Hands-On Review – Zenith Defy Classic Carbon

The Skinny

Diameter: 41 mm
Thickness: 10.75 mm
Movement: Elite 670 SK (Skeletonized automatic with silicone escape wheel and pallet lever)
Water Resistance: 10 ATM (100 meters)
Dial: Openworked
Bracelet: Carbon fiber integrated bracelet or rubber strap
Price: $19,500 on bracelet, $11,600 on strap

What Are We Defying?

The original Zenith Defy was a robust sports watch released in the horologically significant year of 1969. Released three years before the Royal Oak, the original Defy line consisted of octagonal and tonneau shaped cases with colorful dials and integrated bracelets. The in house Zenith caliber 2562PC was an automatic winding, high beat (for the time), semi-quickset date movement. The screw in bezel, crown, and caseback and rubber housing around the movement conferred a high level of shock and water resistance. Given less attention than its 1969 birth year sibling the El Primero, the Zenith Defy line nevertheless was an innovative and assertively styled set of watches that were also ahead of their time. The line, like so many others, disappeared during the quartz crisis.

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Defy Now

The current Defy collection was released in 2017. It is used to designate watches that share a tonneau shape and feature innovative materials, movements, and open worked dials. The Defy Classic line consists of time and date men’s watches. It also contains some blue dials in titanium cases and open worked dials in ceramic or jeweled cases but this line is the new carbon case openworked dial series. I wore the watch on a rubber and canvas strap and I also looked at the full carbon bracelet version. To my knowledge, this is the first production watch anywhere to feature a full carbon case and bracelet.

The black carbon case, especially when combined with the integrated bracelet, is striking. At first glance I thought the watch was in camouflage. The tonneau shape of the watch incorporates rather sharp angles at the transitions between sides and front of the case. The angularity is also set off by the crown, which comes to a bit of a tip and has some grooves cut into it for texture. The case was so sharp that I was slightly concerned when my toddler bashed his head into my arm but no harm was done.

The carbon fiber composite material has a random seeming geometric pattern on the dial and caseback surface reminiscent of the cut surface of a decorative mineral. Interestingly, the alignment of the fibers on the sides of the case is in a stripe pattern. The bezel and sapphire are perfectly flat. The strap version comes with a carbon clasp which has a skeletonized look but feels strong and solid due to the strength and stiffness of the carbon material. The integrated bracelet is remarkable, with links and butterfly clasp completely composed of the carbon material. The mineral like pattern on the surface and striping on the sides with sharp edges continues on the bracelet. The entire watch on the bracelet weighs in at a feather light 65 grams. For comparison, a golf ball weighs 46 grams so this is less than one and a half golf balls.

The dial is openworked. There is an underlying brushed scaffold of a star shape with an applied Zenith star and the logo text at 12. The markers contain lume and dangle slightly over the edge of the skeletonized portion of the dial. The date at 6 has a luminous trapezoidal backing so that the date is backlit and highly legible at night. The date wheel is exposed so you can see the wheel moving as the date is adjusted. The escape wheel is in the shape of a star at 10 o’clock so it is fun to see it turning rapidly as the watch beats. The seconds hand has a luminous tip and a star shaped counterweight. The hour and minute hand are sticks with a central brushed surface and luminous material. Overall the lume helps make the hands and hour markers stand out from the otherwise dark surfaces and maintain legibility. A flat sapphire caseback reveals some more of the Elite 670 SK movement, including the robust star shaped rotor and the brushed and skeletonized movement. The movement beats at 28,800 vpm and features a silicone escape wheel and pallet lever as well as a 50 hour power reserve.

The lightness of the watch makes it comfortable to wear. The tonneau shape and thin case makes the 41 mm case wear comfortably on my skinny wrist without overhang. I appreciate Zenith reviving the 1970’s style tonneau shape which gives a strong wrist presence but keeps a short lug to lug distance, allowing the watch to fit a variety of wrist sizes.

Overall I enjoyed wearing this watch. The carbon material is remarkably lightweight, strong, and has a distinctive look that matches the openworked dial. On the wrist it feels aggressive, high tech, and futuristic. Unfortunately I was not able to get the bracelet sized so I can’t really comment on whether the bracelet version is worth the extra $7,900. But if you’re going to buy the first production watch with a carbon case and bracelet, wouldn’t you want to get the bracelet?