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The 9 Best Zeno Swiss Watches - A Buyers Guide

Posted on December 22 2020


Zeno Swiss Watches

 

Zeno-Watch Basel is an independent, family-owned Swiss watch manufacturer. They have a history that goes back to the mid-1800s and now specialise in pilot watches. Like Tissot, Mido and Certina, they make affordable watches with both mechanical and quartz movements.

The brand is often under-rated and not one that you’re likely to see on the high street. Aviation influences are evident in their collections, but there is also a strong military aesthetic and some colourful, retro dive watches.

I’d like to quickly take you through the brand’s history and then present a list of what I believe are the 9 best Zeno watches.

The History of Zeno Watches


Like many of the Swiss watch brands that you’re familiar with, Zeno began life as a small one-man operation, grew into a legitimate watch manufacturer and has since changed hands more than once.

Founded by Jules Godat, and operating from his home, the original company produced small numbers of pocket watches. With the help of his wife, he grew the business to the point that the company was working from a small factory.

This factory was taken over in 1920 and it was at this stage that the Zeno name was first used to brand watches. Introduced by the new business owners son, the word references both the Greek Philosopher and the origin of his name - meaning a gift from Zeus.

The trend during the inter-war years was for a move away from pocket watches. Wristwatches became the popular choice for men and Zeno, along with other Swiss manufacturers, responded with an increase in wristwatch production.

By the late 1940s, Zeno was displaying its watches at the World’s premier watch show, the Basel Watch Fair.

The company changed hands more than once and in 1967 was acquired by the Huber family - Felix W. Huber having worked at the company since 1964.

Watches from this period that made an impact on the watch industry included the Compressor and Spaceman models - the latter being a popular fashion watch designed by Swiss/British designer André Le Marquand.

Having relocated the business to Basel, the company began to produce the aviation watches that they are now renowned for. You’ll see some of the modern recreations in my list below.

 



Are Zeno Watches Any Good?


Zeno is an independent, Swiss watch manufacturer that tends to use Swiss movements from ETA and Ronda. Like Certina and Tissot, I’d describe them as an affordable entry-level Swiss brand.

While watches are made in Basel, dials are created in Ticino and quartz models in La Chaux-de-Fonds or Neuchâtel. In each case, the watches are Swiss-Made and carry the wording at the bottom of the dial.

I’d suggest that Zeno watches are good quality, being Swiss-Made and housing reliable Swiss movements. Some of the dive watches may lack a little of the functionality that I’d like in a sports watch, but on the whole, Zeno watches provide good value for money.

As an aside, It’s worth noting that Zeno also made watches for other brands. An example of this is the British brand Timefactors.

Since the quartz crisis of the 1970s, many Swiss brands disappeared or were absorbed into bigger corporations. It’s nice to see a survivor from that era that has managed to remain a family run business.

I particularly like the emphasis that the company places on reworking their vintage designs, specifically the Pilot Classic collection and some of the dive watches.

The 9 Best Zeno Watches


Having established that Zeno makes a variety of watches, I want to highlight the best that the brand has to offer. They specialise in pilots watches and I agree that these are among the best of the brand’s designs.

They’re also strong when it comes to military watches and reissuing models from their own back catalogue. Based on this knowledge, my own experience with the brand and feedback from David at Doubleowatches - this is my shortlist of the best Zeno watches.

 

Zeno Explorer Watch

 

Known as the Zex - Zeno Explorer - this is probably my favourite watch from the brand. I originally featured it in my post about Rolex Explorer homage watches.

That means stylistically, there’s no originality here. It’s very much like the Rolex - not exactly the same - but near enough to be described as a homage. It works for me.

If anything the Zeno interpretation has more of the tool watch DNA than the Rolex. It’s marketed as a military watch by the manufacturer so it’s safe to assume that was the intention.

Faithful to the Rolex, it has a modest 38mm diameter. It’s a slim 11mm and has a sapphire crystal and 100M of water resistance. Interestingly the movement used is New Old Stock - a Swiss-made Adolph Schild automatic from 1975.

With the genuine vintage movement and the Rolex influenced design, the whole package makes for a quirky watch that isn’t available in great numbers.

