May 7, 2023
by Mike Razak
Zenith refers to its Defy Skyline 36, which it released earlier this year, as a “midsize unisex” model. A lot of you may balk at that. While watch sizes are undoubtedly trending down after years of wrist-breaking paperweights, 36mm is still too small for many. On top of that, despite its use of the phrase, Zenith has marketed these watches towards women: The watches are modeled by women on the product pages, and the press releases I’ve seen for these particular models highlight exceptional women entrepreneurs. Add to that the colors and the alternate diamond bezel models in the same hues, and Zenith would appear to have checked its swing on the whole midsize unisex idea. After spending time with the lime green Zenith Defy Skyline 36, though, it became pleasingly clear that these colorful watches are, in fact, for everyone.
Let me tell you right now that, except for the largest of wrists, 36mm is not too small. While the transition from my mostly 38-41mm watches took a moment, after just an hour or so on the wrist, I didn’t notice the size at all, instead being struck by how well the 36mm stainless steel case wore. With a height of 10.4mm, the Zenith Defy Skyline isn’t winning any prizes in the 36mm slimness category, but the natural silhouette created by both the bracelet and the included rubber strap gave it a seamless and effortless presence on the wrist. With a lug-to-lug of just 40.6mm, there’s no question this will be easily accommodated by most wrists.
As we see on every Defy, this Zenith is defined by angles. In fact, the curves on the case are limited to the scalloped edges of the dodecagonal polished bezel and its round top (on the gem-set models, the bezel has 52 brilliant-cut diamonds). This modern angular form makes the watch stand out a bit, balancing the effect of the bracelet and strap, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Having not tried other Defy models, I can’t say how it compares, but the boldness of the design belies its smaller size in a way that I think will help some people overcome their micro-horophobia (the fear of small watches). The finishing is extremely crisp all around, and the pull-out crown with its polished star was adequately sized and easy to operate. Happily, water resistance is 100m, meaning this watch handily qualifies as a go anywhere, do anything option.
The case of the Defy Skyline 36 is complemented by two exceptional band options: a stainless-steel bracelet with fitted end links and butterfly clasp and a rubber strap with a folding deployant clasp. The bracelet continues the defined brushing accented with polished external and internal chamfers. I was able to achieve a perfect fit on my 7-inch wrist, but as always with butterfly clasps, your experience may differ. The rubber strap was light, flexible, and incredibly comfortable. Not some generic offering, it echoes the case design while featuring the same patterning as the dial; its clasp is easy to operate and stays securely closed. The best part is the quick-change system, though: by depressing a tab on the back of the bracelet or strap, the band is released from the recessed bars in the case. It’s a novel system, but not as flexible as the one we’ve seen from IWC, which uses a traditional springbar and thus still allows third-party straps.
So beholden to its modernity and the cutting-edge movements within its watches is the Defy collection that fewer than a third have solid dials. The Skyline 36 and its variants are among those. The watch features the same repeating four-pointed star motif that is on most of the Skyline models, a callback to the brand’s star-like double-z logo from the 1960s. Here, it adds depth and texture to the vibrant sunburst green dial (the Defy Skyline 36 also comes in pink and blue). Unlike most sunburst finishing that radiates from the hands, the burst here starts at the applied star logo, adding a little something special.
The dial has a few other elements that are worth mentioning. The handset and applied numerals are quite simple, with Super-LumiNova that shines adequately, and a star counterbalance on the seconds hand. A subtle design that you may not catch is how the brushed chapter ring is 12-sided to match the bezel. The Zenith Skyline Defy 36 also omits the 1/10-second sub-dial featured on its 41mm counterparts (no great loss) but has the same date. This date window has me torn. On the one hand, I appreciate how intentional it is: the dial pattern stopping before the windows beveled edge, the color-matched wheel. On the other hand, it feels cramped, pushed to the side, up against the chapter ring with nowhere to go. Imperfect as it may be, I’ll be the first one to admit that it’s entirely inoffensive.
With the simpler, solid dial, you also get a simpler movement. Instead of the high-beat El Primero in the other 3-hand Defy models, the 36mm offerings like this one feature the Zenith Elite 670. Still part of Zenith’s extensive stable of manufacture calibers, the Elite 670 runs at 28,800 vph with a power reserve of 50 hours, which is totally fine. The movement features a star-shaped rotor which can be enjoyed at your leisure through the sapphire caseback.
If you want the general flavor of the Zenith Defy collection but aren’t quite comfortable with the architectural skeleton dials most of the models have, the Skyline 36 may be your best bet. Undoubtedly sized for a more modern watch consumer, it also lacks the quirky but ultimately impractical 1/10-seconds sub-dial its larger siblings feature—that’s a plus in my book. At the very least, I think this would make a perfect summer watch. The Zenith Defy Skyline 36 is priced at $8,500 USD ($12,000 with diamonds) and available from authorized dealers or directly from Zenith. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.