The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.

Zenith Defy El Primero 21

It's finally here! Zenith announced their long awaited major follow up to the iconic "high beat" El Primero movement. At its debut in 1969, the movement featured an integrated automatic column-wheel mechanism beating at the high frequency of 36,000 vibrations/hour (5Hz). While Zenith has experimented in recent years with some modern materials for various parts, the architecture of the El Primero movement has remained unchanged; that is until now. There's a lot to discuss about the three references offering the new movement, but we have to start with the movement itself.

The El Primero 21 Movement

The modern El Primero 21 has a bold, simplified and industrial look which includes an attractive and prominent use of the Zenith star for its rotor.

Fewer parts, modern materials, and strong design make for a beautiful new El Primero.

Zenith describes the new movement as "supercharged", and that's an accurate description. The new generation surpasses most all performance aspects of the original, and does it with 77 fewer parts (203 vs. 280). While the timekeeping continues to operate at 36,000 vibrations/hour (5Hz), the chronograph is now capable of running at 360,000 vibrations/hour (50Hz). If this rate configuration sounds familiar, it's because it has appeared in a special series of TAG Heuer movements that Zenith helped them build.

Click here for more on the history of "360" movements in TAG Heuer.

While there are similarities in the beat rates of the TAG and new El Primero 21 movements, there are several new innovations and differences between the examples. Furthermore, while TAG Heuer features much lower price points than Zenith when the line is looked at as a whole, TAG Heuer's "Calibre 360" was an outlier relative to the rest of the watches offered by the brand. The Calibre 360 was essentially the promotional "concept car" of TAG with price points ranging from $15,000- $50,000, and while the ultra high beat chronograph module itself was was an original in-house effort, it was in a sense "piggybacked" onto a Calibre 7 (ETA 2892) watch base.

Zenith has now taken the technology under its own name with a series of mechanical enhancements that are new for this type of movement. The most noteworthy is that for the first time, Zenith is releasing a chronograph that features two balance springs (one for the time and one for the chronograph) made of a new patented anti-magnetic material, Carbon-Matrix Carbon Nanotube, which is resistant beyond the 15,000 Gauss standard.

Zenith's press release also discusses improvements to the release mechanism (composed of three heart pieces) and starter mechanism which ensure the high beat chronograph resets properly.

The movement also features two independent barrels, one for the central timekeeping functions and one for the chronograph functions. The watch charges in about half the time of a typical watch with bidirectional crown that fully powers the watch in a mere 25 turns. At the back of the movement is an oscillating weight crafted as an openworked Zenith star. This more proudly branded rotor handles the one-way automatic winding of the 50-hour reserve time function.

The large mainspring and the Carbon-Matrix Carbon Nanotube composite balance springs of the Zenith El Primero 21.

The proudly branded oscillating weight crafted as an openworked Zenith star powers the automatic winding of the movement's 50-hour reserve.



For comparison of movement size, the above schematics above show the most popular traditional El Primero (Calibre 400) on the left, and the new El Primero 21 (Calibre 9004) on the right. The 400 is smaller at 30mm across and 6.6mm thick, compared to the 9004 which is 32.8mm and 7.9mm.

The Defy Name

For most watch fans, the Defy name will evoke memories of the controversial Defy Extreme and Defy Classic that came out about ten years ago. However, the Defy label goes back much further than those watches. The Defy series originally came out in 1969, the same time as El Primero, but was positioned as a more durable sports watch. As we expected when my friend Michael and I did our Baselworld preview, this Defy has little to do with the watches from the early 2000's. This rebranding serves as Jean Claude Biver reclaiming the word from the (some would say dark) period of the Defy Extreme case and dial. The only thing that this Defy seems to have in common with its namesake predecessors is that it is Zenith's sport watch of its decade.

The 44mm grade 5 titanium case (inspired by the original El Primero models) is reminiscent of some of the large offerings of AP or Hublot, but it does feature a unique case lines, and the large rectangular pushers are modern, yet proportionate, and well styled to the case.

The Watches

There are three references of the new Zenith Defy El Primero 21 which encase the El Primero 21 movement. Two skeletal models and one full dial option. All are three-register chronographs with a power reserve at the top center of the dial, and all sport a 44mm case which is 14.5mm thick. They also all share a single option of a black rubber/alligator leather strap with a titanium double folding clasp. All pictured below.

These new references are available in Titanium Silver for $9,600, Titanium Skeleton Dial for $10,600, and Ceramicized Aluminum ate $11,600.

Want to secure one? Delivery in very limited production is expected for early fall. Pre-orders are available now with deposit by calling Topper or emailing andrea@topperjewelers.com.

Reference 24.9000.9004/78.R582 with skeletonized dial and ceramicised aluminium case.

Reference 95.9000.9004/78.R582 with skeletonized dial and brushed titanium case.

Reference 95.9000.9004/78.R582 with full dial and brushed titanium case.

Here are some candid shots from the booth today.

A wrist shot of the solid dial reference 95.9000.9004/78.R582.

The caseback and bold new rotor of the reference 95.9000.9004/78.R582.

Reference 95.9000.9004/78.R582 with skeletonized dial and brushed titanium case.

A wrist shot of Reference 24.9000.9004/78.R582 with skeletonized dial and ceramicised aluminium case.

The case back of Reference 24.9000.9004/78.R582 with skeletonized dial and ceramicised aluminium case.

The strap features a clasp shaped to the popular deployants from Hublot.

A closer look at the strap of black rubber with alligator leather coating.

The El Primero 21 Movement

  • Exclusive dynamic signature of one rotation per second
  • 1 escapement for the Watch (36,000 VpH – 5 Hz)
  • 1 escapement for the Chronograph (360,000 VpH – 50Hz)
  • Insensitive to magnetic fields and temperature gradients
  • Double chain structure with 2 regulators made of Composite Carbon with Carbon Nanotube Matrix
  • Movement: El Primero 9004, Automatic
  • Calibre 14 ¼"' (Diameter: 32.80 mm)
  • Movement thickness: 7.9 mm
  • Components: 203
  • Jewels 53
  • Frequency: 36,000 VpH (5 Hz)
  • Power-reserve: min. 50 hours
  • Finishes: Oscillating weight with "Côtes de Genève" motif

Functions

  • 1/100th of a second Chronograph:
  • Chronograph power-reserve at 12 o'clock
  • Hours and minutes in the center
  • Small seconds at 9 o'clock
  • Central Chronograph hand
  • 30-minute counter at 3 o'clock
  • 60-second counter at 6 o'clock

Case, Dial & Hands

  • Diameter: 44 mm
  • Opening diameter: 35.5 mm
  • Thickness: 14.50 mm
  • Crystal: Domed sapphire crystal with anti-reflective treatment on both sides
  • Case-back: Transparent sapphire crystal
  • Material: Brushed titanium or Ceramicised aluminium
  • Water-resistance: 10 ATM
  • Dial: Openworked with two different-coloured counters or silver with black counters
  • Hour-markers: Rhodium-plated or ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1
  • Hands:Rhodium-plated or ruthenium-plated, faceted and coated with SuperLuminova SLN C1

Straps & Buckles

  • Bracelet: 27.00.2322.582 – Black Rubber with alligator leather coating
  • Buckle: 27.95.0022.930 – Titanium double folding clasp
The Topper Blog consists mainly of original writing by Rob & Russ Caplan with occasional special contributions and interviews. All photography in the blog is taken at Topper Fine Jewelers , or on location unless otherwise indicated in the photo captions.