Even if you’re not all that into chronographs (myself included), you’re undoubtedly aware of the El Primero movement. Since it first hit watches in 1969, it was hailed as a marvel of advances and accuracy. Now, 50+ years down the line, we’re seeing a new variant of the El Primero coming in hot with the Zenith Defy Skyline.

The astute observer will note that the Zenith Defy Skyline is “just” a three-handed watch, and has just a crown, no pushers. How is this an El Primero movement? Rest easy friend – far from being just a stripped-down movement, Zenith actually took a step back to rethink the El Primero, and redesigned it to be a three-hander. A very special three-hander, though. For the subdial over at 9 o’clock, you’ve got a small hand moving in 1/10th second increments, making a full revolution in 10 minutes.

This hews the movement of the Zenith Defy Skyline very close to it’s chronograph forebears, with it’s 1/10th of a second timing capabilities. Perhaps not practical in this implementation for you to time anything, but it definintely lets you know the movement is running. And you know what? I view it as a subtle sort of whimsy in an otherwise pretty serious sports watch. Did they have to put a small fan on the dial side? No, they sure didn’t, but it’s a fun detail for folks who realize what is actually inside the case.

Speaking of the case – the Zenith Defy Skyline has the faceted bezel and case that reminds us of the original Defy, as well as the reintroduction of that model. While I tend to find myself getting away from to harsh of angles on a watch, on this one, I like all the straight lines. It helps the watch stand out a bit from the pack, and it blends in so nicely to the tapered bracelet that you can’t help but to view it as a cohesive whole.

If you really want to stand out, you need to zoom in on the dial texture of the Zenith Defy Skyline. Here, we’ve got a guilloche pattern done using the Zenith star, creating the starry sky of the eponymous skyline. Seen in macro, it’s supremely clever; zoomed out, it puts me in mind of (as I said in the podcast a few weeks back) of a biscuit (or cookie, to us Americans). However you see it, it’s a nice bit of texture that does not detract from the job of the watch – telling time.

Another aspect of the Zenith Defy Skyline that I rather like the looks of is the handset. These are filled with a wide strip of SuperLuminova, set into hands that are fairly generously sized, making them stand out sharply against the dial. The applied indices mirror that sizing, creating a symmetry between the hands and the indices that I just really find pleasing. The one hole in that pattern is where the date window shows up – small, but not tiny.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised when the Zenith Defy Skyline was presented on the media call. While I knew of the El Primero movement, it was never one I aspired to have in my collection, given my aversion to chronographs. With this one, though, it’s a way to add a historic and extremely proficient movement to ones watch box (I’ll take mine in blue, if you’re looking for birthday gift ideas). Speaking – the Zenith Defy Skyline is retailing at $8,400 – firmly a luxury sports watch, but one that will be extremely accurate, and be ready for day-to-day life. We are working on getting in a loaner for a review, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, you can find out even more details over at zenithwatches.com

Tech Specs from Zenith

  • References
    • 03.9300.3620/01.I001 (silver)
    • 03.9300.3620/51.I001 (blue)
    • 03.9300.3620/21.I001 (black)
  • Key points: El Primero 3-hand watch. High frequency indication : 1/10th of a second subdial at 9 o’clock. Silicon escape-wheel and lever. Starry sky pattern on the dial. Screwed-in crown. Full Interchangeable strap system.
  • Movement: El Primero 3620, automatic
  • Frequency 36,000 VpH (5 Hz)
  • Power reserve approx. 60 hours
  • Functions : Hours and minutes in the centre. 1/10th of a second counter at 9 o’clock. Date indication at 3 o’clock.
  • Finishes:  Special oscillating weight with satined finishings
  • Price $8400 USD
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Water resistance: 10 ATM
  • Case: 41mm
  • Dial: Silver-toned, blue-toned, or black sunburst-patterned
  • Hour markers: Black ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1
  • Hands : Black ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1
  • Bracelet & Buckle: Stainless steel bracelet and folding clasp. Comes with a khaki green (silver dial), blue (blue dial) or black (black dial) rubber strap with starry sky pattern and folding clasp.

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