Every time I have a chance to handle a Zelos watch, I’m blown away by what you get for your money. And the thing is, Zelos isn’t just producing fantastic value watches at a single price point, instead they’re doing so with everything from sub-$500 Miyota-powered divers to $11k Swiss tourbillons in titanium Damascus cases. To be fair, the latter is a niche product in their catalog, but it demonstrates the brand’s willingness to experiment with everything from case materials to design to movements and offer them all at accessible prices (relatively speaking, the tourbillon’s a bi of an outlier). In fact, experimental is the best descriptor I can use for the brand, as each new release seems to showcase Zelos trying something new and untested. Yet, despite Zelos’s penchant for experimentation, the brand has established its own distinct design language – one that embraces colors, textures, and unique materials. As with any brand that’s pushing boundaries in design, Zelos’s watches aren’t going to appeal to everyone; a diver with a blue/purple titanium Damascus case and meteorite dial, for instance, is only going to appeal to a subset of enthusiasts. But that’s exactly what I love about Zelos – the offerings may not be for everyone, but they’re novel, distinct, and exceptionally well made for the price you pay. With that being said, the Horizons line is the most well-rounded and accessible design the brand has produced and one that may just open a few more eyes (and wallets) to the brand.
The Horizons line began with the Zelos Horizons GMT – a 40mm GMT watch with a Swiss movement and price tag just under $900 that was warmly received by the watch community. It certainly met with David Bredan’s approval. As David mentioned in his review, the Horizons GMT seemed to check every box on the watch enthusiast checklist: sweet spot 40mm size, short lugs, great lume, reliable movement, excellent case finishing, vintage styling with modern finishing…the list goes on. The Horizons 39mm builds on everything that made the Horizons GMT a success but does so in a slightly smaller, less expensive package available in three families of models, two with rotating bezels (the 12-hr and diver) and a bezel-less field watch.
The Horizons 39mm 12-hr comes in three colorways – Frost (fully-lumed white dial with orange accents), Cobalt (dark blue dial with vintage lume), and the Teal reviewed here. If you like the watch design but prefer a dive bezel, Zelos offers one in three additional colorways. Or, if you like the case and bracelet, but prefer field watches, there are three more options in the line to choose from. The Frost and Teal were my top pics, but the Frost sold out almost instantly. I’m not complaining though because the teal dial is gorgeous and I’m loving the white sapphire bezel. Each model is made from 316L stainless steel with a 2.5mm thick sapphire box crystal, solid caseback, screw-down crown, and 200m of water resistance.
The Teal dial is captivating, as it combines a gradient effect (bright teal at the center of the dial, fading dark towards the edges) with a deeply textured sunburst. It’s anything but boring on the wrist. Admittedly, but I’m a bit burnt out on blue dial watches at the moment, but the teal has a completely different effect – it’s a warmer, more vibrant hue that feels almost tropical. However, when coupled with the white bezel, it felt like an oddly perfect match to the snow and sky when I wore it skiing on a bluebird day.
The sunburst, gradient dial is definitely the focal point of the watch, but Zelos didn’t skimp on the details, utilizing applied indices and a bordered date window that features a color-matched date wheel. The hands are a nice complement to the indices and the layout feels like the right mix of vintage cues with a modern twist. The end result is a watch that looks inspired by the funky colors and designs of divers from the 70s while remaining thoroughly modern. As with all Zelos watches, the lume is a fantastic and heavily applied mix of Super LumiNova C3 X1 and BGW9. Even the bezel is fully lumed – perhaps not very practical since the numerals on the bezel are tiny and tough to read even in full light, but the effect at night is definitely cool. Maybe it’s just because my eyes are getting worse with age, but not only are the bezel numerals small and difficult to read, the date on the color-matched date wheel (white on teal) is also a bit tougher to make out than your typical white on black or black on white. Would I change it? Definitely not. I just need to admit that I should wear my glasses more often.
This model is equipped with a 12-hr bezel making it easy to adjust the bezel for a second-time zone. If you travel a fair bit and don’t need a dive bezel, it’s a great option to have. The only downside is that the 60-click bezel is difficult to turn. This is due to a combination of a low bezel height, a bezel slightly smaller diameter than the case, and stiff action. For a dive bezel that’s being used often that could be an annoyance, but actually, in the case of a 12-hr bezel that’s only going to be moved when traveling, for the most part, I prefer a stiff bezel that’s not going to be jarred out of place.
