Can a watch simultaneously look to the future while reminding the observant of the recent past. Apparently, the Zenith Defy Extreme can, as coverage of this model in the wake of its reveal at Watches and Wonders 2021 demonstrates. I have not encountered this many references to former CEO Thierry Nataf since, well, he was ruling the roost at the company. While I did not focus my own question on this subject, I must note that this is not just the shadow of the flamboyant ex-boss but the outright rebirth of something from his time. This is unsurprising to me because brand executives – and Nataf himself – frequently boasted about his sales performance. Internally at Zenith, the current team points only to certain excesses on the part of the old management team, in particular the explosion in references. That has now been resolved, so we shall see if we can assess the Zenith Defy Extreme on its merits.
To begin with, Zenith Defy Extreme marks a completely different and contrasting direction to the Chronomaster Sport earlier this year, and the well-received Revival series. One look at the 2021 Defy Extreme models demonstrates this better than any description. One interesting thing about the description is the “all-terrain” bit, which is the second such reference from two wholly distinct brands at Watches & Wonders 2021. The Zenith design team likens the faceted and angular case to an object shaped by the forces of nature but we see clear nods to 21st century architecture. The tonneau-shaped case adopts a more muscular profile at 45mm and 15.4mm thick to complement its shaper lines. This is enhanced by what seems like two bezels – the outermost one 12-sided, paired with a round one both within and above. This motif is repeated many times as one journeys to the centre of the dial, where partially skeletonised ultra-modern hands are graced by SuperLuminova SLN C1.
Looking at the various models, but especially the Defy Extreme version in microblasted titanium and rose gold, I am reminded of nothing less than a Hattori Hanzo sword. By this, I mean it feels like a mythical weapon of immense and barely contained power. I suppose that is perfectly in keeping with the 2000s vibe here. Speaking of power, the dual-escapement El Primero calibre 9004 is the engine here, so that means this is a 1/100th of second chronograph. There is a power reserve indicator at 12 o’clock, which is useful for a watch with 50 hours of power reserve (Zenith says this is the minimum). As far as water-resistance goes, things get extreme once again, because every watch in this range is rated to 200 metres. Bear in mind that this exceptional robustness still boasts an exhibition caseback. That brings me to the feature that I found most impressive here, the interchangeable bracelet system.
Despite being part of LVMH, where the brands have been experimenting with interchangeable straps recently, Zenith has opted to introduce it for the first time in the 2021 Defy Extreme. Not having experienced the watches in person, I cannot report on the properties of the system but it seems exceedingly well-thought through. All models come with matching microblasted titanium bracelets, as well as rubber and Velcro straps. That last one is also a first for Zenith. Stay tuned for more on this collection, and on something a little more colourful that you have no doubt already seen.