Zenith Defy Skyline 36January 9, 2023
The Zenith Defy Skyline 36 has finally come into its own. Zenith’s new flagship collection might not have the heritage of the El Primero or hit that perfect sporty note like the Chronomaster Sport, but as a range of ever more inventive, design-led timepieces, the Defy has very much arrived.
It’s about time too; the Defy was originally launched in 1969, as the recent and supremely cool Defy A3642 Revival reminded everyone. But while that particular watch was aesthetically authentic to the first ever model, the new Skyline takes a much more modern approach.
I don’t mean modern in the vein of the Defy Extreme. Sure, those were about as contemporary as you can get, but with the kind of big, bold machismo that can’t exactly be called a crowd-pleaser. No, the Skyline flirts with the 1969 original, while taking a much more modern approach.
It of course has that instantly recognisable octagonal case with a dodecagonal (12-sided) bezel and the kind of sporty industrial character that brings Gerald Genta to mind. It really stands out on the wrist, catching the light at unusual angles and generally being a low-key showstopper. It’s sharp, angular and impeccable, with a lovely mix of brushed and polished finishes. It’s also stainless steel, unlike previous, titanium Defys. Defies? Defys.
Yet, while the case shape is what we’ve come to know and love from the Defy – albeit a touch more refined – the dial is entirely new.
From a distance, the engraving looks like it’s ready for a game of Battleships, but look a little closer and you can tell it’s actually row upon row of four-pointed stars. It’s slightly subtler in reality than it looks in images, but it’s still a statement dial, whether you have it in the black, silver or this starry night blue. The standout is, of course, that latter. The engraving doesn’t stand out that well on the black and the silver is a bit much. The blue hits the sweet spot.
The four-pointed star, incidentally, is a nod to Zenith’s past, an interpretation of the “double Z” logo of the 1960s, where it previously looked more like a shuriken than a solar object. Here, lined up in a satisfyingly OCD fashion, it looks fantastic.
Now, what’s not apparent from the images is perhaps the coolest touch on the entire watch: the sub-seconds. The Defy is most definitely not an El Primero, dropping the chronograph aspect of the legendary calibre. But it is cut from the same cloth, converting the 1/10th chronograph into a running seconds.
It’s an inspired nod to Zenith’s history and makes for an eye-catching flash of movement as the small seconds twirls around once every 10 seconds. It’s not actually as useful on a daily basis, but then who actually cares about seconds anyway? If you’re worried about that, get an actual chronograph and leave the Defy to those of us that appreciate and understated the nod to watchmaking history.
Despite the novel twist of the archival, the movement is pretty subdued through the sapphire caseback. It’s well finished of course, but the grey on grey keeps things as minimal as a star-shaped rotor can be. I would like to see a bit more of the movement past said rotor though. Still, the 60-hour power reserve is definitely appreciated.
Like the Zenith Defy Skyline 36 models, the Skyline comes with quick-change straps – and I do mean quick. I spent far too long snapping them on and off again. It’s a touch less simple than the button operated Hublot versions, but it’s still up there with the likes of the Overseas’ quick-change system.
The Zenith Defy Skyline 36 is, in essence, the watchmaker’s greatest hits. A base El Primero movement, adapted for time-only, inside a case that echoes the 1969 Defy and behind a dial reinterpreting a 1960s logo. If it had a crown from a Type 20, you’d have won Zenith bingo.
Honestly, it’s just good to see Zenith doing something more playful with their archives than another revival piece. I love the Revivals, from the A384 to the A3642. But there’s only so much you can re-issue, and with the Extreme being such a specialised timepiece, it’s good to see something in-between. You know. Until we get another Chronomaster Sport.