Hands-On Review: A Closer Look At The Zenith Defy Revival A3648
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Hands-On Review: A Closer Look At The Zenith Defy Revival A3648

How 37mm and vividly vintage orange make for a winning combination.

There is no doubt that most enthusiasts think of the brand Zenith and picture, in their mind’s eye, a chronograph – a chronograph powered by the now storied El Primero automatic chronograph movement which debuted in 1969. Triple use of the word chronograph in one sentence notwithstanding, it punctuates the kind of watch associated with this powerhouse of a brand. And 1969 was a monumental year for automatic chronographs. But it was also the year Zenith introduced its punchy, ready for the 1970s, and decidedly orange dive watch: The Defy A3648. Yes, a Zenith diver was released the same year as the El Primero…and the latter clearly took off on a trajectory far different from that of its aquatic counterpart.

Vintage Zenith A3648 from around the time of the watch's launch.

Over the past decade or so, Zenith has proven itself to be unmatched in the watch game when it comes to revivals, homages, re-editions, whatever you like to call them (Zenith literally calls them “Revivals” so we will too). Some Zenith Revival models are modern riffs on vintage designs, with slight tweaks, while others are near 1:1 recreations. Think back to the Defy Revival models of the past two years, with both black and ruby dial options. Those were authentic recreations down to the vintage-style clasps (an under-looked component of homage, if you ask me!).

At Watches & Wonders 2024, Zenith returned to the 1969 well and brought its spunky orange dive watch back to life in the form of the Defy Revival A3648 in — and this is important — a faithful 37mm size. To be honest, very few brands would be willing to do that last part. I can think of the Tudor Black Bay 54, some Citizen Promasters, old school Seiko models, and discontinued Omega Planet Oceans off the top of my head –– but for the most part brands like to keep the smaller end of their divers to 39-40mm, revival or no revival.

I had the chance to experience this watch in the metal for an extended period of time, and am on record as calling it one of my favorites, if not my absolute favorite release from Watches & Wonders ‘24. There are a few reasons why I think this, so let’s get into it.

First, we can’t not talk about the color. It’s orange, and not in a way that’s trying to hide its – um – orange-ness. The bezel and flourishes of color in the hands and on the dial are statement-making orange. Very often, watch photos need to be edited to bring to life the true color of a watch. Not with this Zenith Revival A3648. The color you see in these photos — that vivid, high contrast look — is what you get in the real world. And it’s awesome.

Let's examine the case a bit. Some of you might be seeing the fact that this watch is 15.5mm thick and saying “37mm diameter, 15.5mm in thickness… something doesn’t compute.” And that’s because it is and it isn’t 15.5mm. There’s a bit of smoke and mirrors there considering just how tall the domed sapphire crystal is…itself a bit of vintage-evocative design. This is all to say that the A3648 doesn’t feel like a chunky or thick watch on-wrist at all. The actual case thickness, when worn, feels totally appropriate for its size.

The bezel features a tinted sapphire insert — in orange — that gives off a real vintage, almost bakelite sort of feel to it. The knurling on the bezel makes for an easy grip, with satisfying action.

The case features a very of-its-time angular construction, with a mix of brushed and polished finishes. The brushing is most pronounced on the case edge leading up to where lugs would be. And then seamlessly flowing from there is the five-link bracelet, its surfaces also done in both a brushed and polished finish. Wearing this watch, you immediately get that vintage feel, in all the best ways. The 37mm case doesn’t wear small by any means. In fact, it has a real Goldilocks appeal to the point where the case diameter doesn’t really matter. It just works.

On that point, this bracelet really contours to the wrist and provides a lot of comfort. I mentioned above that Zenith pays attention to its re-editions down to its clasps and the same goes for this watch which utilizes the same Gay Frères design on the bracelet and clasp. This is a small detail that really sets this watch apart from the competition.

Now, to be fair, the inclusion of a period-correct bracelet and clasp is the sort of esoteric detail that speaks to the hardcore enthusiast more than anyone else. And I can see how someone might take this in the hand, experience something that feels old, and chalk it up to a negative against the watch. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and I think this is probably a love-it-or-hate-it detail.

I also think this is a real "hardcore enthusiast" kind of watch. All you have to do is look at it. Nothing about this thing flies under the radar. The fact that it is 37mm — its most stealthy feature for sure — is actually sort of funny in light of its in-your-face design overall. Let’s look next at the dial.

What you get is a real accomplishment in carrying over the best of mid-century design language into the modern day. We have the old-school Zenith wordmark, the applied star logo, the vintage DEFY text in italics, and the "automatic" designation in rounded-script typographical styling all against a matte black surface. This is your standard vintage fare… and then things get orange. You can't miss the hyper-legible handset headlined by the large arrow-shaped hour hand that touches the matching orange minute track. There is simply no way that a design like this could come from any time period other than the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

For all you naysayers out there, even the 4:30 date window is period correct, a mainstay of Zenith watch design that you will also find on the El Primero. But this is all design-speak; how does it feel and how does it look when on the wrist? Well, the orange punctuation is all in the interest of supplying supreme legibility. And despite the 37mm sizing, this is as easy a watch to read as they come. I am one of those people who like to stare at my watches for no reason at all (some people think I’m being rude or checking the time because I’m planning my escape) and the sweep of that orange second hand against the vintage dial is just plain fun.

Powering that sweep is the Elite 670 caliber, which ticks at 4Hz (28,800 vibrations per hour) and boasts 50 hours of power reserve. If you want to look at it, you can see it through the rare design feature on this watch that isn’t vintage-inspired: the exhibition caseback. And because this is a hands-on review of my time with this watch on dry land, I didn’t even mention the fact that this is a proper, and I mean proper, dive watch with a depth rating of 600 meters. Interestingly enough, that equates to 1,969 feet, making the year 1969 that much more important.

To my mind, this watch, with its $7,700 price point falls into a unique bucket. It will likely draw enthusiast appeal first and foremost but I hope it garners the attention of a broader audience.  Is it an "only watch collection" sort of piece? Maybe; depends what you’re into. I ask that question and equivocate on the answer because I wouldn’t dare tell you what to wear, I only give my opinion. And my opinion is that Zenith has revived an absolute hidden gem of a watch with the A3648. This is the sort of fun that should be injected into watches far more often, and the sizing makes it a great option for nearly every wrist size. It’s orange, sure, but it has style and almost begs you to infuse it with memory and adventure.

 The Zenith Defy Revival A3648

Case: 37mm, Thickness: 15.5mm, Case Material: Stainless steel, Bezel Insert: Tinted sapphire, Crystal: Sapphire Dial Color: Black and orange, Water Resistance: 600m,

Movement: Elite 670, Power Reserve: 50 hours, Winding: Automatic, Frequency: 4Hz

Price: $7,700

For more on the Zenith Defy Revival A3648, check out Teddy’s video review.

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