People have long got a kick out of seeing what makes their watches tick. The skeletonised dial, which allows the wearer a direct view of the movement powering their timepiece, was invented around 1760, when the French watchmaker André Charles Caron removed the exterior layer of a watch to reveal its beating heart. But it was in the 1970s that open-worked dials really took off, following the arrival of quartz-battery-powered watches. Wearing a mechanical timepiece was suddenly less about telling the time and more a wrist- bound symbol of connoisseurship that quietly conveyed the wearer’s appreciation for the finer things. The beauty of a skeletonised dial in this context was that it made explicit the watch’s mechanical status. Today, when the ubiquity of smartphones makes the timekeeping function of a watch superfluous, skeletonised dials are enjoying a conspicuous revival.
Celebrating the inner life of a watch makes sense for Zenith, the Swiss brand renowned for its in-house mechanical engineering. In 1969, Zenith created the El Primero, the world’s first automatic chronograph calibre, which became so admired that Rolex used a modified version in its original Daytona. Since then, Zenith has continued to push horological boundaries. It mastered fractions of a second with the Chronomaster Sport, which has 1/10th of a second precision. The Defy 21 further upped the ante to 1/100th of a second. Given this technical pedigree, it’s only logical that Zenith would produce a watch with a spotlight on its mechanical innards.
Cue the Defy Skyline Skeleton. Of course, this being Zenith, the execution is impeccably neat. Released last year, the Defy Skyline range proved such a hit that acquiring one now tends to involve a lengthy waiting list. Defined by its 12 bezel facets (resurrected from the 1969 Defy model), the Defy Skyline is a steely, angular presence that adds a 1/10th of a second counter to what was previously a time and date model.
The new Defy Skyline Skeleton pulls back the curtain to celebrate the in-house automatic El Primero movement, and does so in a particularly considered way. A common issue with skeletonised watches — particularly those that employ sub-dials — is that the view of the movement is compromised by functional legibility. Put simply, when hour markers and watch hands are surrounded by a web of components, it can make it hard to tell the time at a glance. But the Defy Skyline Skeleton is easy on the eye, quite literally.
Rather than simply opening up the previous Skyline to display the movement, Zenith has ditched the date complication and moved the 1/10th of a second counter to the 6 o’clock position. Effectively, this gives wearers the best of both worlds, imbuing the design with a pleasing symmetry that makes the face more visually coherent. Inside the 41-millimetre stainless-steel case, the rhodium-plated hands and indices shine distinctly against the dial, which is available in black or blue.
Substance isn’t sacrificed to style, either. The Defy Skyline Skeleton’s screw-down crown makes it water-resistant to 100 metres, plus that calibre you’ve been admiring offers a 60-hour power reserve. Alongside the stainless-steel bracelet, the timepiece is also available with a dial-matching rubber strap that can be swapped with ease. All up, Zenith has created a skeletonised watch whose appeal is far more than skin deep.
Zenith Defy Skyline Skeleton, $16,600, zenith-watches.com. Instagram: @zenithwatches; Facebook: @ZenithWatches.