Upon its reintroduction in 2021, the Zenith Defy Extreme immediately took its place as one of the most advanced and audacious designs in the brand’s extensive lineup. Designed as a larger, more aggressive “all-terrain” take on the modern Defy series, the Defy Extreme took nods to both beefed-up versions of competing sports chronographs and to the brand’s divisive 2000s era under previous CEO Thierry Nataf. This more rugged positioning made it a natural fixture for the brand’s partnership with the Extreme E all-electric off-road racing series, and as Extreme E gears up for its second season in 2022 Zenith returns to the Defy Extreme with a new iteration designed with the rigors of modern rally racing in mind. The new Zenith Defy Extreme in carbon fiber offers one of the brand’s most dramatic and ultra-sporty designs in recent memory, alongside one of its most exotic in-house movements.
At 45mm-wide and a ponderous 16mm-thick, the matte forged carbon fiber and titanium case of this new Zenith Defy Extreme is decidedly not for the faint of heart. The overall form carries over much of the modern Defy series’ architecture, including the squared-off integrated lugs, triangular case side chamfers, and the overall angular tonneau case profile, but gives this form a more muscular, substantial presence with reworked proportions and a handful of new visual elements. The bezel takes on a layered two-piece design, with the round smooth inner bezel flanked by a 12-sided ring in micro bead-blasted titanium. Zenith also adds extra visual heft to the 3 o’clock side of the case with a set of massive, wedge-like applied titanium crown guards. These imposing guards also act as surrounds for the sloping forged carbon pushers, continuing the terraced theme established by the bezel. While all these forms have been part of the Defy Extreme series before, the carbon material itself gives this design a markedly different character. The layered striations in the carbon fiber help to visually break up the bulk of this case in images, particularly from the case sides, and the fully matte mottled look of the carbon gives this variant a racier, more purpose-built look than its more polished stablemates. Like previous iterations, however, the forged carbon Zenith Defy Extreme boasts an impressive 200 meters of water resistance.
Like previous iterations of the Defy Extreme, the Zenith Defy Extreme in carbon uses a fully skeletonized dial design. Fans of the brand should be familiar with this layout, with its broad skeleton hands, 12 o’clock power reserve indicator, and faceted applied indices. As with the initial models in the line, Zenith takes extensive measures to balance the drama of a visible skeleton movement with the legibility that most skeleton dials lack. The first step in this process comes from the transparent sapphire dial surface, which both allows the subdial scales to visually float above the movement and adds a perceptible — although clear — boundary layer between the timekeeping elements and the movement below. The other secret to this highly legible design is color. Each of the chronograph subdials, along with the outer 1/100-second chronograph scale, uses highlights in vibrant yellow, blue, or green to draw attention in images, while the 12 o’clock power reserve indicator uses similar highlights in blazing red. By contrast, the movement below is finished in a mixture of matte and brushed grays, with brushed black used for the main bridges. This lets the movement blend in smoothly with the rest of the design in images, while still allowing attentive viewers to take in highlights like the 12 o’clock mainspring barrel, the gear train, and the balance wheel at 8 o’clock. Zenith also uses these vibrant highlight colors as a springboard for future iterations in the series. Beginning with the Desert X Prix in Saudi Arabia in February 2022, Zenith will produce a new limited edition colorway of the forged carbon Defy Extreme based on each round of the 2022 Extreme E championship.
Zenith powers the Defy Extreme in carbon fiber with its in-house El Primero 9004 automatic chronograph movement. The El Primero 9004 has become a fixture in many of Zenith’s high-end chronograph offerings over the past few years and remains a statement piece in the brand’s lineup for one specific reason – its over-the-top take on the chronograph complication. The El Primero series has been famous since 1969 for its high-frequency 36,000 bph beat rate, but to allow this mechanical chronograph to track 1/100-second intervals Zenith equips the El Primero 9004 with a second escapement dedicated to the chronograph complication. Once engaged, this secondary escapement beats at a ballistic 360,000 bph, 10 times faster than the base movement, which allows the central chronograph hand to make a full circuit of the dial once every second. When this ultra-high-frequency chronograph is not in use, the El Primero 9004 manages a respectable 50 hours of power reserve.
Zenith pairs the new carbon Defy Extreme with a trio of included straps. First up is a durable integrated black fabric strap with a raised central ridge in black rubber and a Velcro fastening system. This rugged, dual-material look fits the lightweight, purposeful ethos of the watch well in images, and will likely be the most versatile of the three on the wrist. The remaining two straps are variations on the integrated rubber straps used by the rest of the Defy Extreme line, with raised rectangular sections that mimic the center links of the line’s H-link bracelet. Available in both black and a vibrant scarlet red, this sculptural strap gives the already layered design even more visual depth in images.
Although its over-the-top design philosophy may not be to all tastes, its aggressive new materials, futuristic racing spirit, and movement bursting with mechanical spectacle make the new Zenith Defy Extreme in carbon fiber a step forward for the brand’s most audacious line. The Zenith Defy Extreme in carbon fiber is available now through authorized dealers. MSRP for this model stands at $25,100 as of press time. For more information, please visit the brand’s website.