HANDS-ON: The new Zenith Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition HANDS-ON: The new Zenith Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition

HANDS-ON: The new Zenith Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition

Zach Blass

The idea of a re-edition within the watch market is nothing new. Many brands have woken up to the huge demand for revivals, recreations, or remixes of their lauded vintage references. But when these designs date to the specialist era of watchmaking, where multiple brands turned to the same dial, case, and movement manufacturers, there is a bit of a homogenous feel to these resurrected designs. I am not saying I mind – and clearly the market does not either. Many of these vintage-inspired designs are definitely easy on the eyes and great for our wrists. That being said, I have to give credit where credit is due. Zenith, in my opinion, is one of the industry’s leaders in heritage revivals. But, perhaps, an edge Zenith has is that the designs they are faithfully reviving from their back catalogue are all very, very, distinct in appearance – immediately discernible as Zenith creations from across the room. One such design is their revival of the original Defy de Zenith watch from 1969. Last year, they brought back the very first: the Zenith Defy Revival A3642. This, however, was a limited edition. A few weeks back at LVMH Watch Week 2023, the first standard-production model made its debut: the Defy Revival A3691 with a ruby gradient dial. Today, a new boutique edition enters the fold as well: the Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition with a turquoise gradient dial.

The backstory

Zenith Defy Revival A3642

As I wrote when I reviewed the limited edition Defy Revival A3642 that kickstarted this modern collection: Upon the introduction of the Defy de Zenith collection in 1969, its design was so striking and distinct that the Defy A3642 immediately earned the nickname the “coffre-fort” in French, which translates to “bank vault” or “safe-deposit box”. Sure, its foundational basis is a familiar element today – an octagonal case – but what separates it from the designs that would later follow it is its 14-sided bezel. The case, also highly faceted, utilises curved lines and sloped surfaces that result in an unequivocally distinct sports watch design.

So before you cry Oak, just remember that this highly faceted design predates the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak by three years, Girard-Perregaux’s Laureato by six years, Patek Phillipe’s Nautilus by seven years, Vacheron Constantin’s 222 by eight years, and Chopard’s Alpine Eagle predecessor, the St. Moritz, by 11 years.

The case

Some manufacturers enlarge their vintage-inspired creations to be more palatable for the macho-modern marketplace. Zenith however not only respects the visual aspects within their revivals, but their size as well. The Zenith Defy Revival A3691 and A3690 Boutique Edition are the definition of a unisex watch, with a goldilocks diameter of 37mm, case thickness of 13.6mm, and lug-to-lug measurement of 44mm across the wrist. Some may say that 13.6mm is a bit too beefy, but when you consider the fact the watch is 300 metres water-resistant with a screw-down crown I am more than willing to forgive the extra millimetre or two. Also, the mid-case is quite thin. There is a bit of height to the screwed-down exhibition caseback, the fourteen-sided bezel, and subtly domed sapphire crystal, leading the watch to appear and feel thinner while worn snug how I like it. The case is largely polished, with the two of eight scalloped edges at 12′ and 6′ brushed to create a through line to the ladder bracelet.

The dials

Zenith Defy Revival A3690

It is important to note, that for both of these watches, the dial colours are not random. These are revivals, each reference number assigned directly corresponding to its late ’60s or ’70s predecessor. And each, like the initial A3642 Revival, are visual reminders of how ahead of the curve Zenith was when it came to gradient dials – which have long been a specialty of theirs before it was cool. The Zenith Defy Revival A3690 Boutique Edition unveiled today sports a turquoise gradient dial that I would say is a tad darker than the “Tiffany” dials that dazzled consumers last year.

Zenith Defy Revival

The A3691 presents a bordeaux burgundy-like “ruby” gradient dial, the color most intense at its centre and darkening as you reach and pass the highly faceted applied hour indices. The darkening at the outer edge does not go full-black, for both the ruby and turquoise dials it is more of a shadowed take on their respective tones. This ultimately makes the white-hashed outer minutes track that much more easy to discern on each colourway. Now you probably have two criticisms for the date. First, it is placed at the less favorable 4:30 position. Second, it is not colour-matched – instead your basic black on white. But, this is a a faithful revival. And the placement and colour scheme is consistent with the original Defy watch from 1969. So, it gets a pass from me.

The bracelet

The Gay Frères ladder bracelet is one of the most celebrated vintage bracelet designs, instantly recognisable by any watch geek. Quick sidebar: there are many beloved Gay Frères bracelets, their designs so venerated that Rolex acquired the manufacture in 1990. But, back to the task at hand, I love the fact that Zenith has brought the bracelet back for their Revival models, and, have often wondered what the ever-popular Chronomaster Sport would look like on it. But, like many of the other elements I mentioned earlier, the ladder bracelet was the actual configuration affixed to the original 1969 model – so it was a must-include for the three modern Revivals introduced to date. The spacing between the links really helps aerate the wrist, handy on hotter days, and visually it is simply very handsome and interesting. As a modern-manufactured ladder bracelet, it is rock solid with no stretch and the clamshell clasp feels nice and secure for sure.

The movement

Zenith Defy Revival

There are only three differences between the vintage Defy and the Defy Revivals we have today. The usage of a sapphire crystal over the dial, the SuperLuminova® luminous coatings to the hands and indices pips, and the usage of a modern in-house Elite 670 automatic movement that is exhibited via an exhibition caseback rather than hidden beneath a solid caseback – so technically four differences. The Elite 670 has a nice industrial finish, with a mix of perlage, vertical striping, and circular striping, and it offers a respectable 50 hours of power reserve. While I did not get to spend a week with these watches in particular, I know from my own Defy Classic Skeleton “Night Surfer” Time+Tide Edition that this movement is rock solid and accurate.

The verdict

In a watch world where everyone is comparing one design to another, claiming this is in homage to that, I really appreciate that when you actually look at this octagonal case design it does not look like anything else. It is distinct, especially with its scalloping and fourteen-sided bezel. The ladder bracelet is a Zenith icon, and the gradient dials offer this sports watch unusual flare. The 44mm lug-to-lug, and 37mm diameter, afford vintage-lovers classic sizing with the security of a modern build. And, while it may not look like a 300 metre water-resistant watch, the fact that it is gives you the chance to have a dive-capable watch without following dive watch tropes. My take, it is fun, nice looking, robust, and historically significant in hindsight. So, if you like different I can imagine this watch might be for you.

Zenith Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition pricing and availability:

Zenith Defy Revival

The Zenith Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition are available now for purchase. The A3691 is a standard production model, while the A3690 is a boutique edition sold strictly via Zenith boutiques and the Zenith e-commerce platform. Price: US$6,900

Brand Zenith
Model Defy Revival A3691 & A3690 Boutique Edition
Case Dimensions 37mm (D) x 13.6mm (T) x 44 (L2L)
Case Material Stainless steel
Water Resistance 300m (screw-down crown)
Dial Ruby gradient (A3691), turquoise gradient (A3690 Boutique Edition)
Crystal Sapphire crystal and exhibition caseback
Strap Stainless steel “ladder” bracelet
Movement In-house automatic Elite 670
Power Reserve 50 hours
Functions Hours, minutes, seconds, date
Availability Now, the A3690 is strictly avaialble through Zenith boutiques and their e-commerce platform
Price US$6,900