DOXA SUB 300T PROFESSIONAL COMPARED TO THE ZENO ARMY DIVERS SEL 300
© Dr. Peter McClean Millar - November 2002
OK so I know what people are thinking. This is a Doxa SUB 300T site run by a Doxa SUB 300T enthusiast, how fair a comparison can it really be? Well I won't deny any of the above, but I will try to be as unbiased as I possible can. In many ways the Doxa and the Zeno are very similar, but in many ways they are different. They are both limited edition, hand built dive watches aimed at the same market sector and are direct competitors, but that may or may not make them comparable watches. This review is not intended to be a stand up, knock down, one watch is better than the other piece of writing, rather it is intended to be a review of the Doxa using the Zeno as a comparison. I'll try not to repeat findings already covered in the Doxa - Seiko review, however, some reiteration may be necessary in an attempt to make it stand alone.
First a little background. Several months ago before I knew that Doxa had re-issued the SUB 300T I looked at the Zeno Army Divers SEL 300 as a possible replacement for my defunct Casio. I also considered the 'Orange Monster' Seiko SKX781. The thing that attracted me to the Zeno was that it looked very similar to the old Doxa SUB 300T. In fact on close inspection now the Zeno looks more like the old SUB 300T than the new Doxa re-issue models. The bezel and face are fairly similar to the 300T and the case resembles the 600T. Looking at the newley released Doxa SUB 250T Sharkhunter, the Zeno looks to be an almost exact facsimile of it. They even have the same ETA 2452 movement. The major difference is that Doxa will not be releasing the 250T with an orange face and it comes with a leather strap rather than a steel bracelet. If I had been the man who makes the decisions at Doxa, I would have re-released the 300T Professional as it was in the 60's and 70's and made the Seahunter the new design. That way you had 2 distinct watches. As it is, the Professional and Seahunter are just too alike to warrant buying both. In the end I bought the Seiko because, it was almost half the price of the Zeno, because although the Zeno looked like a Doxa it wasn't a Doxa and because of the domed acrylic crystal. I just never liked domed crystals! When I found out about the re-issue SUB 300T I bought one and that was the instigation of this site and ultimately the comparative reviews.
Due to the great feedback following the Doxa - Seiko review I started to consider the Zeno as a better candidate to do a comparison with the SUB 300T. It has a similar depth rating of 300 meters (the Seiko is only rated for 200 meters) and an equivalent ETA Swiss movement (the Seiko uses an in house Japanese movement). In fact it was my wife who was really the driving force for buying the Zeno. Since I got the Doxa she has been hankering for an automatic orange faced dive watch, but they are fairly hard to find. She would love a Doxa but the re-issue SUB 300T models are just too big. Doxa plan to release a ladies watch but I doubt there is the demand to make it worthwhile to produce a ladies version of the orange 300T. On paper the Zeno is a much smaller watch and I thought "well, I can buy it, review it and if it isn't suitable for the wife, I'll just sell it". I ended up getting mine from Eddie Platts at www.timefactors.com in England. I'd like to make a blatant plug for Eddie's service. He is great to do business with and I couldn't recommend him highly enough. The Zeno cost just over 300 dollars delivered to my door and Eddie threw in a great Rhino strap with it. The watch is based on the black dialed Army Divers SEL 300. However instead of Arabic numerals on a black face it has an orange face with a remarkably similar design to the orange faced SUB 300T. From what I can gather there were only 200 of the orange faced Zenos made. If this is indeed true then it makes them ever rarer than the SUB 300T Professional or Seahunter. There were 1,000 each of those models produced.
I mentioned before that one of the primary reasons for not buying the Zeno at first was the domed acrylic crystal. With that in mind, I suppose the crystal is as good a place as any to start the comparison.
