Zenith’s Defy Skyline carries the integrated-bracelet craze into an unlikely place: the future.
Integrated-bracelet watches abound these days, and the internet commentariat are quick to frame every interpretation of the form as an imitator. So let’s get this straight for all the Instagram gatekeepers: The Defy Skyline is no imitator. Zenith entered the integrated-bracelet sports watch game in 1969 with its funky octagonal Defy automatic. This was years before those other heavy hitters.
With that stale discussion dispatched, a far more interesting talking point: Zenith is one of the few watchmakers moving integrated-bracelet design forward.
The distinction is clear from a glance. Zenith approached the Skyline’s 41 mm steel case with an eye toward futurism. It’s an angular, compact, knife-edged thing, faceted like a gemstone, far sharper than the Royal Oak’s rounded porthole ethos. And unlike the Moser Streamliner’s serpentine charm, the Skyline’s 100-meter water-resistant case is built almost entirely from polygons. This is a heftier, heartier, burlier take on the steel integrated-bracelet sports watch.
A peek through the Skyline’s transparent case back reveals El Primero 3620, an in-house high-beat automatic that’s framed by a star-shaped bidirectional winding rotor. This El Primero caliber is decorated sparsely, but a loupe reveals joyous little Easter eggs, like a blue escape wheel encircling yet another Zenith star.
The Skyline’s case back mirrors its bezel’s 12-sided motif, including the presence of that thin, polished outer bevel. Only when viewed from the side, dead on, do you understand the continuity between the bezel and case back’s construction. That half-millimeter polished surface along the case back is the kind of tiny detail that simply doesn’t need to exist; it’s visible only when the watch is off the wrist. Those things, those little precious details, indicate great design.
To wit, the watch’s dial explores three-dimensional space unlike its many competitors. The Skyline’s high-polish hour and minute hands sit well proud of the dial’s surface, a combination of traditional batons and more angular sword indicators. Below the hands, the luminous applied indices rise above the dial’s surface. The dial itself—available in navy blue, black or silver—has tiny four-pointed stars cut away from its surface. Those many stars add another hint of depth and texture to the dial.
The Defy Skyline is the first watch from Zenith to incorporate the legendary El Primero movement that is not a chronograph.
The date aperture at 3 o’clock opens with yet another tiny bevel, revealing a dial-colored date disc (nice work, Zenith). Then there’s the Skyline’s party piece, a subdial at 9 o’clock. This displays tenths of a second around its outer track, its tiny hand hop-skipping through a full rotation every 10 seconds, rather than your standard 60-seconds display. Is this particularly useful? Not really. Is it cool as hell? Certainly.
The subdial exists to showcase the El Primero’s 36,000 vibrations per hour, and if the dancing seconds hand isn’t mesmerizing enough, hold the watch up to your ear in a quiet room. Nothing sounds quite like the frenzied footsteps of an El Primero.
The Skyline’s strap-changing system lands another blow against the competition; it’s among the best quick-change ecosystems of any watch. After four or five swaps, you could do it blindfolded. Even large hands and tightly cropped fingernails can actuate this release mechanism. This allows you to swap the beautiful, tapered, twin-trigger release bracelet for the sporty rubber strap (included with the watch) on a whim.
While the Skyline is an excellent entry into the Defy universe on its own merits, Zenith’s penchant for experimentation with bold colors, exotic case materials and skeletonized dials leaves us tingling with anticipation. Something like a titanium or carbon Skyline would have us checking our couch cushions for loose change. Leave it to a watch that refuses to fixate on the past to have us excited about the future.