Zenith's relationship with Land Rover has always been one of the more thought-provoking tie-ups between watch and car brands. Absent a history rooted in motoring, like its sister TAG Heuer, or a shared interest in avant-garde materials and (let's face it) attention-seeking a la Hublot and Ferrari, Zenith has had to work hard to avoid the perception of superficiality.
From the start, in 2016, Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s chief design officer made a point of getting involved and while he didn’t head to pop over to Le Locle to help with some hand polishing, he did ensure that the design language of both brands was evident in the watches produced. The partnership has drawn on Land Rover's design credentials and played up the sleek, metropolitan side of the brand instead of focussing on the rugged durability on which it made its name. We were especially keen to see how Zenith would interpret the new Defender, therefore - a car that sits firmly in that lineage but has come in for criticism (misguided, we would argue) for exacerbating Land Rover's departure from those roots.
Happily, we can now say that the partnership has produced a strong contender for one of the timepieces of 2020 – the Defy 21 Land Rover – 44mm of rugged, utilitarian micro-blasted titanium created to celebrate the rebirth of the Land Rover Defender; arguably the most recognisable off-roader of all time, first given the 'Defender' title in the 1980s but little changed since the Land Rover's debut in 1948, which was controversially retired in 2016.
As McGovern quite rightly says, “this is the best timepiece [Land Rover] has created with Zenith”. It’s certainly true that the collaborations have been getting more interesting since the good-looking, if safe, visages of the El Primero Range Rover Special Edition and Chronomaster El Primero Range Rover Velar.
Last year’s Evoque mk2 may have got a Defy Classic Skeleton to commemorate its launch, but this feels like the first time the car and the watch really share DNA.
The Defy may not have a “silhouette even a child can draw”, as McGovern has described the new Defender, but it does have that rugged-luxe aesthetic Land Rover has instilled in the new model.
The micro-blasted titanium case almost resembles a mud-coated underbody; there’s the clever linear power reserve display, which, with its red and white colouring, is an echo of the Defender’s vintage dash fuel gauge clocks and two straps, rubber for “Adventure” and fabric for “Country”, as a nod to the four new types of Defender packs – Explorer, Adventure, Country and Urban – depending on how it will be used.
Powering the watch is the El Primero 9004, complete with the centrally mounted eye-swirling 1/100th of a second chronograph function and, in a rare move for a car-brand collaboration, the only name on the dial is Zenith; a move that will make even more desirable to non-Defender owners.
However, as it is limited to 250 pieces, you'll need to move fast - certainly faster than a Defender - if you want to be one of the lucky few.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.