The Doxa comes with an anti-reflective, quad coated, scratch-resistant, sapphire crystal. This has a Moh's scale rating of 9 (diamond is 10) which makes it very hard and scratch resistant. One drawback with sapphire crystal is that it is also very brittle and can chip easily, however, the bezel on the Doxa sits about 0.3mm higher than the crystal and so the likelihood of chipping the edges are greatly reduced. The Zeno comes with an acrylic crystal. This is basically a type of plastic, most likely Polymethylacrlate. It has a Moh's rating of 3 or 4 which is makes it relatively soft and prone to scratching, but is more likely to flex rather than shatter on impact. One advantage is that acrylic does have is that scratches can be fairly easily polished out using a special polish like the watchpolishing compound. I have found this to be very effective in removing scratches from acrylic watch crystals and even light scratches from cases. The domed shape of the Zeno crystal helps to magnify the face but the one major disadvantage is that it makes the dial very difficult to read indoors in rooms that are lit by fluorescent lighting. There is far too much reflection on the crystal. Look at any of the photos in this review to see the effect. I had real difficulty trying to get a shot of the face which did not have reflections on the crystal. I would have preferred that the Zeno crystal was either mineral glass or sapphire and flat. The fact that the dome sits 3mm above the bezel leaves it open to scratching. My wife, however, loves the domed shape. Be under no illusion. The SUB 300T is a big watch. It is almost 60mm from lug to lug and is almost 17mm high. However the actual case body thickness is only 14mm. It is the rounded shape of the case lugs which make it sit higher on a flat surface. This extra height is negated once the watch is worn on the wrist and infact the rounded lugs help to make the Doxa sit very comfortably. The Zeno is around 16mm high even on the wrist, but is also very comfortable to wear. With the same length bracelet the Doxa weighs around 170 grams, whereas the Zeno weighs 155 grams.
The bezel on the Zeno is virtually identical to that of the Doxa. One major difference is that unlike the SUB 300T the numbers on the outer bezel are not filled in with orange paint. This makes them less readable than those on the Doxa bezel. The numbers on the inner bezel of the Zeno are slightly larger but there is no luminous material in the zero spot unlike that of the Doxa. The Zeno¡¯s bezel is well finished and highly polished. If you remember from my Doxa - Seiko review there seemed to be a slight surface discontinuity on the bezel of the SUB 300T. Doxa were quick to respond and have offered to look at the watch and replace the bezel. I have to compliment them on this type of after service. Many companies wouldn't be interested in doing this, but Doxa have admitted to me that a main focus of their business is customer satisfaction. I did contact Zeno USA regarding this review asking for futher information on the SEL 300. I got a reply saying I should contact the manufacturer in Switzerland and gave me a non functioning e-mail address. I found the right one and e-mailed them but they never replied. This makes Doxa's customer service look pretty good indeed. Although the bezels of the two watches look very similar and are uni-rotational their actions are completely different. The bezel on the SUB 300T is tight and its action is smooth and solid with almost no backward rotational slack. The bezel on the Zeno is much looser and has quite a bit of slack. It also makes a 'tinny' sound when flicked with a finger. I don't know if this is the case for all the orange faced Army Diver SEL 300's produced or I just got a particularly loose one?
One of the things that sets the Doxa apart from other dive watches has to be the distinctive face colour and marker design. There are no numerals on the face but it is easily readably and clear. The Zeno¡¯s face is very similar. The face colour is just a bit lighter than that of the Doxa while the markers are almost the same size and shape. The hands on the Zeno are smaller and don't have as good a coating with luminous material. The other difference is the position of the date window. On the Doxa it is at 3 o'clock and on the Zeno, 4 o'clock. This corresponds to the location of the winder crown on each watch. There is no indication of what luminous material is used on the Zeno. Doxa use Tritium as indicated by the T on SUB 300T and the T SWISS MADE T lettering on the face. There is no such indication for the Zeno. I had initially thought that the luminous material used on the hands was more of an orange colour than the usual yellow - green on the Doxa. It looked like the coating on the minute hand of my Zeno was not that great and showed uneven thickness and discolouration at the end. However, close inspection showed that the luminous coating is so thin that the colour of the face shows through it. The hands on the Zeno are not solid strips of metal which are painted and then coated with luminous material. In fact there are open spaces between the edges which should be filled in completely with the luminous material. The effect would be similar to the ring used in children's soap bubble blowing toys where a meniscus of soap fills in the hole in the ring. In the case of the Zeno's hands, the luminous material would be allowed to solidify and fill in the spaces. On my Zeno, not enough luminous material was used. The white paint on the outside of the hand also had a patchy covering. It is quite disappointing. The Zeno has a list price of 540 dollars.I would have expected the finish on the hands to be a bit better for that price. As an update to the hands situation, Eddie Platts at www.timefactors.com contacted Zeno and they sent him a new set of hands for the watch. He forwarded them on to me and I used them to replace the originals. The look of the Zeno has improved greatly.
