Over the past several years, there’s been a substantial resurgence in gem-set designs across the watch industry. Whether as a replacement for more traditional (and until recently, out of vogue) precious metals, or as a luxurious means to experiment with wilder color palettes, this new wave of gem-set timepieces nearly all have a single attribute in common: They’re not subtle. Of course, it’s difficult to call any luxury watch equipped with gemstones particularly understated or demure, but by and large, most of the modern cohort of gem-set options are designed for maximum visual impact. Zenith’s latest boutique-exclusive Defy Skyline variant, however, combines the visual drama of a fully gem-set bezel with an impressively balanced, wearable presentation. The new Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire offers a remarkably versatile, wearable take on the gem-set integrated bracelet sports watch, with handsome proportions, a unique in-house movement, and a brilliant ring of inlaid sapphires providing just enough visual spectacle.

By and large, the Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire’s 41mm wide case is carried over from the rest of the Defy Skyline family. Athletic, razor-sharp, and entirely planar, this stainless steel design is a crisp modernist take on the base Defy concept with cleanly brushed surfaces accented by flaring polished chamfers. Like the base Defy Skyline, this is a distinctly muscular case on the wrist, with tall vertical case sides and short integrated lugs that give it a compact-but-brawny, almost square stance during wear. Zenith keeps the Defy Skyline’s distinctive bi-layer circle-in-dodecagon bezel design here, but ramps up the flash considerably over the standard model. The 12-sided polished lower level is identical to the standard Defy Skyline’s, but the raised central ring now comes equipped with a set of 45 baguette cut blue sapphires. Each sharply faceted and radiating with a deep, saturated royal blue tone, these stones are the real centerpiece of the Defy Skyline Sapphire’s presentation, but compared to most modern gem-set watches the effect on the wrist is surprisingly subdued. The deep hue of these sapphires can cause the bezel ring to appear almost black when not in direct light, making this gem-set integrated sports watch fly under the radar appreciably well in most situations. However, when light hits these sapphires at the correct angle, their sparkling facets and vivid coloration pack an impressive visual punch. Like the rest of the series, the Defy Skyline Sapphire is fitted with a sapphire display caseback, and is rated for a solid if unspectacular 100 meters of water resistance.

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Although the Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire’s dial is functionally identical to previous iterations of the series, this deep, nuanced ocean blue sunburst complements the sapphire bezel handsomely. The four-pointed Zenith star pattern engraved across the main dial surface remains an effective visual hallmark for the series here, with a subtler, less exaggerated presentation than the linear engraving or tapisserie patterns found in some of its competitors. Zenith’s beveled rectangular indices and angular paddle handset echo the faceted modernist case form well on the wrist, while also maintaining solid legibility. Of course, like all full-size Defy Skyline models, the real centerpiece of this dial is its running seconds subdial. This 9 o’clock azurage subdial has been a contentious inclusion for the series since its inception, with enthusiasts both praising its unorthodox showcase of the high-frequency movement within and decrying its less-than-practical 10-second scale. On the wrist, it’s an effective conversation starter, immediately grabbing attention with its high-speed sweep, but it can make accurately setting the watch or timing events a struggle.

Inside the Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire beats the in-house El Primero 3620 automatic movement. While the El Primero nameplate is best known for its chronograph movements, Zenith pares back the El Primero 3620 to its bare three-hand essentials while highlighting its famous 36,000 bph beat rate. A 60 hour power reserve ensures that the El Primero 3620 is a solid contender in its market segment as well, but its finishing is decidedly more modern and straightforward than some of its competitors. A vertically brushed half-plate, along with matching cutaway bridges and a similarly finished balance cock, dominate the view through the caseback. Blued screws add some small visual highlights here, but the brushed and matte blasted, ornately skeletonized star-shaped rotor is the real hallmark of this movement.

Zenith equips the Defy Skyline Sapphire with a pair of included strap options. The tapering, crisply chamfered stainless steel H-link bracelet is clearly the bolder of the two, flowing seamlessly into the lines of the case and augmenting its finely brushed planes with elegantly narrow polished chamfers on the center links. During day-to-day wear, however, the included navy blue rubber deployant strap is arguably the more comfortable and interesting option. Featuring a sculpted, terraced form and a central four-pointed star motif to echo the dial, this strap offers a supple, flexible feel on the wrist while effectively toning down the gem-set case for a subtler, more reserved look. In addition, the rubber strap showcases the Defy Skyline Sapphire’s sporty underpinnings more effectively than its bracelet counterpart.

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Creating a gem-set integrated sports watch that highlights its gemstones while remaining restrained and balanced enough for regular wear is no small design accomplishment. With the new boutique-exclusive Defy Skyline Sapphire, Zenith tackles this challenge charismatically, creating a stylish, visually impactful, and impressively livable offering that highlights the beauty of these deep blue stones without venturing into garishness. The Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire is available now through Zenith boutiques and the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the Zenith Defy Skyline Sapphire stands at $27,100 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.

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