back to top

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

A few months back at Baselworld 2018, Zenith introduced two versions of the Defy Classic, entry-level models of their eponymous Defy range. With Jean-Claude Biver at the helm, Zenith made the wise move to follow up 2017’s innovative and pricey Defy El Primero 21 and Defy Lab with these two versions that are in the mid-five figure range. The simpler model is the sunburst blue dial version while the openworked dial will appeal to someone who appreciated the very Biverian style of the Defy Lab (among others from LVMH brands like Hublot and TAG Heuer). Having handled both of these at Baselworld, I was happy to see Zenith offer something new (and non-El Primero) in this very competitive price range between the $6,000-$8,000 mark.


Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

All images by Ariel Adams

Both of these models cast a wide net for buyers in this segment, coming in a 41mm wide case that’s done in brushed titanium. Zenith has long been essentially synonymous with chronographs (copious words have been dedicated to the El Primero movement and its role in horological history as being the first automatic chronograph) and to a lesser degree, pilot’s watches. Practically speaking, neither chronographs nor pilot’s watches rank near the top of the list for someone seeking a versatile, everyday luxury watch. So, do these two Defy Classic watches present compelling alternatives in a category densely populated with mainstream peer brands like Rolex, Omega, IWC and brands like Cartier that aren’t direct competition as far as respective products go but definitely often vie for the same demographic?

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Well, it’s a yes and a no. I think the openworked Defy Classic is going to move a lot of units considering that it just looks like it would cost significantly more than the few hundred dollar premium it carries. Positioned between the Hublot Big Bang and TAG Heuer Carrera Heuer 01 (and newer Carrera Heuer 02), the openworked Defy Classic carries this now-distinct LVMH design language faithfully. Fortunately, the openworked dial keeps everything pretty symmetrical and actually quite legible.

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Past the architectural bits on the dial like the five tuning-fork style “bridges” we see the Elite 670 SK movement, that comes in the form of the non-openworked Elite 670 SK for the other Defy Classic watch. Used in some of their Elite and Ultra Thin watches, the Elite 670 movement operates at 28,800 vph and has a 48-hour power reserve. Zenith has also updated this movement to include a silicone lever and escape wheel.

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

The 3.88mm thickness of the movement allows for what is one of the aspects of the watch I appreciated the most, which is the 10.75mm case thickness. That’s slim and a sports watch like this is benefited from the ability to be versatile in several environments. It also has 100m of water resistance so it can actually be worn outdoors without worry of it getting wet. At this price point, many buyers attracted to the Defy Classic might not have extensive collections and the ability to slip under a sleeve while also being sporty is very appealing.


Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Looking at the exhibition caseback, we can see the now familiar Zenith star at the forefront with a look into the movement behind it. I really like the aesthetic stamp Zenith has put here, and past that there is not much else to say about the caseback. Looking at the two distinct dials however, there are both stylistic and layout differences. The openworked model has the date window at 6 o’clock with a look into the date wheel circumventing the dial. I know these visible date wheels irk some people while others enjoy them which, like many other things, leaves the matter up to one’s taste.

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Fortunately for those who like the gist of the Defy Classic but not the overtly modern openworked dial, the sunburst blue traditional model dials the boldness in design down several notches. With the window over at 3 o’clock, this more demure Defy Classic doesn’t have much in the way of frills or flair. A vibrant sunburst blue dial, three hands, and the date window are all about keeping it simple. The minimal dial text just reading “Zenith” and “Defy” underscores this point (though I am really a fan of the Zenith star up here also).

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

To further narrow down aesthetic tastes, Zenith allows three strap options for either Defy Classic model. The titanium bracelet, rubber strap, and rubber with alligator leather strap options all match the design of the Defy Classic but I have to say I really personally like the bracelet and simple rubber strap much more than the alligator version. The watch is too sporty as well as too much of an everyday wear for me to feel like the alligator makes much sense.

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

Zenith Defy Classic Watch Hands-On Hands-On

As far as LVMH watches go, it’s Zenith’s time to reach a broader market segment that may have appreciated the brand but never found a watch that matched their lifestyle, looked modern and sporty enough, and could be acquired for under five figures. In this case, well under five figures. The Defy Classic line is a successful achievement in all of these points and for people like me who aren’t the biggest chronograph fans, it’s something to cheer about. The brand and Biver deserve due credit here for understanding what this segment of buyers wants and giving it to them in a bracket that sits comfortably between brands like TAG Heuer and Hublot.

The Zenith Defy Classic blue dial is priced at $5,900 on either of the straps and $6,900 for the full titanium bracelet model. The Defy Classic openworked dial models are slightly more at $6,500 on the strap and $7,500 on the titanium bracelet.

Watch Brands



Disqus Debug thread_id: 6782846834

  • Dimman

    Not bad…

  • Nick

    The only problem I have with the skeletonized version is that the legibility decreases dramatically. Other than that, both are great watches for a somewhat high price.

  • Mikita

    These aren’t bad, just don’t feel like Zenith at all; maybe like a better Hublot.

  • Semido

    Looks great, but I don’t understand the pricing. It seems far too high for a brand that wants to be “above Tag Heuer”.

  • SuperStrapper

    This article says the watches are in the mid 5 figure range, then under 5 figures, then well under 5 figures. If it were 3 pages long the watches might only cost $50 by the end.

    Regardless, as much as I love Zenith these would have to come that far down in price to grab me. Titanium, lugless, immature dial branding… there’s more wrong than right here and I have no interest. They could have at least flexed the el primero skills to put out a hi-beat watch but nah. I’ll pass.