Zeno Military Special 5206-A1M

  • 38mm Diameter
  • 11mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic AS 5206 Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Zeno Magellano Big Day Watch

 

This watch stands out because it encapsulates the two things that Zeno does best. Or at least, the two things that I most like about the brand.

It’s an aviation-style watch based on an original design from 1973.

The name and inspiration come from Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who planned the first circumnavigation of the Earth - he died in battle during the expedition.

So this watch has a history in both its inspiration and design. Additionally, it has an uncommon big day feature that attracts the eye. There’s a slightly restrained look to the design. The pale dial and small numbers are subtle and a world away from the busy aviation watches of Citizen and others.

But it doesn’t have the military-style black dial of a German Flieger. The result is an aviation piece that is almost a dress watch, and at 42mm it’s a comfortable size.

It’s not a cheap watch - but it is Swiss-made and powered by a Swiss-made ETA engine. For me, the watch represents good value for money.

Zeno Magellano Big Day 6069

  • 42mm Diameter
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Zeno PRS-53-1 Military Watch

 

This is another vintage-inspired piece that is said to have been a consequence of the brands work with British watch company Timefactors. The suggestion is that Zeno was left with some cases from that joint venture and this is the result.

A military watch based on the style worn by the British Royal Air Force during the 1950s. Produced in a Limited Edition of 150 pieces.

Therefore, this watch has a familiar look. It’s almost iconic, and recognisable to anyone who has taken an interest in military and aviation watches. The dial is utilitarian and highly legible and the case is spartan but functional.

There’s nothing superfluous. No sub-dials, excess text or touches of flair. Just a watch designed to do one function - tell the time. I love it.

Like the Zex, this model is faithful to the watches of the period and comes in at 37mm. It’s quite small for a contemporary watch, but very much in keeping with the ethos of the design.

It’s another model powered by an ETA automatic movement and it has the canvas Nato strap that you’d expect.

Zeno PRS-53-a1 (Broad Arrow)

  • 37mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 



Zeno Deep Diver Watch

 

The Deep Diver is everything that the PRS isn’t. It’s over-sized, colourful and designed for style rather than function. Zeno points out that this is a fashion watch and limited to 100 pieces.

If you’re happy with a watch that looks like a vintage diver, albeit without the water resistance, then this may work for you.

Let’s get the size out of the way first. This is a big watch, that even the manufacturer describes as heavy. It’s bold and eye-catching and does a great job of recreating the 1960s and 1970s diver chic that has worked well for Bulova and others. Read more here.

If the size and water-resistance aren’t deal breakers for you - and I fully understand if they are - then this watch does deliver in other areas.

As mentioned, the retro styling is on point and very authentic for the period. Coupled with that are the quality and production. At the risk of repeating myself, this is a Swiss-made watch with a desirable ETA automatic movement.

It may not function as a true dive watch, but that is no reflection on the build quality of the watch or the components used.

Zeno Deep Diver 500-2824-i4

  • 47mm Diameter
  • 19mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Zeno Event Gentleman Watch

 

The Event Gentleman is the kind of classic dress watch that really appeals to me. Indeed, this could have easily made it on to my list of Jaeger LeCoultre Master Control Alternatives.

At 43mm it is a little larger than would be ideal for me, but it’s still in the ballpark.

The pared-down styling is similar to the JLC - it has a white dial with complementary silver indices. There are no numerals, a minimum of dial text and a neat date window tucked away at 6 o’clock.

In its own way, this is another utilitarian design, with the leather strap being the only real touch of colour. Turning the watch around you can see the ETA automatic movement through an exhibition back. Other than that, this has quite a conservative appearance, something that I see as a positive.

Zeno Event Gentleman 6564-2824-i2

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Zeno Navy Retro Diver Watch

 

Retro and Diver. Two words I always like to see together.

One of the watches that always comes to mind when discussing retro divers is the beautiful orange dialled Doxa Sub 300. It’s a style that is over 50 years old and just as impressive now as it was then.

Zeno’s Navy Retro Diver reminds me of the Doxa, despite not having the same signature cushion case. The colour palette, dial and bezel all draw comparisons on what would otherwise be a very distinctive watch.

