Over the past year or so, I have increasingly taken an interest in those watches which some may describe as ‘cheap’ or ‘budget’ but which I have rapidly come to the conclusion are actually excellent value for money. Furthermore, some such watches manage to accomplish what the so called ‘higher-end’ brands fail to do in terms of functionality and perhaps more importantly – reaching back to maybe two or three decades ago in construction and look. It seems that the vogue is retro and no doubt many readers have seen the various re-editions from the likes of Heuer.; But what about a watch or series of watches which don’t pretend to be something they were years ago and by their very nature are old fashioned? Well, the Zeno Diver 300m seems just such a watch and after a little deliberation I bought one in October 2000.
I have to admit that Zeno wasn’t a name uppermost in my mind at the time I bought the watch! I think I had heard of them but wasn’t aware that they were still making watches or had been resurrected like so many of the old names from Switzerland. Well, whilst having a look around some of my favourite watch websites I came across the Zeno and had to have one, if nothing else for curiosity; this watch looked like amazing value for money. Read on to find out if it turned out so…
To me, the Zeno is a throwback to the mid to late 1960s. That is not in any way intended to be derogatory; in fact it is a compliment. It is a large, heavy diving watch with a large heavy case, large bezel, thick acrylic crystal and large screw crown. Utterly no-nonsense in approach, the watch looks to utilise a case design from three decades ago and in that lies its appeal for me. Even the (look familiar?) bracelet design is old fashioned but as I’m sure many readers will attest – very functional.
So, functionality would seem to be the keyword at the outset with maybe one or two concessions to current trends; large numerals being one. Even on my muscularly challenged wrist the watch feels comfortable (with the bracelet the watch weighs in at about 150 grams), I can see the time easily and it won’t be the end of the world if something disastrous happens – this watch cost all of GB £155.00. We’re off to a good start!
The case of the Zeno is fully polished; that is to say that there are no brushed areas at all. Given that the overall look of the watch is 1960s then I think this suits it fine. Personally, I doubt whether I will ever be in the position to be attacked by marauding Barracuda because of reflections from my watch as some manufacturers claim. The aesthetic downside to the highly polished case is of course that it shows scratches more easily. That being said, although I do try and take care of my watches I have reached the stage (as I was before watch madness struck) that I don’t really mind what happens; after all a watch is to wear and enjoy.
At 40mm in diameter, the watch is a good size for most wrists and comes in at approximately 17mm in height including the domed acrylic crystal. This thickness is however disguised somewhat when wearing the watch by the profile of the lugs. They feature a sharp downturn which I think goes a long way in making the watch as comfortable to wear as I have found it to be. The picture below right illustrates this and just how interesting the case shape is. Including the lug ends, this watch is actually octagonal!
The combination of straight edges and curves serve to make an interesting and unusual profile and as for the domed crystal – I love it! Lug width comes in at a standard 20mm and the case is cut straight between the lugs. This translates into an opportunity to try different straps or bracelets if one wishes without the whole combination looking odd.
Placement of the winding crown is at the 4 position and this (whilst being fairly standard on divers’ watches) seems a good choice for the usual reasons of avoiding it digging into the wrist and so on.
The crown itself has a domed top and is unsigned, being I suspect a fairly generic item. The interesting thing about it however is just how far it is hidden when the watch is viewed from the top. Again in terms of practicality this is a good thing as the crown is less likely to get damaged.
The picture at left shows the crown viewed from the underside and serves to illustrate how at least half of the knurled section becomes hidden when screwed in. And screw in the crown certainly does; it takes me about five good turns to get the crown snug against the case and overall the feeling is that it is a strong and very watertight arrangement.
I have had one or two screw down crowns in the past which felt like one false move and the threads would strip. This one reminds me a little of the Seiko diver watch – plenty of thread, rugged and businesslike.
The back of the Zeno is also screw in which I suppose stands to reason for a watch which is rated for 300 meters. Once again, the finish is high polish which is fine by me. Whilst I don’t spend my time looking at the back of my watch(!), this one features a central logo with what looks to be a kind of Eagle with a trident and an anchor in there for good measure (this is the US Navy SEALS insignia I believe). Nicely done and again, reminiscent of some of the interesting watches from the 1960s such as the Enicar Sea Pearl or Sherpa Dive which also featured some nice artwork.
The script reads ‘ REF. 485 300M WATER RESISTANT ‘ and: ‘MOVE ETA 2846 AUTOMATIC’
The caseback will take a standard case opener and the slots are deep and large enough to avoid slippage. Note that there is a clear sticker over the central logo on my example. I tend to leave them on until they disintegrate themselves. Sad but true.
Given the price of this watch, I have to give a big thumbs up to the case. In terms of its design and indeed its finish, it does make me wonder how some of the ‘professional’ brands justify their prices. But that’s another story.
Dial, Hands, Crystal and Bezel
As can be seen, the dial of the Zeno is designed to enable quick and legible timekeeping. I would suggest that the size of the Arabic numerals is a concession to current trends however it works for me and I am happy with the date window at the 4. The dial itself is a matt black or very dark charcoal; This suits me fine – I have never been a lover of glossy dials. The watch comes in a version with a Swiss flag instead of the anchor under the 12 though I must admit I prefer the anchor. The rest of the script is OK but I do question the need for the word ‘Army’ on the dial. I can live with it given the other endearing features of the watch.
Both the Arabics and the batons are coated with a non-radioactive compound for night vision.
