On the heels of copping the Chronograph Watch Prize at the 2021 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie Genève for its boldly dynamic Chronomaster Sport, Zenith returned to its avant-garde Defy collection, namely two of its most highly complicated denizens, to introduce its first sapphire-cased watches since 2014’s wildly experimental Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu. Here is what you need to know about the new Defy 21 Zero G Sapphire and Defy 21 Double Tourbillon Sapphire.
Further highlighting the ultra-complex horological mechanisms laid bare by the uber-contemporary, clear sapphire cases is the use of blue PVD finishes on both watches’ movements, along with decorative elements such as miniature Zenith stars engraved on the bridges. A contrasting rhodium-colored is also applied to the bridges’ chamfered edges in a specially developed technique, adding even more depth and a futuristic aesthetic. As with other watches with sapphire cases — of which there are not many, though Zenith’s LVMH stablemate Hublot offers a notable handful — the visual benefit here is that all of these eye-catching elements are visible from not only the front and back but also the sides of the cases, both of which measure 46 mm in diameter and are sculpted in the familiar barrel-shaped form of the modern Defy family.
The sapphire-cased version of the Defy Zero-G, which debuted in 2018 in precious-metal cases that were slightly smaller (44 mm), is outfitted with Zenith’s in-house-developed Gravity Control mechanism, in which the regulating organ is fixed to a gimbal that is perpetually in a flat position regardless of the watch’s rotation. That original mechanism has been redesigned with a new architecture that allows for an even more open display within the transparent case. The off-centered hours-and-minutes subdial is handcrafted from a combination of meteorite and aventurine glass and lies in the center of a miniature painting in which Mars serves as the small seconds subdial. A power reserve indicator sits at 3 o’clock, and the back of the Gravity Control device’s module, when it is in view, reveals a cratered texture mimicking the surface of the moon. The celestially inspired finish, in which blue tones contrast with metallic gray chamfers and white speckled stars, can also be found on the Gravity mechanism’s cylindrical container, which is Inspired by a historical marine chronometer.
As its name implies, the Defy 21 Double Tourbillon is equipped with two tourbillons — one at 10 o’clock that is coupled with the chronograph function, the other at 8 o’clock to regulate the timekeeping rate of the watch. The escapement in the 10 o’clock tourbillon beats at a lightning-quick frequency of 50 Hz (360,000 vph), its carriage performing a full rotation every five seconds. What this means in practice is that when the chronograph is activated, its central hand makes a complete sweep of the dial once per second, and thus has the ability, when stopped, to measure an interval to 1/100th of a second. The 8 o’clock tourbillon escapement oscillates at a more conventional (at least for an El Primero) 36,000 vph, or 5 Hz, and separately regulates the hours, minutes, and continuously running seconds. Inside the crystalline case, this stellar-inspired version of Zenith’s ultra-complex Caliber 9020 featuresa blue PVD finish on the mainplate and other parts like the star-shaped rotor, as well as engraved stars on the dial-side bridges.
Along with the two tourbillons, the movement has two dedicated mainspring barrels — one for the watch, the other for the chronograph. The former provides for 60 hours of power reserve when fully wound, the latter for 50 minutes of running autonomy for the activated stopwatch, whose 60-second and 30-minute counters are displayed at 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock, respectively, on the watch’s openworked dial. All told, the movement has 311 components, including a satin-brushed rotor, and boasts a chronometer certification from the independent testing agency Timelab.
The Zenith Defy Zero-G Sapphire and Defy 21 Double Tourbillon are both mounted on straps that combine black rubber with textured blue “cordura effect” rubber and fasten to the wrist with titanium double-folding clasps. Like the aforementioned Pilot Type 20 Grand Feu, Zenith’s very first timepiece with a case made of sold sapphire, both new watches are extremely limited, to 10 pieces each, with the Zero-G priced at $159,700 and the Double Tourbillon selling for $180,300.