Zenith has launched some of its boldest colorways on special editions of its ultra-high-frequency Defy 21 chronograph (as witness last year’s Ultraviolet and Pink Editions and the recently unveiled Urban Jungle). For perhaps the most vibrant execution yet, the manufacture has teamed with Argentinean-Spanish artist Felipe Pantone to create a timepiece that it describes as “a piece of wearable kinetic art.” Here’s a closer look at the Zenith Defy 21 Felipe Pantone.
Zenith began its collaboration with Felipe Pantone in 2020, when the company offered the façade of its main building in Le Locle, Switzerland, as a canvas for contemporary artists to showcase work. In Pantone’s case, that work centers around the so-called “visible spectrum concept,” which uses frequencies of light and refracted colors to inspire a rainbow of gradient color variations. Hence the choice of the Defy 21 model — the highest-frequency chronograph wristwatch in production — as the stage for a radically different timepiece that is, as Zenith puts it, “all about frequencies — visually and mechanically.”
To execute Pantone’s vision for the Defy 21 watch that bears his name and style, Zenith had to develop new techniques never before utilized in watchmaking — such as the “interference colors” principle applied to the movement’s multicolored bridges, whose coating reflects a gradient of metallic rainbow tones. Months of trials by specialists were required to find the appropriate solution to achieve this rainbow effect; the result is an innovative three-dimensional PVD with silicon particles as a surface treatment to produce a spectrum of perfectly transitioning colors. While the process has been standardized, each piece will take on slightly different colors, essentially becoming a unique work of art.
The distorted lightning-bolt shapes of the hour and minute hands are also derived from Pantone’s work, and their gradient rainbow effect is applied in the same state-of-the-art process as the movement’s bridges. Successfully creating both the hands’ unusual shape and their perfectly transitioning, colored-PVD coating proved to be among the toughest challenges Zenith’s engineers faced in creating this very unusual watch, and one of several watchmaking firsts. Another is the moiré optical effect of alternating black and white bands on the top bridges and portions of the dial, a recurring theme in Felipe Pantone’s paintings and sculptures. Using fine laser-engraving and lacquering techniques, so precise that they provide an optical illusion of fluidic movement in the contrast of the stripes, Zenith was able to miniaturize this motif. Aside from the painstakingly created hands, the open dial features a mix of gradient and block colors on its markers and counters.
The black ceramic tonneau case of the Defy 21 Felipe Pantone is enhanced with a grid pattern engraved on the bezel, and “FP#1” engraved on the four corners of the case, denoting “Felipe Pantone El Primero. ” The “El Primero,” of course, refers to the movement, El Primero Caliber 9004, whose claim to horological fame is its ability to record times to 1/100-second, made possible by the incorporation of two escapements — one for the 36,000-vph main movement, the other for the 360,000-vph integrated chronograph. The bezel’s grid motif is echoed on the watch’s black textured rubber strap with a double-folding, black DLC clasp, while a second rubber strap offers yet another op-art touch. The latter has a central insert that goes from dark gray to a flash of all the colors in the spectrum depending on the angle of light, the result of iridescence caused by the surface of the material and how it catches light.
Befitting its artistic pedigree, the Zenith Defy 21 Felipe Pantone comes in a presentation box that mimics a hardcover book, with an exclusively created miniaturized painting by the artist featured on its cover, along with a signed certificate. Limited to 100 pieces, and available at Zenith boutiques and via the brand’s online shop, the watch is priced in the U.S. at $19,900.