It works well after a little exposure to light and the glow appears to be the same from both the hands and the numerals. This is important to me; I find it very irritating when the hands are dimmer or vice versa. Application of the luminous is OK, it could be a little more even on some of the curves but I am being very picky.
The hour and minute hands are painted glossy white with a good area for the luminous fill which matches the rugged proportions of the numerals on the dial. The seconds hand is metal with a decent sized luminous triangle near the tip. The hour and minutes hands are well aligned which I find very pleasing. As a brief aside, I am quite taken with the Omega Seamaster Professional with the black dial/bezel. I have to say that I have yet to examine one with properly aligned hands; I’ll keep my money. The Zeno wins here!
So to the crystal which in many ways really does make this watch what it is. What a dome! I am very glad that the crystal is acrylic. As well as (for me) the usual reasons that acrylic just ‘feels right’ as a watch ages and so on, if this crystal were mineral then I think any wearer of the watch would be in trouble quickly. It is quite easy to catch the dome of the crystal on anything within the vicinity and obviously a mineral might chip or scratch.
The acrylic can be polished easily; I have to admit that mine has held up very well with only one little polishing session since I have owned the watch.
The bezel is a unidirectional affair with the usual 60 minute markings for a dive watch. It ratchets cleanly at 1 minute intervals and features the statutory luminous dot at the 12. The bezel insert is jet black to match the dial (stands to reason) and I believe that it has an acrylic coating; reminiscent of the old Omega Seamaster 300. Great touch. As the picture at left shows, the bezel is a substantial affair with the ring itself being pretty thick and therefore easy to grip. In fact the bezel ring is the only area of the whole watch to have any brushed surfaces which I assume also aids grip if the wearer has wet hands.
As noted on the back of the watch, a standard ETA 2846 is used in the Zeno Diver. For me, given the watch itself, this is almost an ideal choice. It is not a high beat movement, it beats at 21,600 bph and it does not hack. 1960s again!
Many people prefer a high beat movement as they are supposedly more stable and so on but I am quite happy with the less frantic tick of the 2846.
Likewise, the seconds hand can’t be stopped but I personally gave up keeping a Captain’s Log of the timekeeping performance of my watches a long time ago. Suffice to say however that on average my example has gained approximately 6 seconds per day since I have owned it!
The winding crown, once unscrewed, can be used to wind the watch in the normal way; pull it out a click and the date can be quickset. One concession to modern movements and convenience. As mentioned above, no hacking of the seconds is possible but I can live with that. The movement has 21 jewels,is 25.6 mm in diameter and 5.05mm thick. I don’t believe is has a screw for fine regulation but I don’t plan on doing so anyway.
As mentioned above, the timekeeping of this example has been excellent. It has averaged 6 seconds gain per day which is fine by me. This is just on the specification for COSC certification and it just goes to reiterate the value for money that the Zeno is turning out to be. Because of the slower beat of the movement, the feel is that it will go on ticking for a long time with little if any attention. This reminds me of the venerable Seiko 5 movements which run for 20 plus years without so much as a clean.
On my example, the date changes over at 2 minutes to 12. Not much else to say about that really apart from the fact that it has done so since I received the watch! Perhaps a positive comment might be that it is good once again to see precision of this nature in a watch which doesn’t pretend to be something that it isn’t. So a good score there.
Overall, I feel that the 2846 is an appropriate movement for the Zeno. Whilst I have no doubt that the use of a high beat 2824 with hack seconds and fine regulation might be preferable for some people, it might only serve to put the price up into a bracket where the value for money factor was less. As is stands, and given the 1960s feel which the Zeno undoubtedly gives, the 2846 is suited to the job and I would venture to say, might just last that little bit longer than more highly strung variants from ETA.
I hinted above at the inspiration for the bracelet and no doubt the word ‘Oyster’ springs to mind. Well, this bracelet features solid links all the way through with split pins for adjustment. The endpiece also appears to be solid which is a nice touch. Whilst I doubt very much that Zeno make these bracelets, in terms of their solidity they rival if not outdo the ‘originals’. The links are brushed on top with polished sides.
The double folding clasp (unsigned) with safety catch is also very solid and is better in terms of metal thickness than a Rolex Submariner I recently had in my possession. This one doesn’t feel ‘cheap and nasty’ and does the job well with plenty of holes for fine adjustment. Unusually for me, I have kept the watch on the bracelet since owning it. Usually I elect to put all my watches on NATO type straps. In this case the bracelet has been comfortable enough to save itself from being consigned to the spare bracelet drawer which believe me is quite a recommendation coming from yours truly!
At the start of this review, I mentioned the fact that I have recently started to look more at the value for money end of the market, or if you will, lower priced end of the market. Having worn the Zeno for a few months I have to say that I suspect that there are some pleasant surprises for those who don’t want to spend a fortune on a watch but want something that is different, rugged, water resistant, reliable but mechanical. The Zeno confirms my theory that a good watch needn’t be expensive. It has been accurate, reliable, I have worn it everywhere and many people have asked me if it was new old stock from the 1960s!
So, yes, I do recommend the Zeno but are there any downsides.? Not really given the price tag of this watch. It is personal preference as to whether one likes the looks or not. Personally it is different but classic to my eyes; I like the design. Not forgetting that Zeno make a large range of watches of the rugged variety, both mechanical and quartz and they would all appear to offer good value for money. I might buy more!!
Thanks for reading this; I hope you enjoyed it and please bear in mind that all the contents are just my opinion based on my experiences.
2014 update: In the UK, Zeno watches are represented and sold by TIME-DESIGN who offer a great selection combined with most importantly – great service: ZENO at TIME-DESIGN