it looks.
What happens when Zenith reinvents the dramatic style of the original Defy for 2022? The all-new Zenith Defy Skyline series carries on the same bold, rugged, and avant-garde spirit of the original A3642, but takes a thoroughly modern integrated bracelet approach. Measuring in at 41mm, the integrated stainless steel case of the Zenith Defy Skyline series follows the same octagonal silhouette as its predecessor, but the execution here is sharper, cleaner, and more angular, replacing the rounded case cutouts with acutely tapering polished case side chamfers that give the design a sleeker and more contemporary feel. The multi-level bezel of the original is also streamlined and refined for the Defy Skyline, with a 12-sided chamfered design that combines polished corners with a vertically brushed circular central section for an intricate and finely finished look. Zenith seamlessly transitions this case into a handsomely brushed and precisely chamfered H-link integrated bracelet, evolving the semi-integrated look of the ‘60s original into an elegant and truly cohesive holistic design. The Defy Skyline also carries on the sporting capability of its predecessors, with a solid 100 meters of water resistance.
With the dials of the Defy Skyline series, Zenith celebrates the character of past Defy models but reinvents the line for a new era. The engraved dial surfaces put a uniquely Zenith spin on the popular guilloche dial designs of other integrated sports watches, with a repeating Zenith four-pointed star pattern that gives the underlying sunburst textures a wealth of highlights and shadows to interact with on the wrist. In bright silver, classic black, or rich ocean blue, these dials leave a stunning impression, even before the eye turns to the finely faceted paddle hands and applied rectangular indices. The real visual centerpiece on the wrist, however, is the Defy Skyline’s unique 9 o’clock running seconds subdial. As a visual hallmark of Zenith’s trademark 36,000 bph high-frequency movements, this subdial measures 10 seconds rather than the usual 60-second scale, allowing the movement’s smooth and rapid 10 beats per second to shine through in a truly unique display. The powerplant behind this one-of-a-kind display is the in-house Zenith El Primero 3620 automatic movement. With an ultra-modern silicon escape wheel, dramatic vertically brushed finishing, and Zenith’s trademark intricate star-shaped winding rotor, this is a thoroughly modern design both visually and mechanically, with a hefty 60-hour power reserve along with a high-frequency 36,000 bph beat rate.
The Zenith Defy has remained a truly avant-garde nameplate for well over 50 years, consistently pushing back the boundaries of both horology and design from the original Defy A3642 to the newly unveiled Defy Skyline series. Both the limited edition Zenith Defy Revival A3642 (limited to 250 units) and the Zenith Defy Skyline series are available to purchase now through authorized dealers. MSRPs for the Zenith Defy Revival A3642 and the Zenith Defy Skyline stand at $7,000 and $8,400, respectively. To learn more, or to purchase your own piece of the Zenith Defy legacy, visit Zenith’s website.
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