Watch Review: Zelos Avant A-4

Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean watch review! This week, I’m reviewing the Avant A-4 from local watch brand, Zelos.

The Zelos Avant A-4, retailing for $699 USD on their website.

More known for their immensely popular dive watches (which seem to be perpetually out of stock), Zelos actually offer dress watches as well! In my opinion, the Avant series from Zelos is one of their best lines, and is unfortunately criminally underrated. For some reason, the skeleton watches from Zelos are almost always overlooked in favor of their dive offerings – with this review, I’m hoping to change that!

Zelos – the Brand

Zelos was founded in 2014 by Elshan Tang. Based in Singapore, Zelos “was founded to offer timepieces with cutting-edge designs and materials such as bronze or carbon fiber. [Zelos] design and produce watches from the ground up, ensuring that you get a watch that can be found no where else”. In an interview with the Straits Times, Elshan states that he decided to launch Zelos because he “did not want to buy watches from mass-produced brands as the watches tend to look alike.” Believing that great timepiece design should not be limited to luxury brands, Zelos was born. Elshan first introduced Zelos via Kickstarter in 2014 to roaring success, garnering 273% of intended funding. Since then, Zelos has gone from strength to strength, with their most recent Kickstarter campaign for the ZX chronograph raising over $300,000 SGD in funding – I think that’s the most amount raised by a Singaporean microbrand till date!

Elshan believes that great design can be had at affordable pricing – the Avant A-4 is definitely a testament of that!

Zelos is definitely one of my favourite local microbrands – I previously mentioned them in my Singaporean microbrand roundup here. Probably the most prolific and one of the most established Singaporean microbrand, I’ve always been amazed by how Zelos continually knocks their offerings out of the park with every model. They all have one thing in similar – unique looks and exotic materials. For example, the ZX chronograph features actual titanium from a SR 71 Blackbird plane – a variant even offers Titanium Damascus, making it the first time such a material has been used in watches! In addition, a special edition of the Zelos Hammerhead consists of a dial that was sliced from an actual piece of nuclear submarine hull steel! Making unique watches out of exotic materials seem to be the raison d’etre of Zelos. Furthermore, I’ve always respected Elshan as a brand owner for running not one, not two, but THREE watch brands (the other being sister brands Vilhelm and Ventus). It’s hard enough running a single brand on its own – can’t imagine the multi-tasking skills this guy must possess!

Zelos Avant A-4 – Build Quality

I’m pleased to report that for the most part, the build quality of the Zelos Avant A-4 is great!

THe Avant A-4 comes with sapphire crystal, and a bronze case.

First off, the Avant A-4 is equipped with sapphire crystal. As aforementioned numerous times in my previous reviews, I’m a huge advocate of sapphire crystal due to their inherent scratch-resisting properties. Personally, I always look for sapphire crystal in my modern watches as it simply makes the watch much more robust. In line with Zelos’ ethos of exotic materials, marine grade bronze is chosen as the case material. Bronze develops a patina over time as the material oxidizes, creating an unique aged look. As Zelos states: “This patina individualises each timepiece, creating pieces completely unique to you.  What starts out as a shiny rose-gold, ages with the atmosphere into a rustic brown.” It is this transformative trait of bronze that makes them so desirable in watches currently – many  luxury watch brands are now turning to bronze (Oris, Tudor, etc) as case material for their watches!

Inside, a Swiss STP 1-11 movement powers the Avant-A4.

Zelos chose the Swiss STP 1-11 automatic movement to be the beating heart of the Avant-A4. For those unacquainted with the movement, the STP1-11 is a relatively new automatic movement from the Fossil Group, with self-winding and hacking mechanism, 44-hour power reserve, and beats at a high 28,800 Hz frequency. Given that the Avant-A4 is meant to be more of a dress watch, the smooth sweep of the second hand (due to the movement’s high beat rate) makes for a pleasant sight. Furthermore, several of Zelos’ similarly priced offerings (such as the Helmsman 2 and the Hammerhead) utilizes the workhorse Seiko NH35 movement, making the choice of a Swiss, high beat movement in the Avant A-4 a welcomed one! In addition, the exhibition caseback is forged out of sapphire crystal as well, adding to the durability of the watch.

Unfortunately, the strap (as it is for most microbrands) is the Avant-A4 greatest weakness.

