Watch Review: The Zenith Defy Skyline Does Not Put The Zen In Zenith
I have to admit, I have been a long-term admirer of Zenith. I have also been contemplating if there might still be integrated bracelet sports watches out there for me. A good Royal Oak or Nautilus appeals to me, but they have grown out of my reach. Could my beloved Zenith perhaps supply me with the watch I long for in this Defy Skyline?
I have given this blue-dialed example a thorough test drive to find out. Let’s dive into the experience and see whether I have ended up buying one. And, of course, whether or not I think you should.
The Zenith Defy Skyline
We are dealing with a 41mm case, characterized primarily by its interesting bezel and integrated H-link bracelet. The example I have here is fitted with a blue dial, though silver and black dials are also available. The watch comes with an additional rubber strap, which is blue in this case. The black-dial version comes with a black rubber strap, while the silver comes with a khaki-green one.
The dial is patterned with four-pointed stars recessed into the surface. There is also a subtle sunburst pattern to add some depth. We find a date at three and a sub-seconds at nine o’clock. Lumed, applied, and faceted indices combine nicely with the hands. And, of course, we find a Zenith logo and an applied five-pointed star at 12 o’clock.
Inside, we find an El Primero 3620 high-beat automatic caliber. It is, obviously, a non-chronograph version of the famous movement. As such, Zenith has put the date at three o’clock rather than four-thirty. It has a power reserve of 60 hours and a beat rate of 36,000vph. The Zenith Defy Skyline puts that beat rate to good use because it displays 1/10th of a second via its sub-dial at nine. The caliber can be admired through a sapphire display case back.
The case of the Zenith Defy Skyline is beautifully made. Its brutalist, angular shapes are offset by the complex twelve-sided bezel. The finishing is nice and fine. The edges look razor-sharp, but they do not feel that way.
The crown is large and, to my eye, does not quite fit the design of the case and bracelet. It features medium-blasted surfaces, which are nowhere else on the watch. I feel the intricate bezel could have provided better inspiration for the crown. In fact, the crown on the original Defy Classic would make more sense here than this one, I feel.
The stainless steel case has a lug-to-lug length of 47mm and a thickness of 12.5mm. That does not sound like a tall watch, but its slab sides do give it some very serious wrist presence. It is also water-resistant to 100 meters.
The bracelet and rubber strap
This style of watch leans heavily on its bracelet. I am happy to report that Zenith knocks it out of the park with this one. This is largely due to its radical taper. At its broadest, it measures 26mm in width. It then tapers down to a mere 17mm. The result is equal parts elegant and comfortable.
Furthermore, the bracelet is beautifully made and finished. All links are faceted and feature pronounced brushing, which instantly lets you know that this is a luxurious watch. The facets are polished, providing a little bit of shine without ever getting blingy. Links can be removed via double-sided screws. These are a bit of a pain because you have to put one screwdriver in a vice and operate a second in an awkward balancing act. Since there is no micro-adjust in the dual-deployant clasp, you’d better not gain and lose weight too regularly.
It makes sense for Zenith to supply a second strap since swapping them out is a breeze. There is a quick-release button on both sides of the case, similar to Cartier’s current Santos. This is a very handy feature that I would like to see more brands adopt. No tools are needed, and you can swap straps in a matter of seconds.
The rubber strap is very nicely made. Its contours follow the shape of the watch perfectly. The pattern in the dial is repeated inversely on the strap. It almost looks as if the strap was used to perforate the dial. It is details such as these that elevate a watch to higher levels.
Unfortunately, the inside of the rubber strap is smooth. I found it quite sticky and uncomfortable. It would really benefit from some patterning to allow for more air between the rubber and your skin. I found myself preferring the Defy Skyline on the steel bracelet, which really makes it shine a lot more.
1/10th of a second is not so zen
On to the mechanical party piece of the Zenith Defy Skyline — the 1/10th-of-a-second display. Basically, you will find the seconds hand blazing around the sub-dial once every ten seconds. It does so in ten jumps per second, technically displaying 1/10th of a second.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a technical feat and conversation piece as much as the next person. This, however, seems a bit unnecessary. Out of place, even. It makes sense on a chronograph, where you actually time stuff. But on the running seconds in a tiny sub-dial? Not so much. In fact, it renders the seconds hand completely useless, as you never know where in the minute you are. You are just seeing 10-second cycles. If you like to set your watch to a reference time precisely, this will not allow you to do so.
It has an added effect: the speeding hand is quite eye-catching. I have found it distracting at times. The speed at which the little hand rushes around makes me feel nervous. There is something soothing about the pace of a normal seconds hand. This one goes six times faster. It is a bit much, even if it is only displayed as small as it is here. This does not put the zen in Zenith.
Some design flaws in the Zenith Defy Skyline
While I am sharing my points of criticism, let’s have a closer look at the design. To my eyes, it is close but not quite right.
There is a balance issue on the horizontal middle line of the watch. The sub-dial and half-index at nine, and the date at three are not of equal visual weight. They both break the flow of the dial design, and not in complementary ways. Just try and imagine the sub-dial at six and no date. It would add symmetry and optical calm. Again, this leaves me feeling not so zen.
There is also — in my humble opinion — a bit too much negative space on the dial. I cannot help but feel it would look better if everything was brought in by a millimeter or two. This would solve my last issue with this watch — its size. At its current scale, it looks a tad flashy to me. If it were 38mm across and a bit thinner, it would be much more elegant. It fits my 17.5cm wrist perfectly fine, but it would be more refined if it were a bit smaller. The pictures in this article show the watch on my colleague’s wrist, which is bigger than mine. It does not look overly large on him. Still, intrinsically, I feel that the size is a bit off when handling the watch.
Will I buy the Zenith Defy Skyline, and should you?
I think you may have guessed it by now: this is not my next watch. But don’t get me wrong, it is very good. It is beautifully made and it feels great. When handling the watch and seeing it play with the light, you instantly know this is a quality product.
My issues with it are strictly personal. I know for a fact that many of you will like the size. I know some of you will even be disappointed that it’s not bigger. And if you do like the dial layout and quick seconds hand, there is a lot to love here.
For one, it is an integrated-bracelet steel sports watch with heritage and an original design that is actually available. Unlike some others within the genre, it does not feel derivative. Sure, there are traits it shares with some of its iconic competitors. But there is enough originality here to make it feel like its own thing when you see it in real life.
Second, being a Zenith, it is a genuine piece of Swiss craftsmanship. Zenith is one of those true manufactures that does a lot more in-house and by hand than many of its competitors. It is a hotly debated topic, but it lends this Defy Skyline a little more street cred, I think. If you have been lucky enough to see how these are made, you will find that the price is rather fair. Add this to the fact that you can actually go out and find one at the AD, and it makes for an attractive offering.
In short, I would recommend this watch if you love the design and the fit. It has its flaws, but if you can look beyond its shortcomings, it is a very nice watch. My personal pick would be this blue one. I just cannot help but long for one at 37-38mm and under 10mm tall. A normally paced seconds hand at six (or on the central hand stack) and no date would complete the package for me. Actually… I am pretty sure I would buy that.
Still, if you spot one of these in the wild, you know you are dealing with an aficionado. This is not the obvious pick, which makes it cool. This is a watch that makes me want to tap its owner on the shoulder: “Hey, cool watch! Tell me about it.”
Let me know what you think about this Zenith Defy Skyline. Would you get one, or would you prefer my imaginary svelte alternative?
For more on this model, check out the official Zenith website.