[VIDEO] Hands-On: Zenith Opens Up the Defy Skyline with Skyline Skeleton

The Zenith Defy collection of watches spans an almost shocking array of references, including watches like the Revival darlings, right on up to crazy Defy Extremes and Defy 21s. Connecting all of these dots is the new(ish) Defy Skyline collection, which was introduced early last year, and which welcomed new iterations this year, including a variant meant to replace the excellent Defy Classic with an open dial. That watch is the Defy Skyline Skeleton, and it’s not simply an openworked version of the regular Skyline. This is a distinct watch in a few important ways, bringing some of the big personality found in the Extreme and 21 references, into a slightly more approachable framework. 

The Skyline Skeleton takes its Defy roots seriously. From its wrist watch inception back in the ‘60s, the Defy has been a vehicle through which Zenith has strived to craft the future of watchmaking. This manifested in avant guard shapes, high-tech movements, and intricate bracelet integrations from the get go. Today, Zenith honors this heritage with their Revival series, but for all intents and purposes, the Defy range as it exists today, is still pushing the envelope in looking to the future.


[VIDEO] Hands-On: Zenith Opens Up the Defy Skyline with Skyline Skeleton

Stainless Steel
El Primero 3620 SK high-frequency
Black or Blue Skeleton
Super Luminova
Stainless Steel; Rubber
Water Resistance
Lug Width

The Skyline collection is unique in a few ways, most notably for its use of the famous El Primero movement that’s been stripped of its chronograph complication. It is still a high-beat movement, and that nifty 10th of a second timing functionality is still present in the form of the running seconds hand, which now laps its sub dial every ten seconds. It’s a frantic sight that impresses, and speaks to the watchmaking know-how going on inside. You can read more about it in Zach Kazan’s review of the original Skyline when it was released, right here.

With the Skyline Skeleton, things have been re-arranged slightly. The quick seconds hand is retained, but moved to the more symmetrical location of 6 o’clock. Additionally, and perhaps just as importantly, the date has been 86’d in the move to an open dial. These two moves alone shift the vibe of this watch by a considerable margin, and set the stage for a more organic feeling dial structure to be presented underneath. If you value symmetry in your watch dials, this will undoubtedly present an appeal not found in the original Skyline.

This is far from the first open dialed Defy to be released, but this is the first we’re presented with a new underlying design. The bridges take on a four pointed star motif that echoes the pattern seen on the closed dial Skyline. It’s a bit cleaner in appearance compared to the open dials of the Defy Classic or the Defy 21, for instance. A more legible dial was a goal with this design and I’d say they’ve done well in achieving that. Despite the dial being opened, and that seconds hand flying around at the bottom of the dial, I never had issues getting a quick read of the time.

One of the benefits of this design is the view into the escapement under the dial. Around half past 10 o’clock on the dial you’ll notice the balance wheel doing its thing, and right underneath the pallet fork and escape wheel, which are both rendered in silicon, and take on a purple complexion that beautifully compliments the black dial (blue is also available). 

It’s easy to get pulled into this dial but the case itself offers plenty of detail to discover. It’s a steel case that measures 41mm in diameter (though I found it wears a touch smaller), a touch under 12mm in thickness, and 46mm from lug to lug. Of course, there are no lugs here in a traditional sense, so that 46mm is a true measurement that feels super tidy on the wrist. As aggressive as the case appears, it’s actually something of a sweetheart on the wrist, especially when paired with the rubber strap that the watch ships with. The bracelet doesn’t quite have the silky smooth articulation of some others, but it’s certainly a serviceable option here that ties the look together. 

What is silky smooth is the quick release system that Zenith is using here. A button press under the case allows a pair of tabs to release from the end of the case, and it’s effortless in practice. Swapping between the rubber strap and the steel bracelet happens in mere seconds, and with no tools needed. It’s a great solution that will have you wishing for a multitude of straps to use with the watch. I’d particularly like to see the hook & loop options that they use in the Extreme references migrate over to this case. A system this easy needs loads of options, if you ask me.

Overall, the Zenith Defy Skyline Skeleton is a distillation of what we find a bit further up the food chain within the Defy collection. There are lovely openworked details, slick movement tech on display, and an inventive case and strap system. Each of which gets amped up in watches the Defy 21 and Defy Extreme, but that comes at a cost. The Defy Skyline Skeleton is priced at $11,000, a healthy margin below those other two. Still, there are plenty of compelling options in this price segment, but Zenith’s use of their El Primero here, along with the Defy’s vivacious design personality, provide a unique proposition to this watch. 

As much as I enjoy this watch, I’d prefer to not think of it as a replacement for the Defy Classic, whose case placed that watch in a different category altogether. I’ll hold out hope that we’ll get a proper successor that hits the same notes in the coming years, but until then, the Skyline Skeleton hits its own, slightly different set of notes quite well. Zenith.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent his professional life covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seiko to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.