During the Doxa - Seiko review I looked at the quality of the face lettering printed on each watch. Both had very minor defects with the Doxa being slightly worse than the Seiko. I did the same with the Zeno. It shows a slightly worse quality than the Doxa, however, the face is more textured than the Doxa and this would account for some of the unevenness in the lettering. Again let me emphasize that these findings are microscopic and rarely visible without a magnifying lens and are not considered a problem.
Anyone who read the Doxa - Seiko review can be in no doubt that the Seiko has one of the most luminous dials on any watch available. The Doxa just couldn't compare. That is not a put down on the Doxa because there are very few watches that could compare to the Seiko 'Orange Monster Lighthouse'. A better comparison for the Doxa would be the Zeno. Both faces are almost identical in markings and size and not surprisingly both had similar performance in the dark. The hands on the Doxa were brighter due to their increased size and wider layer of Tritium. The poor coating on the hands of my Zeno were always going to put it at a disadvantage in the dark. The longevity of the luminosity was not great on either watch, with both being fairly unreadable after about 4 hours. The above image shows the Doxa, Seiko and Zeno from left to right.
Unlike the Doxa, the crown on the Zeno is unsigned. The threads on the Zeno are also tighter than those of the Doxa. It takes about two complete revolutions to unscrew the crown on the SUB 300T whereas it takes about four to unscrew the SEL 300 crown. There are two conflicting theories regarding the number of threads on a crown. One says that the more threads the greater the integrity with regard to water tightness, however the drawback is that it is easier to strip the threads when screwing the crown down. As both watches are rated to 300 meters, prevention of water ingress should be similar for both, besides, as anyone who owns a watch with a screwed crown will testify, it is better to be slow and sure when screwing in the crown rather than doing it in haste and end up stripping the threads. The crown of the Doxa does not recesss into the case as much as the Zeno. At first I thought that it would be an irritation by digging into the back of my hand when my wrist was fully flexed. I tend to wear my SUB 300T loose. However, I haven't noticed it being a problem at all.
Setting the date and time on the Doxa is a simple matter. The crown pulls out to three positions for winding and setting the time and date. The Zeno only has a two position crown. Winding and time. To set the date you need to move the hands back and forward between the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock position. This is an altogether more laborious operation and there is something quite disconcerting about seeing the second hand bounce about backwards and forwards while doing this. I know very little about movements but from a purely mechanical point of view, I can't see that this would be something you would want to do very often. Regarding the movements of the watches, The SUB 300T uses a Swiss 25 jewel self-winding mechanical movement with 28800 bph and 42 hours of power reserve. It is hacking and is based on an ETA 2824 which Doxa decorate themselves. The SEL 300 has the older ETA 2452 which is 21 Jewels, shock resistant, Incabloc, Anti-magnetic, ball bearing winding rotor, 18,000 bph and self-winding but non hacking with 40 hours of power reserve. Both watches can be manually wound and their accuracy was well within acceptable limits. The Zeno was losing on average 10 seconds a day over the 3 day test period. It must be remembered that the Zeno is new and hasn't had time to settle down. The Doxa was originally losing around 9 seconds a day but over the last month that has reduced to an average of 4 seconds per day.
