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Zeno Explorer

After the new wears off -- a review of the Zeno Explorer (ETA)

The Zeno Explorer is an unpretentious watch. It costs less than the list price of a Seiko skx175, despite a Swiss ETA 2824 automatic mov't, hacking, with 25 jewels. The second hand movement is much smoother and "cleaner" on th ETA Explorer than the Seiko, or the earlier Explorers which had Miyota [Citizen] movements. This isn't to demean either the Seiko or the Miyota Explorers; they are good sturdy watches. But their 21-jewel movements do not compare visually to the flow of a ETA-powered second hand.

With it's black dial, half baton and half numeral markers, no date, and tiny dial script, the Zeno Explorer has an almost military appearance. Oddly, I find this particular watch more attractive than the vastly more expensive Rolex Explorer it resembles, at least aestheticly, to my old retro eyes.

The Rolex may be made with much more attention to detail, but it has a different character. The Rolex crown dominates the dial, the minute indices are smaller, and the numerals on the dial are more modern in design, using a different type that I do not find attractive at all; the "9" seems squared off, as do the other numbers. The lack of a logo on the dial, the diminutive "Zeno-watch Basel, automatic" and below the centre, "super precision" -- even if this last is perhaps more aspiration than fact -- are attractive in a minimalist way the Rolex, which is arguably the original, could not be. It is the power of understatement. Now, talk a vintage Rolex, perhaps a 1016, and there is more similarity. But even there the Zeno's practically plain dial has the upper hand in simplicity.

This is a watch that is grown in following in recent years. Sandoz makes a similar watch, as do other companies... Including, of course, Rolex. This was a Graduation gift. After several months, here's a review....

The earlier versions of this watch use Miyota mechanisms, but current versions -- including this one -- use an ETA automatic movement, 2824, Swiss made.

Packaging: The first thing you see with any new watch is the way it is boxed up. While this is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the watch itself, it can make getting a new watch a more enjoyable experience. In this case, I got the watch, along with a separate case designed to hold several watches. The multiple watch case came in a simple shiny white box of cardboard. The watch came in a nice oak-colored wood box, with a felt lines bottom and lined interior. The watch appeared to have been adequately protected during shipping/travel, and had no defects. Niether did the wooden box.

The top of the box had the Zeno logo on it on a metal disc with the writing in black. This logo was covered by a protective clear plastic cling. Inside the box, the watch is around an offwhite pillow with a little pocket [presumably for links if they are removed to fit the watch]. The crystal is covered by a protective clear plastic as is the back and band. There is a Zeno hangtag on the watch and underneath are a green instruction paper and a Warranty card, which I'll probably never have to use if the first week or so of wear is any indication. The watch arrived undamaged and the box was impressive as well as sturdy enough to provide a place of storage when not in use, in a desk drawer or even on the desk, top open, to display the wristwatch.

Face: The face is matte black and looks grey in direct light. Arabic markers at 3, 6, 9, with line markers in between and an inverted arrow at the 12 position. Luminous material glows well and long in the dark but poorly in simply low light. Above the center it is marked "ZENO-WATCH BASEL AUTOMATIC" and underneath the hands, SUPER PRECISION. Under the 6 it is marked "SWISS MADE". Hands are the mercedez style, with good luminosity and shiny finish. Luminous dot a little over halfway down the second hand. The face is deep sunk into the watch and the lines are all cleanly executed. The luminous material maintains a steady glow but is easier to see in darkness than simple low light. However, the Zeno's white on black dial design helps out in this area.

Crystal: The crystal makes the watch. acrylic in the old style of the 1950s and '60s, domed and thick. It gives a completely vintage look to the watch.

Crown: Large with well defined ridges, shiny finish. Screws down firmly. Just the right size for this watch, which demands a proportionally big crown. Case: Nicely finished with both brushed and shiny polished finishes. The bezel is polished, as are the sides of the case. Tops of the lugs are brushed, with the brushing curving in the direction of the bezel. Only gripe; the Rolex-style back which requires a special tool to open. Caseback is nicely marked withcontrasting shiny and dulled areas and writing indicating the 5atm water resistance and the fact that the watch is all stainless steel. Case dimensions: Diameter: 35mm Length: 45mm Thickness: 14mm; Lug width: 20mm. Band/clasp: The band is the "oyster" style, and is just right for the watch. Any wider and it would overshadow the watch itself, as the case is rather small in diameter -- something else which adds to its vintage appearance. But it is nicely finished. There are several removable links on either side of the clasp. Link pins are push-through and easily removeable but sturdy enough once sized. One of them did seem loose at first but hasn't presented a problem. As my daily walk from the car to work at the time I got this watch sometimes included hopping a five foot fence if the gateway I cut through is closed, I'm sure that, had the pins been likely to work loose, I'd have noticed it by now.