    Me like the non skelonized version BUT the Defy and Zenith font is horrid. Usually I am
    Not a stickler for fonts but here they stick out like a sore thumb. Shame because on bracelet it looks nice the watch is not thick as a pancake and overall it looks well made. All ruined w that font imho

    • SuperStrapper

      The logo is not so bad but that DEFY branding is absurd. Belongs on a Nataf-era defy watch.

    • Piotrek

      They removed ‘Defy’ from the dial in the production version. All pictures in this review must be from pre-production version.

  • SuperStrapper

    I see no reason why the date had to be so different for the dialled version. Why cant that one have a 6 aperture with the same 3d date wheel instead of a parts bin-mosque printed white one? That alone could have helped out a lot in the personality department. A big/grande date would have really helped make that watch special.

    • Marceau Ratard

      100% agree, it is a crowded field at that price and having a blue dial is really enough to get noticed

  • Pete L

    not normally a fan of skeleton dials but I like this one for some reason. Cool

  • LetoAtreides69

    I think the case and bracelet on this watch are awesome. I look forward to seeing what they do with this in the future. It’s a really nice looking, modern looking watch that I don’t think will show its age like 90’s tags for example. I bet they sell a bunch of these. Price wise it’s hovering around that rolex mark, but I’d rather one of these than the ubiquitous rolexes… Would almost consider the skeleton version for better handling of the date…

  • Estevan Villarreal

    I’m really struck by the faceting of the bracelet and the line of its taper, very aesthetically pleasing. I would have appreciated some more discussion of that aspect of the watch, especially the durability given titanium’s notoriety for showing scratches.

    The movement appears to have an industrial finish/appearance, which isn’t necessarily congruent with the price point and the exhibition caseback, but works because it matches the watch’s overall design aesthetic.

    I agree with others that a hi-beat movement would have been nice, especially considering I have one of Zenith’s 3-hand high beat movements in my Espada, the El Primero 4650b. That said, the Elite is a very high quality movement in its own right, and does keep the case relatively svelte.

    Is the crown screw down? I likely wouldn’t take it into the water, but I definitely dont trust push crowns even with 100M ratings.

    All in all though, this is almost certainly my next watch. I’d been considering another daily driver and was between the Explorer, the new OP in black or white, and the new AT 8900, but on a bracelet this definitely has more character than any of those, yet retains the same levels of versatility and quality. Can’t wait to see one in the metal…

    • Gyuri Rigó

      The crown isnt screw down.

  • Flávio Maia

    You will be “hublotinized”! Bling!

  • Tõnis Leissoo

    These are beautiful. Especially the one with the bracelet. I’d hope for a 44mm version.

  • egznyc

    A lot nicer than I’d expected, especially with the Genta-esque case and bracelet design nods. The skeletonized version seems such a waste, as the movement is not so interesting to look at – it just makes it harder to read the time.

  • Mr. Snrub

    I really like the solid dial version even if I wish they would have kept the date at 6’oclock. Very modern take on a three-hander that should age well. Still, kinda hard to justify asking a $1k premium over this guy:

    • Estevan Villarreal

      I considered the same thing. The movements are a wash, and beyond that there’s a lot that comes down to preference: date/no date, titanium/steel, edgier/classic. So there’s certainly no wrong answer, but given that the Zenith will almost certainly have a more flexible price point, it may in fact be the better value of the two.

      • Mr. Snrub

        Very true, really comes down to what kind of deal you can swing on the Zenith

        • Thomas

          It’s not impossible to haggle the solid dial bracelet zenith to below the OP36/39

    • Will Bert

      I have almost that same watch mine has a fluted bezel though. There has to be somewhere else to go past Rolex. Once I had my date just II and novelty of owning a Rolex wore off I found that there were much more interesting timepieces out there. Maybe this Zenith is it maybe it isn’t, but price commentary based on a comparison to Rolex seems naive

  • Marceau Ratard

    The solid dialed version looks nice and I’m a fan of the integrated case designs. I have a North Flag and it is hard to justify the cost difference to get the Zenith but that doesn’t stop if from being a good looking watch.

    The open dial version looks cool but I’m pretty sure I would struggle to tell the time. If they made the tuning forks dark blue or black it would give a little more separation between the internals and the hands.

  • Ulysses31

    A somewhat sporty-looking watch without any RED on it? Excellent! I’m not keen on the Hublot(Porthole)-ish lugs though.

  • Richard Baptist

    I like these watches. My favorite is the solid dial on the bracelet. Good value and good movement. I’m trying to think what’s the competition here. GP laureto? I like it more than the explorer. Good effort and good pricing – and I don’t say good pricing often.

  • Duke of Vly

    What do you mean “At this price point, many buyers attracted to the Defy Classic might not have extensive collections”?

    • Will Bert

      I thought that was a bit odd when I read it as well

  • Dan F

    Zenith has really upped their game! Available for $4,000 to $5,000 on the grey market, this is a solid value for a Genta-styled steel sports watch from a major player. Comparing it to the more basic-looking Tudor North Flag for instance, the Defy is going to be a much more versatile watch for only about $1500 more. Where the Tudor North Flag is decidedly utilitarian, the Defy is more stylish, and has more options. The Defy’s movement alone, looks much nicer than Tudor’s. The Skeletonized model puts it into a whole new arena for a fraction of the price of a Hublot. It’s got to be the best value in exotics out there. The positioning of the Defy fills a gap between entry-level Sports Heuer and Ultra Luxo Sports Hublot. It let’s you get a solid luxury watch without getting too extravagant. You can now enjoy something along the lines of a Vacheron Constantin Overseas for about a third of the price. Well-done Zenith!

  • Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, png.