My only knock on the build quality of the Avant-A4 are the straps. Zelos provides 2 straps with the Avant-A4 – a black crocodile print leather, as well as an alternative brown Horween leather strap. Unfortunately, the supplied black crocodile print leather strap isn’t the best – it’s decidedly average, and rather stiff. It’s also of “genuine leather” quality, which is the lowest quality tier for leather straps. I think it would have been much better for Zelos to have included a supple vegetable tanned full-grain leather strap with the watch, especially since full grain leather will patina and age nicely alongside the bronze case. The brown Horween leather strap feels and looks much better on the wrist, and was what I chose to wear the Avant-A4 with most of the time during the review period. In addition, Zelos supplies a single rose gold deployant clasp with the straps, which I found strange. Firstly, you will have to use a spring bar tool to swap the buckle around, which is a hassle especially to people unacquainted with the tool. Secondly, the rose gold butterfly strap looks out of place on the Horween leather strap (in my opinion) – I definitely would have preferred a bronze tang buckle to have been provided with the strap to match the case. After wearing the Avant A-4 out and about for a month now, the bronze case has already developed a nice patina, which makes the shiny rose gold deployant buckle look incongruous with the aged aesthetics of the watch.

Yup, there’s lume on the hands of the Avant A-4 as well.

Lastly, there’s C1 lume applied on the hands of the Avant A-4, though as expected the brightness is subdued and nowhere as strong as the lume on Zelos’ diver watches.

Overall, with the curious exception of the strap, the build quality of the Avant A-4 is actually pretty good! Choosing bronze as the case material for the Avant A-4 keeps the watch in line with the raison d’etre of Zelos. However, the skeletonised look of the watch is definitely the Avant A-4’s main calling card – let’s dive into this next!

Zelos Avant A-4 – Design

Without a doubt, the intricately skeletonised dial is what makes the Avant A-4 a stunner.

The beautifully skeletonised dial of the Avant A-4.

Man, where do I start? I think the dial of the Avant A-4 is just stunning. Because it’s a skeleton dial, there is depth to the watch. It’s simply a sight to behold. Firstly, the hands are rose gold plated to match the bronze case, as are the applied indices. Interestingly, the Avant A-4 features an outer rehaut ring containing 12 synthetic rubies, similar to the ones used in the Swiss movement. I really like the jeweled touch – it keeps to the theme of skeletonisation. Visually, it’s extremely eye-catching as well, but not in a gaudy way. In addition, filling the primary hands with lume is a smart touch too, as it aids legibility by improving contrast. Lastly, I like that Zelos kept their branding subtle – constrained to a barely perceptibly “Z” cutout at 3 o’clock, I found the execution of the Zelos branding a stroke of genius, as it manages to reinforce the skeletal theme of the Avant A-4 through the cutout.

The devil is in the details, and in this Zelos excelled.

It is clear that huge amount of thought has been put into the skeletal appearance of the Avant A-4. The balance wheel of the movement is displayed at 12 o’clock, with the jewel bearing outlined and highlighted to catch the eye. Seeing the balance wheel in motion is absolutely mesmerizing, and I often found myself staring at it during moments of free time – it’s the living, breathing embodiment that the watch is alive, and heightened my appreciation for the mechanical aspect of the watch. Other components of the movement is outlined as well, which serves to layer the dial, and is also a technical feat in itself – to manoeuvre the movement to line-up with the outlines, that has got to be a QC nightmare, given the fact that the alignment has to be done for every watch! It’s hard to skeletonise a watch dial in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing – but that’s exactly what Zelos has done here. Kudos to Zelos for delivering one of the most intricate skeleton dials I’ve seen in a microbrand offering to date!

The magic of patina.

As aforementioned, the bronze case of my Avant A-4 has already developed a considerable amount of patina, perhaps most noticeable on the bezel. To me, the patina is the charm of bronze watches – I absolutely love the aged, rugged aesthetic it exudes. The lugs on the Avant A-4 is interesting as well, very angular and looks visually more interesting than the lugs of watches which use stock factory cases! Due to the short lugs, the watch wears smaller than its 40mm size suggest. In addition, we also get a nicely signed square crown. Unfortunately, the crown is a bit too small for the case, making hand-winding a hassle.

The patina that has developed on my Avant A-4.

For those who are curious about how patina looks like on bronze, refer to the above picture! Over time, bronze watches will patina, leaving this aged, “dirty” look on the watch. I’m a fan of such a look, as I feel it adds to the vintage vibe of the watch. To remove patina, simply apply lemon juice (or anything acidic) to the watch, and it will look like new again.

The Avant A-4 features an exhibition caseback for you to see the movement in its full beauty.

In keeping with the skeletal nature of the watch, the Avant A-4 boasts a exhibition caseback where you can view the Swiss STP 1-11 movement in its full glory. The choice of a gilded rotor is an interesting one, and paired with the Geneva striping certainly makes the movement look more expensive than it actually is. As per the usual for bronze watches, the caseback is made of stainless steel, with some basic information inscribed. This is because brass/bronze leaves a green residue when it oxidises, which would be undesirable on the skin!

