The watch industry is currently in the midst of an exotic materials revolution. Over the past several years, we’ve seen a wider proliferation of high-tech materials like forged carbon, ceramics, and titanium than ever before, but brands are also experimenting with wilder case material options ranging from pure sapphire to rarely-seen exotic metals. Zenith is no stranger to this avant-garde territory, with recent offerings showcasing materials from carbon fiber to copper-niobium alloy. As part of its LVMH Watch Week 2023 novelties, however, the brand steps further into uncharted material territory with a case partially crafted in a scarcely seen semi-precious stone – chalcedony. The new limited edition Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier evokes some of nature’s most frigid and hostile environments with a unique translucent ice blue colorway, coupled to one of Zenith’s most dynamic and technically capable designs.

At 45mm-wide, the integrated bracelet titanium and chalcedony case of the Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier should carry an unapologetically bold stance on the wrist. The layered, sharply faceted form is carried over from previous iterations of the Defy Extreme, but while elements such as the two-layer bezel design and angular polished lug chamfers may be familiar Zenith gives this existing design a markedly different feel in images thanks to its new chalcedony elements. Both the dodecagonal lower layer of the bezel and the broad, wedgelike crown/pusher guards are rendered in this pale blue, semi-transparent stone, which introduces a suitably icy ethos to the overall package in images. In addition, Zenith claims that since chalcedony contains random natural inclusions and striations, each unit in this limited edition production run will present a slightly different look. This frigid, complex material may prove divisive among enthusiasts, but it undoubtedly sets this design apart from its stablemates at a glance. This new chalcedony construction does not seem to affect the Defy Extreme’s rugged durability, as this model maintains the standard production design’s hefty 200 meters of water resistance.

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Surprisingly, the Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier offers a more reserved dial presentation than the rest of the Defy Extreme lineup. Much of the reason for this cleaner, more refined look in images comes courtesy of the sapphire dial surface. While the full Defy Extreme series offers transparent sapphire dials, the Defy Extreme Glacier tops each of its four subdials with a frosted finish. Not only does this reinforce the icy visual theme in images, but this also aids legibility substantially by making the majority of the overall dial surface more distinct against the backdrop of the Defy Extreme Glacier’s intricate skeleton movement. The dial still offers multiple layers of skeletonized detail in photos, but this strikes an admirable balance between spectacle and practicality. Ice blue lume fills for the semi-skeletonized paddle handset and chunky, faceted applied indices help to further tie the chalcedony case material into the overall design. In addition, the chronograph registers, 9 o’clock running seconds subdial, and 12 o’clock power reserve subdial are all sharply laid out, airy, and easily legible at a glance. For those uninitiated in the Defy Extreme line, however, the outer decimal scale in white may prove confusing. Thanks to the Defy Extreme Glacier’s extremely high-frequency chronograph escapement, the central chronograph hand completes its circuit around the dial once per second rather than once per minute. It’s an extremely effective piece of visual drama when activated, and allows the Defy Extreme Glacier to track 1/100-second intervals with a purely mechanical chronograph movement.

Inside the Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier beats the in-house El Primero 9004 automatic chronograph movement (unfortunately the brand was unable to provide images of this movement prior to publishing time). The El Primero 9004 has made its way into many upper-echelon Zenith chronograph offerings in recent years and remains a showpiece in the brand’s stable for one chief reason – its handling of the chronograph complication. Rather than routing all functions of the movement through a single escapement, the El Primero 9004 uses an innovative dual-escapement system to allow the base movement and the chronograph complication to run at different frequencies. The main timekeeping handset uses an escapement running at the El Primero’s traditional (and already very fast) 36,000 bph beat rate. By contrast, the dedicated chronograph escapement beats a full ten times faster, with a blistering frequency of 360,000 bph. This hyperactive beat rate enables the central 1/100 second hand to operate smoothly but does limit the overall recording length of the chronograph to 30 minutes. Outside of its unique take on the chronograph complication, the El Primero 9004’s performance is solid, with a robust 60-hour power reserve.

Zenith pairs the Defy Extreme Glacier with a trio of included integrated quick-change strap options. The first of these is the Defy Extreme line’s standard titanium bracelet, with a sharply faceted H-link design featuring brightly polished chamfers to contrast the clean linear brushed surfaces in photos. For more variety, the brand also includes a textured white rubber strap that echoes the H-link bracelet design with raised rubber center segments. This bright optic white option further harmonizes with the wintry visual theme in images and should prove to be a bolder option on the wrist than the bracelet. Lastly, for more strenuous conditions, the Defy Extreme Glacier also includes a black fabric and rubber strap with Velcro closure.

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Amid the ongoing exotic materials arms race embroiling the watch industry, the limited edition Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier with its icy chalcedony accents proves the brand is still at the forefront of blending new materials with exotic designs and spectacular movement work. Only 50 examples of the Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier will be made, and the watch is available now exclusively through Zenith boutiques and the brand’s e-commerce platform. MSRP for the Zenith Defy Extreme Glacier stands at $26,100 USD as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.

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