February 10, 2023
In a watch industry landscape filled with reissues of vintage designs, Zenith stands out for its steadfast devotion to accurately reviving the past. Its vintage-styled El Primero chronograph offerings have built a loyal fanbase over the years thanks to their period-correct sizing, accurate case and dial designs, and excellent, thoroughly modern build quality. In early 2022, the brand added the limited edition Defy Revival A3642 to this stable of ultra-faithful vintage recreations, and this charismatically geometric, ladder bracelet-equipped design has quickly become an enthusiast favorite. As the Defy Revival family enters its second year, Zenith is eager to capitalize on the success of its initial launch, and for 2023 the brand offers two new dial colors lifted from the original Defy’s back catalog. The first is the standard production Defy Revival A3691, sporting a deep matte ruby red dial hue that first appeared in the collection in 1971. For the second model, Zenith turns to the 1970 Defy A3690, a rarely-seen variant of the same platform with a rich and intriguing dial in a Pacific blue gradient. The new Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition adds a deep, nuanced new flavor to the burgeoning Defy Revival lineup, with exacting attention to detail and truly modern build quality.
At 37mm-wide, the Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition’s stainless steel case is a virtually identical match to its ‘70s-era forebear. This 37mm-wide size may seem compact on paper, but on the wrist, the case offers a bolder presence than one might expect. This comes down to a combination of the lug design and the brightly faceted case shape itself. The hooded lugs (which I’ve covered before as an important stepping stone towards integrated-bracelet design) are on the longer side in practice, and when coupled with the unique faceted half-moon case chamfers, these elements add a broad swath of highly reflective polished steel to the upper case surfaces. However, the modest diameter helps to keep this design well-proportioned on smaller wrists. This case design was genuinely avant-garde when it debuted with the Defy A3642 in 1969, and over half a century on it still offers a bold and distinctive look. The octagonal case shape, sharply planar surfacing, 14-sided polished bezel, and oversized screw-down crown at 3 o’clock combine to create an unapologetically eye-catching, gem-like feel on the wrist, with at least one catching the light from every angle. Like the original Defy A3690, this new model is deceptively rugged, providing a hefty 300 meters of water resistance without the usual visual hallmarks of a dive watch. Zenith’s only real visual departure from the original model is the sapphire display caseback, which delivers a view of the movement within while sporting nearly the same profile on the wrist as the original model’s solid caseback design.
The Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition’s dial is the real centerpiece of this design. Rather than the smoky brown of the A3642 or the rich red of the A3691, this new model offers a deep, oceanic matte cyan hue, with a fumé effect fading to nearly black at the dial edge. There’s little doubt this blue colorway will have a broader appeal among enthusiasts than red or brown (look no further than the plethora of blue-dial integrated sports watches as proof), and while this dial is relatively rare among vintage Defy examples (at least in this case shape), it plays well into the vibrant, funky ethos of the design overall. Outside of the new color, the dial design is shared with the rest of the Defy Revival family. The sharply faceted dauphine hands and brilliantly ridged applied indices offer dynamic highlights on the wrist, with the indices being particularly adept at catching the light from nearly any angle. Zenith’s period-correct applied star logo and stylized “Defy” text balance out the dial layout at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock respectively, while the always controversial 4:30 date window provides useful functionality without disrupting the surrounding indices or the white outer seconds track.
Zenith powers the Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition with its in-house Elite 670 automatic movement. Although this is a solid movement in its own right, offering a 50-hour power reserve at a 28,800 bph beat rate, compared to the brand’s extensive stable of more exotic powerplants the Elite 670 does feel slightly pedestrian. However, the Elite 670’s finishing is anything but pedestrian, with a striking array of techniques including perlage for the mainplate, radial Côtes de Genève for the bridges, and a star-shaped skeleton rotor further embellished with Côtes de Genève. Our accuracy testing proved the Elite 670 is no slouch, either, with an average gain of +5 seconds per day through our testing period.
Of course, the stainless steel “ladder” bracelet fitted to the Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition forms a crucial part of this model’s visual identity. This airy, eye-catching twist on the classic three-link bracelet has been inseparable from this case design since the release of the very first Defy, and this model’s solid-link interpretation adds a sense of solidity and quality to the lightweight design. Naturally, the clasp has been updated from the original model as well, abandoning the antiquated stamped steel approach in favor of a sharp, precise fully milled folding clasp. Interestingly, however, Zenith tweaks the end links of this design as well. While the original Defy employed a squared-off two-piece folding endlink design that fully covered the lug opening when aligned correctly, the Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition instead uses a single-piece cylindrical endlink that leaves significantly more of a visible gap to the case when viewed from 6 o’clock or 12 o’clock. Which approach is best largely comes down to personal preference, although it is a change worth mentioning.
Although it may not be the brand’s most inventive release of the year, the lovingly recreated, excellently finished Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition expands on the success of the first Defy Revival by offering a judiciously updated vintage wearing experience alongside a strikingly handsome colorway. Although the Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition is not strictly limited in overall production volume, the watch is available now exclusively through Zenith boutiques and the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition stands at $6,900 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition
>Price: $6,900 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fun, retro-inflected daily wear or as an accent to a ’70s-style outfit.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Zenith fans looking to brand out from the El Primero; vintage collectors looking for a bold and reliable daily wear.
>Best characteristic of watch: Exquisite finishing; distinctive, ultra-faithful vintage revival design; striking dial color.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Ambitious pricing; less spectacular movement compared to Zenith’s more modern lines.