As the watch retail landscape continues to rapidly evolve following all the societal terraforming we’ve experienced in 2020, it’s turning into a foot race for many luxury watch names to launch their own e-commerce platforms. The latest to get itself to this objective in the United States is Zenith, which is celebrating its new platform for the territory by offering up a boutique-exclusive El Primero Defy 21 rendered in full ceramic. Now, it’s worth pointing out two things: firstly, this is not a new watch — Zenith launched it last summer when it was available exclusively within its brick-and-mortar boutique network. And secondly, Zenith has had e-commerce for its full collection already up and running in Europe, where collectors got first crack at the white-hot Manufacture Edition announced earlier this year. What makes this particular launch unique is that this is the first time Zenith is making what would otherwise be a boutique-exclusive available for online purchase, and it’ll be collectors in the United States with exclusive access.
Model: El Primero Defy 21 Boutique Edition (ref. 49.9001.9004)
Dimensions: 44mm-wide x 14mm-thick
Water Resistance: 100 meters
Case Material: Black ceramic
Crystal/Lens: Domed sapphire crystal with double-sided anti-reflective treatment
Movement: El Primero 9004 automatic (Time-Lab Chronometer Certified)
Frequency: 36,000 VpH (5 Hz)
Power Reserve: 50 hours
Strap/Bracelet: Black rubber strap with textured Cordura-style surface fitted to double-folding DLC-coated titanium clasp
Price & Availability: $13,600, limited to 250 pieces
To be fair, though the super impressive El Primero 9004 1/100th chronograph movement visible through both the front and the back of the watch should be the focus here, I’ve long contended that the Defy 21 is possibly the most woefully under-appreciated modern watch available right now. Serving as a platform for Zenith’s latest finishing technologies and concept movements, the Defy 21 accommodates both perfectly, with its bold lines and contemporary proportions. The latter is crucial, though, as the 44mm case is essentially lugless, measuring only 50mm top to bottom with a fitted strap that drops straight down. Given the complication tucked within, it’s a markedly wearable and extremely well-executed case design that takes the circle-in-a-square concept from Zenith’s own vintage A384 case and re-imagines it for the 21st century, an era after which the watch is appropriately named.
And as far as modernity goes, the Defy 21 case has seen it all: from stainless steel and bead-blasted titanium to an exotic forged carbon with a Super-LumiNova-impregnated bezel (yes. really.) So, when it comes to ceramic, it’s hardly the most exotic case material anymore, with most any serious luxury brand offering some kind of full ceramic option. However, there are very few brands finishing them to the degree exhibited to the level on this Defy 21. Here, the Defy’s sharply polished bevels and flat surfaces are sandwiched by a sublime vertical brushing that’s every bit as industrial as it is luxurious. The alternating finishes pick up light from most any angle, forming a dynamic frame for the bright blue movement bridges visible through the front of the watch, yielding a vibrant wearing experience that’s quite atypical of what one would expect of a black-cased watch.
But back to the movement for a moment — which is, like many of Zenith’s non-standard chronograph movements, a super-impressive staple for the Defy 21 collection. If you’re new to the Calibre 9004, it’s a high-frequency, 1/100th second chronograph with two separate escapements to govern its multiple frequency speeds: 50 Hz for the chronograph, and 5 Hz for the three timekeeping hands. Its chronometer accuracy is certified by TIMELAB — an independent regulatory agency with a stricter set of standards than what we’ve come to expect from COSC. Activating the chronograph pusher at 2:00 starts the frenzied movement of the center-mounted seconds counter, which completes a single rotation around the dial every second, measuring hundredths of a second which can be read along the chapter ring encircling the perimeter of the dial.
Given how much energy an ultra high-frequency movement like this can require, a power reserve at 12:00 lets you know how much juice remains in the chronograph’s mainspring, which can run for around 50 minutes on a full wind through the crown. Thankfully, without operation of the power-hungry chronograph, the watch can run autonomously for around 50 hours – which is more than acceptable for a high-frequency automatic. Completing the dial is a running seconds indicator at 9:00, a 60-second totalizer at 6:00 and a 30-minute totalizer at 3:00 — all of which is a bit overwhelming with all the skeletonization, but it’s a fair price to pay for the visual delight of the blued bridges, and considerably more legible once you know what you’re looking for.
Once again, the price of the Zenith El Primero Defy 21 Boutique Exclusive is $13,600, and it’s limited to 250 pieces. You can learn more and order yours right now at zenith-watches.com.