At 40mm wide, this is the ideal size for me. With 300m of water resistance, a Swiss automatic movement and a retro acrylic crystal, it ticks all of the boxes that it should.

I’ve compared this to the Doxa model, but there is more to the story than just a recent watch produced in a similar style to the Swiss legend. The real inspiration, for this modern piece at least, comes from Zeno’s own back catalogue. This is a remake of a Zeno diver from 1970.

It’s authentic, colourful and functional and has definitely earned its place on this list.

Zeno Navy Retro Diver 465N-a5M

  • 40mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Acrylic Crystal
  • 300M Water Resistance

 



Zeno H3 Teflon Dive Watch

 

The next watch contrasts sharply with the vintage style of the previous diver. It has more in common with newer brands like Traser and Luminox, both of which use the same GTLS illumination.

Where some of the other Zeno models have taken classic designs and slightly adapted them to contemporary tastes, this watch is a thoroughly modern design.

The case, for example, is Teflon coated and the watch is powered by a quartz movement - more robust than a mechanical engine. The illumination is provided by GTLS. This involves using small glass tubes filled with radioactive Tritium - the tubes will glow for twenty years without ever needing sunlight to charge them.

You can see the GTLS tubes on the hour markers and hands.

It has a bit of colour on the bezel and a two-colour Nato strap. With that, and the 45mm Teflon-coated case, this watches catches the eye. Moreso than some of Zeno’s other watches, this is a watch that is built for someone with an active lifestyle.

Zeno 6594Q-a15 H3

  • 45mm Diameter
  • Teflon Coated Stainless Steel
  • Quartz Movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Zeno Classic Pilot Watch

 

If a watch from my list could be seen as the typical Zeno watch, then this is it.

The details are in the name. It’s a classic pilot watch. It has the features that you’d expect. The black dial, the bold white numerals and a crown large enough to turn when wearing gloves.

I really like that this watch is 40mm. That, along with a modest crown - some aviation models have very large crowns - really adds to the appeal. It’s not an innovative watch, so it’s important that it does the basics well.

In this case, I’d suggest that it does. The dial is tidy and clear, with the date in the traditional 3 o’clock position. The 20mm wide leather strap is the right size and choice for me, and touches of flair are left to the rear of the watch - you can see the Swiss automatic movement through the clear case back.

I like this watch for the reasons that I like the Rex and the PRS models. It’s a classic style that has been slightly modified to suit contemporary tastes - but at heart, it’s true to the traditional aviation aesthetic.

Zeno Classic Pilot 6554-a1

  • 40.5mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 



Zeno Airplane GMT Quartz Watch
The final watch that I’d like to present is a quartz diver with legitimate water resistance. Although the watch is available with a Swiss automatic movement, I’ve chosen the more affordable quartz version for my list.

It’s a reasonably chunky watch, with a 45mm angular case and a large knurled crown. There’s none of the refinement of the Event Gentleman model, instead, we have a tough, functional diver.

The dial is busy, without being cluttered, and benefits from the additional GMT function. If you’re not familiar with the feature, it allows you to set a second timezone on the watch.

The markers, numbers and hands are all prominent. There is also a cyclops window that magnifies the date to help with the legibility. It’s another model that does away with subtly, but sometimes that’s what we want. An eye-catching, colourful watch that is as much at home in the sea as it is on land.

This isn’t a desk diver. This is a watch for diving.

Zeno Airplane 6349Q-GMT-a1-8

  • 45mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz Movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 


Conclusion


As we’ve seen, Zeno-Watch Basel is an independent, Swiss watch manufacturer. They are one of a small number of family-run watch companies. With a history that goes back to the mid-1800s they have an interesting back catalogue from which some current watches take inspiration.

They now specialise in aviation watches, with the Pilot Classic range being the most well-known. Like other affordable Swiss brands, they make watches with both mechanical and quartz movements. Both the watches and the movements that they house are Swiss-made.

I’ve suggested that the brand is often under-rated and would highlight the Zex and PRS models as examples of this. They’re great watches that are Swiss-made and inexpensive.

As well as aviation influenced designs, they also have some interesting military models and a number of colourful, retro dive watches.

But Zeno isn’t a brand that you’re likely to see on the high street so I’d advise following a few of the links in the post to explore the company further.


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