If you had to choose the one watch to wear every day from among the showstoppers introduced at LVMH Watch Week in New York (and there were plenty to choose from) it would probably be the Zenith Defy Boutique Edition—yours for $8,400.
The neon cases at Hublot and the high jewelry spectacles at Bulgari introduced last week are all seriously extravagant eyecatchers, but they likely won’t be the pieces that run errands with you or accompany you to the office. The steel 41 mm Defy Skyline Boutique Edition has a different kind of cachet with a dial design offering more subtle swagger, not unlike the faint checks on a fine tweed suit.
If you look closely, you can see the rose-gold flecks on the dial are in fact four-pointed stars, arranged in a regular pattern over a black background, like a two-tone tapestry. The four-pointed star is Zenith’s logo, recreated here by using a galvanic process that starts with a brass plate stamped with the star pattern. “You then put the whole dial into a galvanic bath that plates everything in rose gold,” says Romain Marietta, Zenith’s director of product development. “After that, a varnish coating is meticulously applied over the recessed stars to protect them from the second galvanic bath, which turns the rest of the dial a dark gray color. Next, you remove the varnish from the gold stars, and the result is this two-tone night-sky effect.” Applying the varnish accurately is the key. If it’s not done precisely, the gray can bleed into the stars, and the dial ends up in the waste bin. “We had a lot of trials and failures, but now our dial maker has mastered the process,” says Marietta. In fact, he says Zenith will likely go on to use the process with other colors that are available within the galvanic process, such as silver, anthracite, brown, blue or green.
Of course, technical purists will tell you the real star of the dial is the indicator in the subdial at 9 o’clock, as it tells a story about the power of the movement. The Defy Boutique Edition contains the El Primero caliber 3620, the automatic movement that drives a 1/10th of a second hand directly from the escapement. This capability is dramatically displayed by a fraction-of-a-second indication on the subdial, rather than with the chronograph central seconds hand, purely as a way to express the prowess of the high-frequency 36,000 vph caliber. A stop-seconds mechanism makes for precise setting—which is kind of the point of this caliber. It has a 60-hour power reserve, not bad for a movement that works hard to power all that ongoing action at 9 o’clock.
The rest of the watch is a faithful reproduction of the first Defy, launched in 1969, with its angular 12-sided bezel and steel case, a combination slightly ahead of its time, ushering in an era of iconic steel sports watches. The steel bracelet can be removed in a jiff, using little buttons on the first link, and swapped out for a black rubber strap with the star pattern. The Defy Boutique Edition isn’t numbered, but it will be made in small quantities (Zenith makes 25,000 watches per year, and although expansion plans are in progress, its production remains limited).