Zenith seems to have come out of nowhere. When I got started in this hobby, they were still meandering in the background with the Elite series and the occasional fun Primero derivative. Then, within the last couple of years, they simply exploded: high-tech cases, innovative movements, spot-on reissues. They were doing it all. The Zenith Defy Zero G “Gravity Control” comes from and embodies this resurgence with its stunning mechanics and bold case design, demonstrating to all that Zenith is a real player in haute horlogerie.
Here’s the state of horology: advancements in materials sciences and precision engineering have obviated many of the developments that emerged in the trade’s early days. Huygens and Breguet and their contemporaries—the fathers of modern watchmaking—had to develop ways to counteract inertia and temperature and gravity; they fought against the foundations of the universe. With developments like silicon hairsprings and LIGA fabrication and advanced computational models, movements can achieve stunning accuracy and precision without any compensatory devices. Until the quartz crisis, watch companies needed a product that did two things as well as possible: tell time accurately and precisely, and look good.
After the crisis, as the industry slowly recovered, brands that didn’t adopt quartz instead defined themselves by an exceptional craftsmanship only exceeded by the complications of their movements. The rising popularity of mechanical timepieces have only made it necessary for those brands to do more: now they have to compete against not just quartz watches, but affordable mechanical watches as well. That’s why you see brands create watches with stunningly complicated mechanisms that get back to those fundamental battles fought by those early innovators. So it is with the Zenith Defy Zero G “Gravity Control,” a watch that takes gravity on head first.
The Zero G “Gravity Control” features a case and bracelet made entirely of 18k rose gold. The case measures 44mm and 15.2mm thick—given the dimensionality of the movement, this is actually a rather modestly sized case. The case itself, with a somewhat brutalist tonneau silhouette, is brushed on the tops and sides, with a polished chamfer running from lug to lug. The lugs are anguler, abrupt in their termina, with polished tops emerging out of the case’s chamfer. The brushed/polish pattern is repeated on the round fixed bezel, which holds a sapphire crystal in place. A signed screwdown crown is positioned at 3 o’clock with a rubber ring for additional grip and a bit of extra sportiness. The reverse of the case has a screwed-down solid rose gold back with a sapphire crystal.
The dial, insofar as there is one, is all in service of the mesmerizing Gravity Control mechanism. The openworked dial is made of rose gold, and achieves a lovely symmetry. At 12 o’clock is a floating blue chapter ring with applied gold hour markers; the time is displayed here by obelisk hands. Both the hands and the markers have lume applied. A running seconds display is located at 10 o’clock with a power reserve indicator at 2 o’clock, both in rose gold. The centerpiece of the dial, though, is the Gravity Control mechanism, a gyroscopic device that always maintains the regulator in a vertical position, hypothetically eliminating the effects of gravity on the movement. You can see throughout the photos how the jewel cap on the regulator is always facing up on.
This El Primero Caliber 8812 S is a doozy. The high beat movement runs at 36,000 vph and offers a 50-hour power reserve. The gyroscopic mechanism has 139 components itself, and is 30% thinner than previous editions. The entire movement features 324 components, including 41 jewels, a platinum counterbalance, shock protection, and a monometallic balance. The bridges feature a symmetrical layout akin to the openworked dial, though here the layout reminds one of the crossing streets of some bustling metropolis. The bridges themselves are brushed with polished beveling. (I know Zenith calls this as an El Primero, along with a slew of other movements, but it’s marketing nonsense. The real El Primero was the 1969 automatic chronograph, one of the first automatic chronographs ever made. While there are modern iterations of that movement, only chronographs deserve the moniker.)
Versus the Competition
If you want an El Primero, I’ll give you an El Primero: the Zenith Defy El Primero 21. Featuring a ceramic case and an openworked dial, this watch features a proper El Primero chronograph caliber and is party of the same Defy family as the Zero G. To boot, the chronograph flies around at a lightning quick one rotation per second, for quite the visual when timing.
One of the beautiful things about the Zero G is its symmetry. Girard-Perregaux is well known for its symmetrical movements, especially with its Bridges collection. One more modern example is the Girard-Perregaux Neo Bridges “Earth to Sky” Limited Edition. Featuring a black DLC-coated titanium case and a black leather strap, this is going to be an entirely different experience, but the balance and beauty of the dial exceeds even the Zenith.
The Zero G does many things well, but elegance and restraint are not among them. It’s not as in your face as a Richard Mille, say, but it’s big and angular and dramatic. On the opposite end of the rose gold skeleton watch spectrum (which apparently does exist) is this Cartier Tank Asymétrique. Almost half as wide and a third as thin as the Zero G, this watch shows off the unrivaled way Cartier manages to balance quirk and elegance, and does it with a subtle dose of blue accenting.
This watch is about being on the cutting edge of horology, both in its styling and its technical accomplishments. Couple that with the striking rose gold and you’ve got a piece that speaks for itself. There’s a sportiness to the Zero G that would best be complemented by a sporty lifestyle and the style that goes with it. Fast cars, bright clothes, dark sunglasses. Throw in a boat, because the blue chapter ring with the gold case has me feeling nautical.
The Zenith Defy Zero G “Gravity Control” is a watch that is perfectly on trend. Gold is coming back into favor, integrated bracelets are the thing, skeletonized movements remain popular, and there’s never a bad time for an entirely new complication. On top of that, it represents the reestablishment and growth of a storied brand, outside of that brand’s flagship models. With the Zero G, you get the feeling you’re looking at a future icon.