Zenith launched an all-new El Primero watch and movement under the “Defy” moniker at Baselworld 2017, and despite the fact that the aesthetics of the timepiece have been a polarizing topic of discussion amongst the watch community (due to the resemblance to Hublot), it is the horological importance of the movement that is sure to impress those that are serious about watchmaking.
The Defy El Primero 21 borrows its movement architecture from its LVMH sibling TAG Heuer’s Mikrograph – which we did an in-depth review of last year – but this is not merely a shared caliber that has been aesthetically changed to fit another brand. There have been significant technical changes, which we will discuss below, and that foreshadowing what the future may hold for the venerable Le Locle-based watchmaker.
Presented in either brushed titanium or black ceramized aluminum, with a fixed bezel, the Defy El Primero 21 case measures 44 mm x 14.50 mm and comes with a domed sapphire crystal on the front and a flat sapphire crystal on the back. The water resistance rating is 100 meters.
The watch is available in three versions, two that have open-worked dials (in brushed titanium or black ceramized aluminum) and one that has a closed dial (in brushed titanium).
Prominent, rhodium-plated, faceted and luminescent coated indexes mark the hours, and rhodium-plated, faceted, and luminescent coated hour and minute hands indicate the time. A rhodium-plated, centrally mounted chronograph second hand, with a red tip, flies around the dial once every second when the chronograph is activated, providing 1/100th of a second accuracy, that can be read with ease from the 0-100 graduated flange, once stopped.
Powering this amazing chronograph function is the all-new El Primero caliber 9004 automatic movement, which being an El Primero, naturally, beats at 5Hz (36,000 kph). The movement measures 32.80 mm x 7.9 mm, has just 203 components, 53 jewels, and a star-shaped oscillating weight. Notably, the power reserve is 50-hours, whereas the Mikrograph has a 100-hour power reserve.
Similar to the Mikrograph movement, 1/100th of a second is achieved through a dual balance system that utilizes an entire regulating assortment (balance spring, balance wheel) and mainspring power barrel for the time and another for the chronograph. However, this movement beats at 5Hz for the time (as compared to 4Hz for the Mikrograph) and 50Hz (360,000 vph) for the chronograph (which is the same as the Mikrograph).
Additionally, unlike the Mikrograph, the balance wheel and hairspring, are made of Composite Carbon with Carbon Nanotube Matrix, a material that increases durability by reducing friction, and that is insensitive to magnetic fields and temperature gradients, therefore enhancing chronometric precision.
Whether or not the Defy El Primero 21 looks too much like a Hublot is debatable. I personally don’t think it looks that much like a Hublot, yet I understand if you do. And while the 1/100th of a second chronograph accuracy and basic fundamentals are the same as with the Mikrograph, this is a movement that has been properly distinguished from TAG Heuer, as a Zenith. Further, with the openworked versions, you can see the dual balance wheels at work from the dial side, as opposed to having to look through the caseback. Most importantly, the price is about half of what the latest Mikograph retails for, and I cannot wait to see future iterations of the caliber 9004, presumably integrated across the entire Zenith El Primero range.
The Defy El Primero 21 comes with a black alligator leather strap with rubber coating and a titanium double folding clasp. (Ref. 95.9000.9004/78.R582 – titanium open dial, 24.9000.9004/78.R582 – black ceramized aluminum, 95.9001.9004/01.R582 – titanium closed dial). The retail price is ceramized aluminum with an open dial is $11600, in brushed titanium with an open dial for $10600, and in brushed titanium with a closed dial for $9,600.