Out of the Lab: Zenith Defy Inventor Carries on the Legacy of the El Primero

Who says history doesn’t repeat itself? Zenith earned the attention and acclaim of the wristwatch world with the heralded launch of the El Primero, the world’s highest-frequency self-winding chronograph movement, in 1969, and did so again just two years ago with another epic achievement in chronometry, the Zenith Defy Lab and its revolutionary Zenith Oscillator. The Defy Lab, an extremely limited, pre-sold series of timepieces, has now gone into serial production as the Defy Inventor, unveiled at Baselworld 2019 as a headliner of Zenith’s 50th anniversary celebration of the El Primero.

ZENITH Defy Inventor - front

The Zenith Defy Inventor is equipped with the patented regulating organ, developed at Zenith’s manufacture, which made its debut in the 10-piece Lab series and replaces a traditional sprung balance. The Zenith Oscillator is a single-piece, ultra-thin mechanism made of monocrystalline silicon (as compared to the 30-odd parts that make up a standard balance) that oscillates at a breakneck pace of 108,000 vph, or 18 Hz, dwarfing even the then-unprecedented 36,600-vph (5 Hz) of the El Primero. Its pulsations are visible from the dial side of the movement thanks to an openworked architecture. Among the benefits of this control system: increased reliability thanks to eliminating the need for 30 or more moving parts and thus decreasing friction, wear, and deformation; stability thanks to silicon’s temperature-resistant and antimagnetic properties; and added precision from its unique escape wheel constructed of flexible blades. (For more detail on the Defy Lab caliber, click here.)

Zenith Defy Inventor - crown

Avant-garde technical innovation also comes into play on the timepiece’s exterior, a 44-mm brushed titanium case with a textured bezel made from Aeronith, a high-tech aluminum composite that Zenith says is the lightest such material in the world. Made from pure aluminum foam and stiffened with a polymer, Aeronith is three times lighter than titanium and lends the watch a definitive industrial-modern aesthetic — as if it need another one, with the aforementioned dynamic dial, designed to evoke both propellor blades and the historical Zenith star emblem. The rhodium-plated hands sweep over the skeleton dial, with its wide blued areas, along with a star-tipped central seconds hand. The Inventor is not a chronograph like the El Primero, but is equipped with a stop-seconds function which enables ultra-accurate readings thanks to the super-high-frequency oscillator.

Zenith Defy Inventor - soldier

The Defy Inventor, which Zenith says will be produced in a run of several hundred units starting this year, is mounted on a black rubber strap with a midnight blue alligator coating. Available at retail in June, it will be priced at 18,900 Swiss francs (about $19,000 as of Baselworld week).

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  1. Matthew Kolodziej

    Love it. A true horological innovation finally in mechanical watches. A testament of the continued leadership of Swiss watchmakers.

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