When I gently blew on the Zenith Defy Classic Carbon to remove a speck of dust for a photo, it tipped right over. About the weight of a regulation tennis ball, it is the first automatic watch to feature a full carbon bracelet.
While carbon has made its way onto watches from a plethora of brands, few have gone as far with the material as Zenith and Hublot while under the leadership of maverick CEO Jean Claude Biver (the former head of LVMH’s watch division, who retired this year). Over the past decade, Biver made a compelling case for the employment of novel materials as a means to drive Swiss horology forward. The Defy Classic Carbon embodies Biver’s vision for Zenith as a highly innovative manufacture that refuses to coast solely on its 20th-century credentials.
The Zenith Defy Carbon feels like the future of luxury watchmaking, but what stood out to me over a number of days was how traditionally luxurious the watch felt to wear. Much of that experience derives from the watch’s entirely reasonable proportions—its open-worked dial and the silky feel of the carbon fiber bracelet.
Proportionally speaking, at 41 mm, it’s big enough to meet today’s standards for men’s watches without being obnoxiously large. The integration of the bracelet was excellent, and even on smaller people, the watch didn’t breach the wrist. The watch head easily found its way under a tailored dress shirt with an extra bit of room on the left cuff, but it was tight under a more traditionally-sized tunnel cuff.
The open-worked dial on the Defy Classic Carbon is a familiar configuration at this point, but there’s no denying the luxury offered by any dial willing to show off the inner workings of an in-house calibre. The Elite 670 SK Automatic movement is thin, intricate and highly accurate. It’s worth noting, too, that despite the spider-like cut-out dial, the face of this watch remains cohesive and legible—especially at night when the lume takes over. The movement beats at a standard 28,800 vph and offers a 48-hour power reserve on a full wind.
The feel of the carbon fiber is surprisingly elevated, especially on the bracelet. Yes, it makes sounds we associate with plastic, and, yes, its 65 grams don’t allow gravity to remind us of its precious material (unlike platinum, for instance), but the Defy Classic Carbon asks one to move past those more familiar prestige indicators in order to embrace ultra-lightness. The bracelet feels sexy against the skin, almost like silk.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Zenith had worked in the perfect amount of give between the carbon links, too. The bracelet intentionally droops like a gently broken-in Rolex Oysterflex, allowing the watch to adapt to the irregularities of anyone’s wrist and sit comfortably and perpendicularly. For example, my wrist is notorious for causing watches on stiff bracelets to sit askew, but the intentional give in the Defy Classic Carbon’s bracelet made it sit down just perfectly. Presuming the carbon will not stretch over time like metals do, I’d expect a long and comfortable owner experience from the carbon bracelet.
In terms of how the carbon looks, it’s rather understated. A colleague wondered if it was intended to mimic camouflage, but that random pattern is revealed after extraction from a carbon block. Often compared to Damascus steel, this new breed of 3D carbon likes to show off its “grain,” and each watch will be uniquely patterned. The material is neither shiny nor totally matte—satin is probably the best description. And it looked smart with both casual and business attire.
If you’re not ready to embrace the full carbon experience for $19,500, the watch is also available with a fabric strap for $11,600. That means you’re paying $7,900 for the bracelet. While that price may seem steep, keep in mind that this bracelet is milled piece-by-piece from a cutting-edge material to create an entirely comfortable and attractive bracelet. Zenith got it right, and that’s saying something for a material that’s just now finding its way into the bracelets of high horology.