What can Zenith hang its proverbial hat on? For starters, one of the first automatic chronographs ever in the form of the El Primero, but that was way back in ’69. Plenty of time has passed since then, and they haven’t been resting on their laurels. Much of Zenith’s legacy revolved around the El Primero, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely stuck in the ’60s (or the ’70s, for that matter).
Take the brand-new Zenith Defy Extreme Carbon, for example. It’s about as far from traditional as it gets with a massive carbon case, the first-ever Defy Extreme model in carbon fiber. It’s also tied to something inconceivable in 1969: electric SUV racing. The watch is born of a partnership between Zenith and Extreme E racing, an international off-road racing series that explores extreme racing environments like the desert of Saudi Arabia and the mountains of Chile. Zenith is an official timekeeper and founding partner of the series.
The case, crown, and pushers are constructed from layered carbon fiber that’s mated with a titanium twelve-sided bezel and pusher protectors. The guiding design principle of the Defy Extreme was to create a watch that could theoretically withstand the punishment associated with racing in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth. Like the electric SUVs it’s tied to, there’s a significant amount of investment in the technology that makes this watch possible. Next-gen materials and advancements in molding carbon fiber are to thank for the Defy Extreme’s wild appearance.
The Caliber 9004 is a modern marvel. It can get down to 1/100th of a second time measurements, with two escapements beating at 36,000 VpH for the hours and minutes tracking and 360,000 VpH for the chronograph complication. It’s the “fastest” chronograph caliber out there at the moment, so it’s no surprise it’s paired up with what could soon be the fastest form of racing (electric cars have 100% of their power available at 0RPM; what they lack in petrol-powered soul they make up for in raw speed and torque).
While this is a first in the sense that the Zenith Defy Extreme Carbon has never featured a carbon case before, it’s also among the first partnerships with an electric racing organization. Racing and watches have been tied together since the inception of both industries, and as motorsport pivots to electric, it’s interesting to see how watches follow. Zenith has produced a piece that pays homage to an SUV before in the form of the muted and reserved Defy El Primero 21 Land Rover Edition.
The Zenith Defy Extreme Carbon is anything but demure. The aesthetic of the watch mirrors our perception of what electric technology represents. Yellow, green, and aquamarine accents color the skeletonized dial. Although it’s entirely mechanical, looking through the tinted sapphire dial almost feels like peering into a built-up gaming PC with display windows in the case. The Defy Extreme Carbon is an interesting exercise in blending tech-inspired elements with traditional horology. The duality at play can appeal to folks who appreciate both traditional horology and the E-racing tie-in, but I think there’s another target market the watch will capture: folks who appreciate the Richard Mille tech-forward aesthetic but aren’t ready to take a big swing on their watches.
Much like a concept car, the watch showcases the upper limits of current horological engineering. Of course, there are brands like Richard Mille, Urwerk, and even AP’s Concept line doing something radical and tech-forward in a way that few others are, but those exist in the six-figure category. The Zenith is $25,100. Double that and you’ve got a nicely equipped Tesla Model 3 to go with it, and you’re still under what some of the aforementioned watches cost.