I sized the watch and removed one link using [I am SO low-tech] the point of a thumbtack (!).

The clasp could be described as flimsy in appearance [this is my only criticism of the band/clasp arrangement, and indeed, of the entire watch...] -- on the end where it opens you can actually see where the metal appears bent or stamped into shape -- but the links themselves are solidly made and well finished, with a brushed surface and polished sides.

Movement: Unlike earlier models, this watch uses the ETA 2824 with Incablock shock protection, beating at 28,800 vibrations per hour. Earlier Zeno Explorers used a Miyota 21 jewel automatic. Hence, this model has "swiss made" below the "6" marker, something lacking on the early ones. For the uninitiated, Miyota is a Japanese company which is connected with -- and makes movements for -- Citizen, among other names. Mov't Comparison: MIYOTA- 21 jewels, unidirectional rotor [only winds in one direction], nonhacking mov't [second hand doesn't stop when you pull out the crown to set the time]. ETA 2824- 25 jewels, bidirectional rotor [winds both ways], hacking mov't [second hand stops when time is set]. While the Miyota is a sturdy durable and decent enough movement, the fact that the Zeno is at the higher end of the Explorer spectrum should, I feel, include something of Swiss manufacture. Sandoz, whose watches are assembled in the Orient, has explorer models costing $100 [or more] less than Zeno. Considering the Zeno's higher price by comparison, one should get a Swiss mov't -- and assembly. This is not meant as an insult to the durability of Miyotas -- they run strong -- but simply a perspective I have regardign this style of watch. The mold, set by more expensive watches [including the Rolex Explorer] is one of a swiss watch. In keeping with that spirit, the Zeno has included the ETA 2824 in their Explorer. I feel it to be an improvement. I actually own Miyota watches, and they work fine -- but the 25 jewel ETA runs much smoother, something you will notice if you look at the tip of the second hand. All automatic watches are referred to sometimes as having a "sweep" second hand, as opposed to the visible "ticking" motion of a quartz watch second hand. However, some autos "sweep" better than others, and the motion of the ETA powered second hand on my Zeno Explorer is almost fluid. My Miyota watch, a Charles-Hubart dive style piece, has a slightly more crude second hand action. Is this being a watch snob? Maybe to some, but I simply find that the watch fits my idea of what it should be if powered by the ETA. NOTE: I have read other people's reviews of some ETA powered watches, such as Invictas, in which it was remarked that the watches has to be "tuned up", "regulated", or otherwise tinkered with because they were shipped to the customer with the movement performing poorly. Not so my Zeno Explorer. It performs better than the other ETA watches I own and have owned, with the possible exception of the Tudor Submariner I used to have. ETA's 2824 is the Swiss equivolent of the Miyota; a relatively inexpensive and sturdy movement, with a proven history of performance and accuracy. I have not done any studies in accuracy, but comparing it to the daily fluctuations of the poorly maintained clock at my work I notice differences of seceral seconds. From past experience I know the clock fluctuates by several seconds a day, several minutes a week. The watch seems unchanged. In short, the ETA has potential, and Zeno realized it. I have no complaints about this watch.

Watches with this style dial and case are not hard to find, though there is a wide variety of prices and finishes. There are watches made by Sandoz, which uses Swiss parts but assembles the watches in the orient, supposedly reducing cost while maintaining a "Swiss" watch. Early Zeno Explorers utilized an undecorated, 21-jewel Miyota movement. Zeno, however, is a swiss watch company. Their current explorer, using the sturdy ETA 2824, falls in the higher end of the non-Rolex "Explorer" spectrum, at nearly three hundred bucks. Is it worth it? The Zeno Explorer is a nicely made watch for the money, and the dial and case are up to par with more expensive watches, in my opinion, such as Fortis [Fortis also uses ETA's 2824 in many of its pilot series watches].

Overall: Well finished watch with a vintage look and feel that is hard to find in this price range. It has a nice band or bracelet as some call it, but also looks good on a strap. I have seen pics of it on the NATO military strap and it is awesome. I unfortunately do not have a NATO strap, but it does look fine on this black military-style band, and on this brown leather/cloth combo... No matter how you wear it, the Zeno Explorer is a great watch.