Overall, I’m very impressed with the looks of the Zelos Avant-A4. There’s a reason why its rare for microbrand watches to do skeleton dials – it’s a pain to execute successfully, and often its simply not worth the effort of doing so. Why put countless hours into the design of a skeletal watch, when you can simply do up a “minimalist” dial, slap it in a diver watch case, include a Swiss movement, and sell it at the same price of $699 USD (the Zelos Avant A-4’s MSRP)? Not many watch brands would, unless you’re truly driven by a passion for executing complex watch designs, instead of building a watch brand just as a cash grab!

Shootout: Zelos Avant A-4 vs CJR Commander

As aforementioned, not many other microbrand offer skeletonised watches, especially at an affordable price point. One of the rare few that actually does so is the CJR Commander – which also happens to come in a bronze variant!

The CJR Commander Sunset Bronze, priced at $899 USD.

In terms of build quality, Zelos’ Avant A-4 wins out the CJR Commander by quite some distance. Firstly, the Avant A-4 utlizes sapphire crystal, as compared to curved K1 glass on the Commander which is much less scratch resistant. Yes, the crystal is domed to achieve a vintage effect – but the same can be done with sapphire crystal, as the Gruppo Gamma Peacemaker illustrates. Furthermore, the Avant A-4 features a high beat Swiss STP 1-11 automatic movement, as compared to the rather pedestrian Miyota 82S7 movement on the CJR Commander.

As for design, I personally think the Avant A-4 design has the edge over the Commander as well. The Commander too feature a skeletonised dial, but in my opinion it is less refined than the dial on the Zelos Avant A-4, less thought out. True skeletonisation transform the watch’s dial and movement into a seamless piece of visual art (Roger Dubuis is probably the master of this). Unfortunately, the “turbine-inspired” second wheel (at 4 o’clock) is really the only thing of note on the Commander’s dial. I also don’t comprehend the the exposed 24 hour indicator at 9 o’clock – its unnecessary, and obstructs the view of the movement. If it was an exposed date wheel (as we see in some Hublot or even Girard-Perregeax watches), that could still have been understandable, but implementing an exposed 24 hour indicator at 9 o’clock? I’m not a fan. Compared to the skeletal dial of the Avant A-4, the skeletonisation of the Commander unfortunately pales in comparision. Zelos highlighted the beauty of the watch’s movement in their skeletonised design – something the Commander fails to do. As such, the Zelos Avant A-4 has the more intricate and thoughtful design to me!

Finally, I believe the Zelos Avant A-4 to be the better value proposition overall As compared to the CJR Commander, the Avant A-4 is a whopping $200 USD cheaper. For $200 USD less, you get a watch with better build quality (Swiss movement, sapphire crystal, 2 straps), and better design. Therefore, due to the reasons mentioned above the Zelos Avant A-4 is the winner of this shootout for me!

Conclusion: so the Zelos Avant A-4 “shiok” or not?

Without a doubt – I consider the Zelos Avant A-4 to be the best skeleton watch under $1000 SGD. For less than a grand, I don’t think it is possible (do correct me otherwise) to find a better skeleton dial in terms of both build quality and design, from both microbrands and established watch maisons! Everything gelled together on this watch – the bronze case pairs extremely well with the skeletal dial, making for a stunning combination. This is really a dial that you can find yourself getting lost in. In fact, I personally think that the Avant A-4 is the best watch in Zelos’ current catalog! Unfortunately, the Avant line from Zelos is constantly overlooked in favour of Zelos dive offerings – that’s a crime that needs to cease immediately.

Before we go, a wrist shot.

On the plus side, the underrated nature of the Avant A-4 means that you can actually still purchase this watch off Zelos’ web-store, despite it being a limited production piece of only 100 pieces! At a mere $699 USD, I think the Avant A-4 brings tremendous value to the table. If you’re interested in getting one, you can do so here.

Specifications:

Watch case: Stainless Steel (grade 316L) or Marine Bronze (grade CUSN8)

Watch size (Diameter/ Thickness): 40mm/ 11mm

Water resistant: 50 meters

Strap size: 20mm

Glass: Sapphire Font Crystal. Scratched only by Diamond

Movement:

Swiss Automatic

Swiss STP Skeleton

Dial: Multi Layered

Strap: Horween leather for Bronze models. Croc printed leather for Steel models

Buckle: Deployant Clasp

Warranty: 1 Year

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