Photos by Jake Witkin and Ed Rhee

There is no Way Back Machine you can take on aBlogtoWatch to find a true diver from Zenith. Even a 2007 Zenith Defy Extreme, which a Google search shows is considered a diver by some, was a (hideous) chronograph with a timing bezel. A few other pilot watches do the same, and there were the Stratos models that blurred the lines between chrono and diver — but none were true divers. For as long as most can probably remember and certainly in the past 20 years, the brand seems to have focused almost entirely on pilot and chronograph models. This year, Zenith decided to start filling that gap in with the announcement of the Zenith Defy Extreme Diver, an entirely absolutely joyful model that shows that the brand can have fun and deliver a killer watch at the same time.

Allow me to dispense with the Zenith Defy Extreme Diver’s perceived size issues. This is not a small watch and the appearance on the wrist is exactly what you’d expect from the 42.5mm-wide, 15.5mm-thick dimensions. The initial chunky appearance is almost immediately mitigated by two things. The first is titanium case and bracelet construction that’s almost fully brushed for a rugged look that matches the 600m depth rating; this makes the watch incredibly light, are far more so than a steel watch of the same size would be. The other factor is the flared straps and bracelet. because they flow into the case rather just slot into the lug gap, they create continuity of form around the wrist, which reduces the visual appearance of the watch. The bezel has an alternating ridge pattern that provides excellent grip; on these early production models, I found the bezel to have more play than I’d prefer for a watch at this price point, but not so much as to ruin the experience. It should be noted, too, that these are samples for the show, and the bezel action may be better on sale pieces.

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The bezel implementation is novel: instead of a wide bezel that abuts the sapphire crystal, the lumed ceramic timing bezel rotates around a fixed dodecagonal bezel with a blend of brushing and polishing (the only other polishing is the angular chamfer on the sides). In addition, the enormous crown is easy to operate and is flanked by equally large crown guards, and is opposed at 9 o’clock by a helium escape valve, whatever that’s worth (nothing for 99.9% of people). The watch comes standard with a titanium bracelet, fitted rubber strap (that’s stamped to look like it’s fabric) with a folding clasp, and a recycled nylon NATO strap with a pin buckle closure. All three are quick-release thanks to Zenith’s proprietary push-button mechanism, and the NATO is secured via its own dedicated endlinks. For my part, I found that the NATO added too much bulk underneath and visually accentuated the size of the case. The other two straps, though, were incredibly comfortable and made the watch a treat on the wrist.

I promise you I don’t mean to make a pun, but the dial here is the star. Offered in blue or black (which the bezel matches), the dial features the same embossed star motif as the rest of the Zenith Defy line. But that’s about where the similarities stop. Zenith has gone full tilt with the dive design, using oversized markers and matching hands that left absolutely no question about legibility. It was difficult to test Super-LumiNova application out — to say nothing of getting a lume shot — but even cupping my hands, it seemed fairly bright and even. When you have enormous plots like this does, that isn’t a surprise. The date is unobtrusive and Zenith did a nice job outlining it in the same way it did the applied indices. The (literal) highlight is the big, bright orange chapter ring and the matching accents in the hands. It gives the watch so much pop and freshness that pulls it away from the almost haughty sportiness of the rest of the Defy line and makes it more approachable. I found myself gravitating towards the blue more than the black. I’m generally not drawn to black watches, and for me the orange and blue just play better off each other, especially when you factor in the blue ceramic bezel.

I was enjoying this watch so much, I honestly didn’t care what movement was in here. I almost didn’t look, and the lack of caseback photo should prove it. I knew it was Zenith, I knew it was probably branded an El Primero despite not being a chronograph, and I knew it would be solid. Of course, my assumptions were correct. The watch is powered by the Zenith El Primero 3620 SC. That SC designation indicates the center seconds (instead of the 3620 usually 9 o’clock 1/10th seconds), a modification first seen in the new Pilot’s models introduced last year. The automatic high-beat movement features the Defy’s signature star rotor and provides a power reserve of 60-hours at 36,600vph. Now that I think of it, the new Pilot’s were pretty great, and this is pretty great…maybe we should all be on the lookout for Zenith watches with the El Primero 3260 SC!

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Zenith got me with this one. When I first strapped it on, I wasn’t sure, but the immediate ease on the wrist and the bold, unrestrained dial that screams “DIVE! DIVE NOW!” won me over in an instant. With the concurrent release of the vintage-inspired Zenith Defy Revival A3648 diver, it seems Zenith is signaling its entry into the crowded dive watch market, and doing so with the confidence and know-how of  a brand that’s been there all along. The Zenith Defy Extreme Diver will be available soon from authorized retailers and via Zenith’s website. Both the blue dial (Ref 95.9601.3620/51.I301) and black dial (Ref 95.9600.3620/21.I300) are priced at $11,300 USD. For more information, please visit the Zenith website

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