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Zenith Defy Extreme Watch Review

Zenith Defy Extreme Ref. 87.9100.9004/03.I001

In the overarching Zenith pantheon, the Defy collection has always been the patron saint of cutting-edge innovation, the testing ground for all of the watchmaker’s weird and wacky ideas. When Zenith built their insane new oscillator, it was always going to be the Defy LAB, not the El Primero LAB. And while the Defy Extreme isn’t quite as, well, extreme as that ludicrous piece of bleeding edge horology, the new pieces still push the envelope further than Royal Mail.

The new design starts with the case. It’s sharper, more aggressive than any previous Zenith, multi-layered, multi-faceted and macho. Measuring in at 45mm across, it’s large even for a sporty chronograph. In fact, it wears slightly larger even than that thanks to its tiered chronograph pushers. It’s not a timepiece for the shy and retiring.

Zenith Defy Extreme Titanium Blue Ref. 95.9100.9004/01.I001

That multi-level approach to the case design has allowed Zenith to play with both materials and finishing across the now four-piece collection. The titanium cases are either brushed, for a lighter, steel-adjacent finish, or micro-blasted for a darker gunmetal hue, with contrasting bezel rings and pushers in either blacked out titanium or polished gold.

So far, only one model uses the gold, paired with the darker grey of the micro-blasted metal, but there’s plenty of ways Zenith can go with the Extreme formula, and I fully expect the collection to get fleshed out with plenty of different options in the future.

Zenith Defy Extreme
Zenith Defy Extreme

Indeed, the coolest of the collection so far takes a pretty unexpected route. While the majority of the case is still the same brushed titanium, the aptly named Desert contrasts the aerospace metal with something a lot more organic: Falcon’s Eye. The strata laden gemstone makes for a subtly eye-catching finish that opens the door to a huge number of aesthetic combinations.

Perhaps that means custom options in the future? Probably not, but here’s hoping. After all, the Extreme would make George Bamford weep for the number of potential colour and material combinations it opens up. It’s a confident designer’s horological wet dream.

Zenith Defy Extreme El Primero 9004 automatic calibre

Of course, the outside is only the first layer of this particular watchmaking onion and its beauty is far more than skin-deep. The Extreme collection uses the El Primero 9004 automatic calibre, a superb 1/100th second chronograph. That kind of performance is achieved by having two distinct escapements.

On the one hand, you have the ‘standard’ escapement, beating at 5hz, or 36,000 vibrations per hour. That’s the equivalent of the Grand Seiko hi-beat and other high frequency (and therefore high accuracy) watches. The chronograph on the other hand, uses an escapement that beats at 360,000 vph. High-beat doesn’t even come into it, and the sound it makes is utterly fantastic.

Zenith Defy Extreme dial
Zenith Defy Extreme movement

Of course, the power that second escapement requires is absolutely massive. Even with a double barrel, the power reserve on this monster of a movement is 50-hours. That’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it just seems low for two mainsprings working in tandem, if completely understandable. Extreme performance doesn’t come without Extreme power.

The movement can be seen partially through the smoked sapphire crystal that makes up the better part of the dial, though not enough for me to consider these openworked. It shows a hint of the calibre underneath, not an unobstructed view, a signature of the Defy collection as a whole. As a final flourish, each movement is finished with a differently coloured rotor – black, blue or rose gold to match the other highlights on the watch.

Zenith Defy Extreme Titanium Blue Ref. 95.9100.9004/01.I001

On the wrist, all three models we were able to shoot (to our chagrin, the Desert is completely sold out) feel large but not unmanageable. In fact, they’re satisfying to wear, even for my lockdown-atrophied wrists. They’re the kind of over-the-top dimensions that looks good no matter your wrist size. The lightness of the titanium helps makes them that much more wearable too, particularly on the bracelet versions which feel supernaturally light.

Zenith Defy Extreme
Zenith Defy Extreme

So how do they compare to the Defy models of old? Honestly, they don’t. As I said at the beginning, there’s no ground on which the two are equal. There’s a retro charm to the Defy references of old, an aesthetic very much of their era that more collectors should be enamoured by. The Extreme on the other hand is pure cutting-edge performance.

There’s still room in Zenith’s collection for vintage inspired pieces of course, and the watchmaker’s leant heavily on their archives in recent years. But when it comes to the future of the Defy… well, it’s Extreme.

Price & Specs:

Model: Zenith Defy Extreme
Ref: 97.9100.9004/02.I001 (titanium case, black dial)
95.9100.9004/01.I001(titanium case, blue dial)
87.9100.9004/03.I001 (titanium case and polished rose gold, rose gold dial)
Case/dial: 45mm diameter x 15.40mm height, microblasted titanium case with tinted sapphire dial
Movement: El Primero 9004 calibre, automatic
Water resistance: 200m (20 bar)
Frequency: 36,000 vph (5 Hz) for standard timekeeping, 360,000 vph (50 Hz) for chronograph
Power reserve: 50h
Functions: : Hours, minutes, small seconds at 9 o’clock, 1/100th of a second chronograph, central chronograph hand that makes one turn each second, 30-minute counter at 3 o’clock, 60-second counter at 6 o’clock, chronograph power-reserve indication at 12 o’clock
Strap: Microblasted titanium with additional rubber strap & Velcro® strap
Price/availability: £15,300 (titanium models) and £18,500 (titanium and rose gold)

More details at Zenith.

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About the author

Sam Kessler

Legend has it that Sam’s first word was ‘escapement’ and, while he might have started that legend himself, he’s been in the watch world long enough that it makes little difference. As the editor of Oracle Time, he’s our leading man for all things horological – even if he does love yellow dials to a worrying degree. Owns a Pogue; doesn’t own an Oyster Perpetual. Yet.