Yet for all this, watches such as the Zeno Explorer have been described as fakes or copies of the Rolex Explorer. Not in the sense of direct impersonations, but fakes nonetheless. Are they?

First, the watch is not a direct copy and does not pretend to be such. Yet there are similarities of design. But why not? It is a good design! The design of the bicycle has changed little in essentials over a hundred years ... why should the style of a good simple watch do so? The Zeno may resemble the Rolex Explorer, and it may even be intended to look similar. Perhaps Zeno fills the void of people who want an Explorer-style watch but don't see spending thousands of dollars for a Vintage Rolex... It must be said the Rolex Explorer set the standard. But it is a standard that spands brand names; the same characteristics that make the Rolex Explorer a good watch of its type are found -- in proportion to cost -- in the Zeno. Is there a difference? Certainly, there is. More importantly, the Zeno can be appreciated for what it is independent of the comparison. It IS a good watch. For its price, it is an exceptionally good one. Some may disagree, but I contend the Zeno is not a fake. It is a watch I am proud to have on my wrist, and I do not hope it to be mistaken for a Rolex. Nor does Zeno compete with Rolex in any regard, either in temrs of product, method, or pricepoint:

First, the price of the Rolex Explorer is measured in thousands of dollars. The Zeno by comparison counts its cost in hundreds. Second, Rolex makes their own movements [though until recently Zenith, another high-end watch institution, made the movements for the Rolex Daytona chronograph -- but this has nothing to do with the Rolex Explorer, which is not a Daytona]. Zeno, on the other hand, uses many existing movements, such as ETA automatics like the 2824 put into the Zeno Explorer [using such movements is common even in higher end companies, as use of the ETA 2824 by the likes of Fortis and even Omega demonstrate]. Finally, the Rolex Explorer which the Zeno Explorer resembles in terms of its style and shape is the vintage Rolex Explorer 1016, not the Rolex Explorer currently available today.

There is no competition between the watches. Moreover, the Zeno doesn't pass itself off as a Rolex, as some companies have been known to do. Moreover, though the quality of each watch is the same relative to its price, there is no comparison. The design and internal mechanics of a Rolex Explorer are unique and cannot be compared to the essentially off-the-shelf ETA used in the Zeno, even considering the remarkable function of the ETA at the hands of Zeno. Does the Zeno capture the spirit of the 1016 design? Perhaps. Yes, after a week of wear, I can say maybe it does -- being one who admires that watch but does not own one. The point is, one can appreciate the Zeno Explorer for what it is and for the simple practicality of its design without ever having seen the Rolex explorer.

The Rolex Explorer was originally a "tool" watch for active people looking for a simple, reliable wristwatch. For all the virtues of a new Rolex Explorer or a pricey antique 1016, niether option is practical considering the watch's original role. I would not want to wear a watch that cost several thousand dollars out of doors.

The Zeno Explorer, at a more reasonable $290 US dollars from Zeno USA , is perhaps a more appropriate inheritor of the spirit of the original ten-sixteen: its rugged simplicity -- accompanied by a price that ensures it gets worn, not locked in a safe. [note: I'm not a sales rep for ZENO USA or connected with them in any way: I just like the watch!] You can also get it at www.timefactors.com

Still, some would argue it is still a "fake" regardless of what has been said here. But those people should ask themselves: Is a Mazda Miata convertible a "fake" of the MG roadster of the 1970's? It captures the spirit of it in a more modern, less costly and more accessable design, while still fullfilling the essential parameters of a roadster: good handling, speed, two seats and an open roof.

The Zeno Explorer is everything an "Explorer" [no, NOT an S U V] should be: Stainless, screw-down crown, thick domed crystal, no date, black face with partial numbers, distinctive 12 marker and a strong-running Swiss movement.

This is a watch any WIS should have. End of story. It costs so little for the quality it entails, the question is a no brainer. If you like bigger watches don't worry. The lugs are 20mm and the dial takes up most of the case so it looks bigger than it is.

Verdict: Get this watch, you won't be disappointed. And your bank account will thank you for saving it a couple bills over a vintage 1016. On the other hand, if you can afford both, do that too. Just don't take the 1016 on any misadventures. Unless your bank account can handle it. In that case, get two 1016's and a Zeno. ;)

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