Defy El Primero 21 Black Ceramic

Last year I had the great pleasure of trying and and reviewing the Zenith El Primero 38mm in rose gold. Now this year I’m equally excited to get my hands on the “Defy” version with the 1/100th of a second chronograph.

In the past I’ve also had the pleasure of reviewing the F.P. Journe Centigraphe, so I’m interested to see how this watch compares to both the “standard” El Primero and the other 1/100th of a second chronograph I’ve tried.

As with all my watch reviews, I’ll be detailing the watch using the following themes:

Please use the links above to “jump” to the respective section, or continue to read for my full review.

Zenith Defy El Primero 21 On The Wrist

Chronograph running on Zenith Defy Watch

Having spent a week with the watch on the wrist, I can certify that I’m a fan! It’s a completely different vibe from the smaller and “classic” El Primero that I previously had on the wrist. That model was classic, and chic. This thing is a stealth TANK!

The squared-off lugs, combination of polished and satin finished on the black ceramic case make for quite the visual impact!

Your attention is also draw to the open works thanks to the skelotonized face. This may not be to everyone’s tastes but a solid face version is also available. Admittedly, I even found it hard to focus on the dial at first.

However, after a few days I got used to it. What I loved about this dial is being able to see the two escapements encased within the watch, and that’s ultimately what sets this watch apart.

On The Wrist El Primero Defy Labs Chronograph

I’m not usually a huge fan of watches over 40mm, but this 44mm piece did not feel too bulky or overly burdensome.

The lug-to-lug measurements are only 50mm, making the watch wear smaller than a typical 44mm wide timepiece.

Watch with cigar and book

Views Around The Back Ceramic Case

Views Around The Defy El Primero Case

The case is done extremely well, with many faceted sides. Some feature a high-polished finish, while others are satin.

Overall, it looks very striking and well balanced.

Clasp & Strap

Zenith Star Deployment Watch Strap Clasp

The déployant clasp is very comfortable and easy to operate. I especially liked the touch of the Zenith logo “stat” integrated so well into the design.

Note: as you can see above the strap is on the last possible hole. I have a wrist just a hair under 8″ so if your wrist is any bigger, you’ll have to see if they can get you an extra long strap.

Black PVD Coated Titanium Star Clasp

The band itself is made from large-scale alligator in black with the internal material being black rubber. It is also “integrated” into the case, sitting flush. I believe this adds to the sleek, and stealthy look.

The material and integrated style combination really suits this watch. It’s far from a dress watch, so this combination of band materials makes it more robust and long-lasting.

The metal bracelet is also very attractive. You can see the full Defy El Primero 21 collection on their official site.

Movement Details – A Tale Of Two-In-One

The watch has two mechanisms in one. The first operates the “normal” time function and beats at 5 Hz. Meanwhile, the other functions at a blistering 50 Hz to achieve the 1/100th timekeeping chronograph.

I say “blistering speed” with intent, as when operating the chronograph itself, it “hisses” as it’s going so fast. It’s not overly loud, but definitely audible. At the end of this post I’ll embed a YouTube review (this link starts at 3 min 16 seconds where I illustrate this “hissing / buzzing” sound) I did on this piece where you can hear it for yourself!

Zenith Video “How To Use A DEFY El Primero 21”

Below is an illustration of the Defy El Primero 21’s “dual architecture”.


Further, below we can see where the two respective escapements can be seen in the watch:




Watch Movement Name & Technical Specifications

  • Movement: El Primero 9004 – Automatic
  • Components: 293 (insane!)
  • Frequency:
    • Time Function: 5 Hz
    • Chronograph: 50 Hz
  • Power Reserve:
    • Time Function: 50 hours – powered by crown “up-down”, and rotor
    • Chronograph: 30 mins – powered by crown “down-up”

One of the other most pleasant features of the watch is that it is water resistant to 10 ATM, making it fine for most nautical activities.

Dial Display / Functions

  • Time Only Function:
    • Central: Hour & Minutes Hands
    • Sub Dial 9 o’clock: Seconds Hands
  • Chronograph:
    • Central: Seconds Hand
    • 12 o’clock: Power Reserve Indicator
    • 3 o’clock: 30 Minute Chronograph Counter
    • 6 o’clock: Elapsed Seconds Hand

Size, Dimensions & Wearability

Zenith Defy El Primero 21 - Case Measurements

  • Case diameter: 44 mm
  • Case to crown: 49 mm
  • Strap width:
    • Internal lugs: 22 mm
    • Full strap width: 25 mm (due to rubber flanges)
  • Lug to lug: 50 mm
  • Case depth: 14 mm
  • Weight (with strap): 120 grams

Strap Width Of Zenith Defy El Primero 21

At a “larger” then normal watch, it wears smaller than you’d think.

With the integrated strap, and relatively slender 14mm case depth (considering it contains nearly 300 parts) it sits comfortably on the wrist.

Final Thoughts On Value & Who It’s Good For

At almost $12,000, does this watch make sense for the modern chronograph shopper?


I say that for several reasons:

  • Zenith has an unrivaled chronograph pedigree, and this is the next exciting evolution in that history. The movement is truly a step forward…
    • It’s looks are amazing and feels solid on the wrist
  • Other “big” name chronographs in this category are just not as good for several reasons:
    • Rolex Ceramic Daytona – as it’s impossible to get (the Daytona models used to use Zenith movements), and significantly more on secondary market (Don’t get me wrong, I really want one too – but is Rolex’s extremely limited supply issues pushing collectors to other brands? If so, I say heck yeah, as people will discover gems like this watch in question.)
    • Omega Dark Side Of The Moon (link to full review below), is a stunning watch too, but is only water resistant to 5 ATM, and its case is 2+ mm thicker but wears MUCH larger. Plus if like me you already own a Speedmaster or two (Speedy ’57 & CK2998 Pulsometer), it’s good to have some variety

Would love to hear your comments and thoughts below, on my statements above and other chronographs you think are contenders.

Rain drops on Zenith Defy Watch

The on-wrist appearance of this watch shall for sure turn heads. I think I could for sure make room for this piece. Although, I did also LOVE the El Primero 38 mm in rose gold…. Oh, why can’t I have them all?!

Other Content You May Be interest In


Zenith Defy El Primero 21
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"The Zenith Defy El Primero 21 it truly a stunning timepiece. It's technology is a step forward in horology, and its more than a strong contender among Rolex & Omega."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★


Bespoke Unit – YouTube Review

About the Author:

Paul Anthony is the founder and creative director at Bespoke Unit. He has had a life long affair with design, watches, fragrance and clothing. Originally from England, he now lives in the USA splitting time between NYC & Philly. Favoring "British Style", but has an overall eclectic taste.


  1. Billy September 6, 2018 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    This is such a great looking watch.

    Really want to try one on, and never know may buy it!

    • Charles-Philippe September 7, 2018 at 2:32 am - Reply

      Hi Billy,

      It’s a very handsome watch indeed! I’m quite curious too as I have small wrists but it sounds like that it isn’t too overwhelming as large watches go.



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