Because of the skeleton nature of the watch, there are transparent bits visible through the rotor, and that makes for viewing some of the more nuanced and subtle components a lot easier. I found myself often popping the watch off my wrist to look at the back. Zenith’s hollowed-out star-shaped rotor lends for neat perspectives on the Calibre 9004 and I found myself appreciating the ability to see both sides of the movement – something that isn’t always possible. While certainly not as colorful as the front, it’s equally enticing. Zenith knew what the star of the show was.
Looking at the dial, in lieu of a regular seconds counter, Zenith has included a “windmill” as I started calling it at 9 o’ clock. At first, I didn’t like it as I felt it was out place, but it grew on me – even if it’s not so practical for counting seconds. The chronograph sub-registers are at 3 o’clock and a cut-out seconds counter at 6 o’clock, though once I saw Miss Pacman eating the balance wheel (complete with eye and bow thanks to the screw and star at the end of the seconds hand), I couldn’t unsee it.
I won’t lie, legibility took a little while to get a handle on. There are a lot of distractions and moving parts on the dial, and the polished handset provided a nice contrast, but took some getting used to in order to pick out the time at a glance. I suppose this is a challenge with a lot of skeletonized watches, and even more of a challenge with skeletonized chronographs, and in that regard, I can’t complain too much about legibility – though I do feel that changing the black base of the handset to a blue or red would make the hands easy to find at a glance. Don’t read this as “the dial is too busy” because the dial had a certain flow to it that was hard to see in press images. It just took a day or two to get used to. The movement has enough contrasting finishes and the splashes of blue, black, and red give a coherency that I wasn’t sure was there before I strapped it on my wrist.
Which leads me to what was by far my least favorite part of the watch for me; the strap and clasp. The watch used a fitted leather topped rubber strap that was supple and comfortable, though the way that the clasp is designed made it leave scratches and abrasions on my wrist during daily wear. This is due to the fact that the titanium pin clip featured a thick, jutted, and sharp edge that sits directly against the skin. I ended up loosening the watch enough that it was comfortable, but I could never get the fit right. Don’t get me wrong, the strap looks great, and maybe I just have the wrong size wrist for Zenith, but if I tried it on in the store, I would have passed on it. As of writing this, there is now a metal bracelet option with a different clasp that wasn’t available before, and I would strongly advise looking into that.
Gripes about the strap aside, this watch was an enjoyable wear. It’s contemporary, practical, useful, and attractive while not feeling ostentatious – though still fitting into the luxury category. 100m of water resistance with a sapphire crystal lends to a formidable sports watch for those brave enough and it certainly won’t be boring to look at. It also fits into a nice middle-ground for LVMH where similar style watch offerings from Tag Heuer (like the Carrera Heuer 02) run right around half the price, and Hublot’s Big Bang collections fetching double to triple depending on the selection. However, I would argue that the Zenith Defy El Primero 21 offers more bang-for-the-buck.
Overall, I loved the watch. It definitely looks and feels like it could have stepped off a spaceship, and honestly, the Defy collection watches have that futuristic DNA that makes them easily recognizable but also keeps them in a segment of their own. The technical innovations and progress in this watch make it a strong contender for one of my favorite chronographs on the market, and when paired with the relative affordability compared to competitors offering similar technical specs, the Defy El Primero 21 is a solid release for Zenith and I’m excited to see what else they have in store for the future. Price for the Zenith El Primero 21 as tested comes in at $10,600. zenith-watches.com
>Model: Defy El Primero 21
>Size: 44mm x 14.5mm
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Anyone in the market for a highly technical chronograph that has its own DNA.
>Best characteristic of watch: The movement is nothing short of fantastic.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The clasp on the rubber and leather strap is downright uncomfortable.