Zenith’s New Defy Skyline Is a Simple Three-Hand Watch. Or Is It?

Forget the chronographs and carbon fiber, it’s this deceptive sport watch you want

The new Zenith Defy Skyline three-hand sport watch in blue. It's supposedly the first Swiss watch to feature a tenth of a second sub-dial. The watch was unveiled during LVMH Watch Week 2022.
Zenith's new Defy Skyline was unveiled on January 24 at the start of LVMH Watch Week.

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A $25,000 titanium and carbon fiber chronograph, a limited-edition rainbow wonder and a heritage revival watch that pretty much sold out instantly — these are just some of the timepieces that Swiss watchmaker Zenith has unveiled this month. They’re celebrating LVMH Watch Week, where family brands like Hublot, TAG Heuer and Bulgari are showcasing their latest and greatest, and there’s a whole lot of wrist candy to digest. But we’d like to draw your attention to a simple three-hand model.

Deceptively simple, we should say. We’re talking about the Zenith Defy Skyline, which is powered by a new version of the brand’s celebrated El Primero movement. For those who know their history, you’ll be wondering where the chronograph went, as the El Primero name is famous for shepherding in the automatic chronograph in 1969. But that’s just the thing, for this new sport watch, Zenith reconfigured the movement to be time only — and it’s better for it.

Powering the Defy Skyline is the El Primero caliber 3620, which uses a new version of the caliber 3600 inside the Chronomaster Sport, but here the chronograph functionality is removed in favor of a pared-down three-hand style, including a 1/10th of a second sub-dial at 9 o’clock that makes a full revolution every 10 seconds and is powered directly from the escapement. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen this layout before, you’ll be thinking for a while, because it’s a rarity; Zenith even told Hodinkee that it’s a first in Swiss watchmaking history.

The effect, for those who are less interested in the minutiae of movements, is a timepiece that shows ingenuity doesn’t need to come by way of busy chronographs or tourbillons. The most appealing wristwatches can seem relatively staid until you zoom in. 

A close-up of the Zenith Defy Skyline watch, featuring a tenth of a second sub-dial and a four-pointed star patten on the dial
Now that’s how you do a textured dial.

In that regard, the first thing you’ll notice when leaning into the watch face is that the pattern covering the dial is a repeating four-pointed star, a refashioned version of Zenith’s “double Z” logo that’s punched into the dial. The celestial aesthetic is highlighted through a sunburst finish, and more texture is added through concentric circle detailing on the seconds sub-dial. Zoom out a little bit and you’ll notice the eight-sided case against a 12-sided bezel, with a polished bevel, a design that recalls the extravagant Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Lest you think there is some copycatting afoot, Zenith is drawing inspiration here from their vintage Defy models that came before that particular icon.

If you’re intrigued by the deceptive simplicity Zenith is showcasing with the Defy Skyline, the watch is available in three colors: this blue, as well as silver and black. They offer it with both a stainless steel bracelet and rubber strap, but we’d say stick with the metal here and let the dial do the talking. 

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