The caseback of the Doxa shows the Doxa fish and indicates that it is a limited number edition. The Zeno is a basic back with just the information that it is made of stainless steel. It is here that I think Zeno really missed the boat. If indeed only 200 of the orange faced Army Diver SEL 300s were produced, then a signed crown and a numbered caseback with the Zeno anchor symbol on it would have made a great difference to the worth and desirability of the watch. I have seen casebacks on other Zeno divers and they are really impressive. Why the SEL 300 was so neglected beats me. One noticeable difference in the cases apart from the size is that the Doxa is brushed whereas the Zeno is highly polished. It really is bright and shiny. As my son Kieran would say; it is shinier than a, well ......., a shiny thing.
As mentioned in the Doxa - Seiko review, the bracelet on the SUB 300T is a something that polarizes people into two groups. You either love it or loathe it. I hated it when I first got the watch but, I have to say that it has grown on me and now I think it is unique in a cool kind of way. It is brushed, open linked, 22mm wide over the whole length and with a signed clasp and divers extension. The Zeno bracelet is a standard stainless steel affair, not signed and without a divers extension. It tapers from 20mm at the lugs to 18 mm at the clasp and feels good on the wrist but has nothing to associate it with Zeno. I think this is a definite minus on the part of Zeno. The SUB 300T bracelet has center links which are polished. The links on the SEL 300 bracelet are all brushed except for the sides which are polished. It looks fine like this and was probably done that way because polished bracelets tend to score up fairly quicly. One other point to make about the bracelets is that all the edges on the clasp have been rounded on the Doxa. The edges of the Zeno clasp are still angular and feel sharp. Not sharp enough to cut, but noticeable when opening and closing the clasp. One nice touch about the Zeno bracelet is the scalloped recesses in the lug pieces. It makes compressing the spring bars and removing the bracelet a very simple task.
Because of the new design of the lugs on the SUB 300T, it is very difficult to find an alternative strap or bracelet for it. In answer to this, Doxa supply a black leatherette strap with the watch. It is finished in orange stitching and really does look good. Eddie Platts who supplied the Zeno to me added a black Rhino strap in the package. It is a standard 20mm wide and is easily fitted. It also looks the part and is long enough to be worn over a dive suit. Of course being a standard 20mm lug design allows a multitude of different straps and bracelets to be added to the Zeno. The new lug design on the SUB 300T is really a double edged sword. Yes, it does limit the use of other straps but it does ensure a unique look for the watch.
One of the bonuses when you buy the Doxa SUB 300T is the package it comes in. It is a large aluminum cylinder which contains the watch, extra strap and two screwdrivers for adjusting the bracelet. The Zeno also comes in a very nice wooden box. Both these packages are the best I have seen with any new watch I have bought and add that little something extra to the purchase. In the Doxa - Seiko review I complained of the lack of instructions that came with the SUB 300T, well, the SEL 300 was even worse. There was nothing other than a small guarantee booklet. Eddie Platts supplied one of his own generic sets of instructions, which was a nice touch, but I was disappointed that Zeno did not include anything at all.
When buying a watch, as in most other purchases, it is normally a case of 'you get what you pay for'. The one exception that I would consider is the Seiko SKX781. This has to be the best bang for the buck in a dive watch that I know. With regard to the Doxa and the Zeno, however, the maxim is true. The Doxa is a higher priced and, in my mind, a higher quality watch. The level of finish and functionality and after sales service is excellent. However, having said that, the Zeno is not a bad watch, especially for the 300 dollars I paid for it. It is eyecatching, keeps good time and certainly looks the part. Could it have been better? For sure, and for not a lot more money either. A signed crown, caseback and bracelet could have been easy done and a tighter, stiffer bezel, would have been an asset. If Doxa had made the SUB 250T in orange, would I have bought one rather than the Zeno? Absolutely yes, but they didn't. The wife really wanted a SUB 300T Seahunter, and the Zeno is about as close as she gets to it. Would I consider it on a par with the Doxa SUB 300T? Not really. There are small quality issues that need to be addressed in its manufacture and my impressions and reasons for not buying it when I first saw it are still the same. It may look like a Doxa but it isn't a Doxa.