Here’s a good case for not reinventing the wheel: Zenith’s new Defy Revival A3642 is a faithful interpretation of the company’s very first Defy model from 1969. “When we do Revival, we always try to make clear differences with the original ones because we want to make sure that it’s inspired by the original watch but we don’t want to make replicas,” Zenith CEO Julie Tornare told Robb Report. “We want them to be inspired but different.” It’s almost an exact replica, however, save for a modern movement in the Elite 670, an improved power reserve of 60 hours, a sapphire crystal caseback and luminescent markers. And it will, undoubtedly, be the Zenith watch that most collectors will want to get their hands on this year.
But first, here’s a little walk down memory lane: 1969 was monumental for the brand for more than one reason. It also marked the introduction of the El Primero movement, the first high-frequency (36,000 vibrations per hour) automatic chronograph on the market, which was made irrelevant by the quartz crisis just months later thanks to Seiko. But by the 1980s it was resurrected during a renaissance of mechanical watchmaking in which everyone from Ebel to Rolex used the movement. Some even credit it entirely with the rebirth of mechanical watchmaking in an era that no longer necessitated such craftsmanship.
Zenith paid tribute to the El Primero’s 50th anniversary in 2019 by releasing a boxset trio of timepieces with one mimicking the original Zenith watch that held the movement, another modern version and one meant to represent the caliber’s future. Limited to just 50, they flew into collectors’ hands. The edition that most closely resembled the original was, of course, the favorite and Zenith soon followed up with limited editions of that piece in white gold, rose gold and yellow gold for those wanting to partake in the retro revival.
Several models paying tribute to the first generation El Primeros have followed including the El Primero Chronomaster Revival A385, A3817 and A386, to name a few. Some have been limited and others have not, but only 250 pieces of the 37 mm A3642 will be available. This model is significant in that it was the first of what was to become a pillar collection for the brand in the 21st century. Since taking over the role as CEO at Zenith in 2017, Tornare has been hard at work making the Defy collection one of its core brand builders, but the modern iterations—like the Defy 21 Ultrablue which comes in a 44 mm blasted titanium case outfitted with an openworked dial to reveal blue-treated bridges—look nothing like its first Defy ancestor. And that was the point. Former president of LVMH’s watchmaking division, Jean-Claude Biver, who retired in 2018, had intended the new Defy watches to be highly contemporary—a formula that has worked many times over for the watch industry titan.
The Revival models, however, are more than just fashion statements. They do not play to the urban, hip or streetwear savvy customer which so many brands are after today, including Zenith itself. Instead, these watches are appreciated by horological junkies, history buffs with an appreciation for the lineage of Swiss watchmaking, and those who prefer to revisit the elegant aesthetics of the past. As it goes with the cyclical nature of time, this too has proven a winning recipe. In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong to think this Revival takes cues from Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak with its octagonal bezel—a much-emulated watch that has become so hot today, you have to pay at least double in the secondary market to get your hands on one unless you are VVIP AP client. The Royal Oak will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary as of this year. But that means it came out two years after Zenith’s own sporty octagonal creation. If nothing else, it could make for fun bragging rights and at $7,000 it will run you significantly less than an AP at retail. Getting your hands on one of the 250 at this price, on the other hand, is a different story.
Better yet, if you have a vintage original Defy in the vault, it likely just went up in value.