The dial and bezel are definitely eye-catching, but it’s when you get to the case and start looking at the details that things get really impressive. That said, trying to communicate fit and finish is probably the most challenging part of reviewing watches. The Zelos Horizons 39mm is one of those watches that you put on and wonder why other watches in your collection cost as much as they do. I’m not sure how Elshan Tang (Zelos’s founder) is sweet-talking his manufacturing partners into providing cases with so many smooth lines, sharp transitions, contrasting polished and brushed surfaces, and excellent finishing at a price where he’s able to still make a profit. And the same goes for other elements like the bracelet and dial. It’s a very well-made watch that happens to cost only $549. At this price point (and above for that matter) a lot of watches will skimp on the details or simply feel, well, cheap. Not so with the Zelos – it feels like a well-built, well-executed watch that I enjoy seeing and feeling on my wrist all day.
The bracelet is a classic three-link style, but it nails the details. First, the links are nicely brushed and are softened at the edge, giving the watch a smooth, pillowy feel. It’s not something you notice immediately, but you certainly do when it’s on the wrist. Second, the bracelet uses quick-release spring bars — it’s one of those little touches that once you get used to, you start getting annoyed with your other watches when you have to dig out your spring bar tool. Finally, the clasp. In the Horizons GMT, Zelos went with a simple stamped clasp, something that David Bredan and other reviewers grumbled about. Well, issue resolved with the Horizons 39mm. We now have a machined push-button clasp with a tool-free micro-adjust. The buckle has a large etched Zelos logo and feels as solid as the rest of the watch. My tiny quibble is that the micro-adjust, while useful, is rather stiff and awkward to use….still easier than breaking out the spring bar tool though! The downside here is that now I’m even more grumpy that significantly more expensive watches in my collection still use cheaply stamped clasps.
Between the comfortable and (relatively) easily-adjustable bracelet, short, contoured lugs on the case, and whatever other magic Zelos summoned with this watch, it hits the sweet spot on my 6.75” wrist. It has the right amount of heft to feel sturdy and reassuring, yet because of those short lugs and modest case size, it never feels heavy or oddly weighted. The white bezel also has a slimming effect on the rest of the watch. I wouldn’t say it wears small, just that it wears like a 39mm dive-style watch and one that fits comfortably and attractively on my wrist. Beyond comfort, it looks great. The combination of white bezel and teal dial are striking and unique – I’d love to see this color combination pop up more frequently, as it has looked fantastic without being over the top. Yes, the Zelos Horizons 39mm wears like the high-quality watch that it is, but perhaps most importantly, it’s a fun watch to wear.
The Zelos Horizons 39mm is powered by a Miyota 9015 automatic movement – a solid choice for this price point. The Miyota 9015 beats at 28.8kbph, features hacking, hand winding, a date function, and has a 42-hour power reserve. I’m sure some people would prefer a Swiss ETA or Sellita movement, but that would boost the price and I’m personally a fan of this watch being offered as such a solid value. The only downside to the Miyota movements tends to be a loud rotor, but due to the solid build of the Zelos Horizons, the movement is nice and quiet so no complaints on my end.
Typically, I don’t mention packaging because it simply ends up in a closet and I find large display boxes a waste of space and resources. However, I have to mention Zelos’s approach because if you’re going to provide a box, this is the way to do it. The watch comes tucked nicely into a useful leather travel roll (I love when companies do this) which is housed in a solid wooden box—acacia maybe? But instead of a large display box that you’ll never use, the rustic, but nicely finished box with magnetic closure is a nice upgrade to that shoebox filled with nick-nacks shoved under your bed. It’s something I can actually see using.
When it comes to alternatives, there’s no shortage of dive watches on the market and plenty in the ~$500 range. If you’re looking for something that leans more towards the vintage side of the spectrum, there are watches like the Baltic Aquascaphe or Lorier Neptune. For a more modern take and a couple hundred dollars more, the Halios Seaforth or Fairwind with 12-hour bezel is another option…if you can get your hands on one. If you’re more nostalgic for the adventurous colors and designs of the 1960s and 70s, but in a modern package, Zodiac is a solid choice – albeit at several times the price. There are certainly options and alternatives, but Zelos occupies their own unique niche of affordable watches with fun, funky colors and designs that offer an impressive price to value ratio. Whether you’re looking for a fun summer (or winter) watch or an everyday wear with plenty of personality at an accessible price, the Zelos Horizons 39mm is worth a long, hard look. The Zelos Horizons 39mm is available for $549 USD and more information can be found on the brand’s website.
>Model: Horizons 200m 12-hr Teal
>Size: 39mm diameter, 20mm lug width, 44mm lug-to-lug, 10.5mm thickness (without crystal)
>When reviewer would personally wear it: Fantastic summer watch or anytime I want to strap on something with a bit of fun and personality.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone just getting into watches looking for a well-made watch with personality without breaking the bank or a seasoned enthusiast looking for a funky watch that channels the best of 70s adventurousness in color and design.
>Best characteristic of watch: Case and bracelet fit and finish.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Bezel is difficult to grip and turn.