This review was tough as this Zelos made a big impact with its materials and slim, demure case. Going hands-on with the Zelos Nova 37mm Tantalum has been a pleasure regardless of value, brand image, and size, so staying objective was quite challenging.

First impressions from press shots left me with an image of too much action for the dressy size. This is a known mistake of many small brands. I’m not using the term “microbrand” here as Zelos is one of the genre’s progenitors and busted out of it many years ago. But how did I go from an impression of material overload to a deep infatuation with the new Nova 37mm? It has been a surprising journey of appreciation.

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

Zelos goes from über-tool watches to dressy intricacy

The appeal of the Nova 37mm is immediate once you have handled the weighty case and discovered the intricacies of the dial. But Zelos started with and is known for tough tool watches in the sub-€1,000 price range. I should know as one of my first mechanical watches bought new was a bronze Hammerhead. I chatted with Elshan Tang, the brand’s founder, about the dressier part of his catalog. He tells us more about the Nova 37mm: “The Nova was all about the dials. I wanted to offer something new, not just in the Zelos lineup but also for the entire affordable watch category, hence the focus on CNC guilloché and combining our favorite materials.”

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

And how about using tantalum, a notoriously tough metal to work with? “Yes, the final finishing and getting it polished are especially difficult,” Elshan says. “It requires different polishing tools from steel or titanium due to its hardness. The sharper lug edges were too small for these tools to reach.” This explains the matte finish, a perfect contrast to the glitter within the dial but unusual for a dress watch. Elshan also tells us that more is coming on the dressy side: “I do have some further plans for more of such models using various movements, such as the D100 by LJP or uniquely decorated 7001s as well.” This bodes well for brand diversification, and I am staying tuned.

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

Unboxing and first hands-on impressions of the Zelos Nova 37mm

Is close to €2,000 too much for a small-brand, small-case dress watch? I would say “yes” in many cases, but in the tantalum case of the Nova 37mm (pun very much intended), it’s vice versa. The Nova 37mm Tantalum left me amazed at the material economies of it all. This is far removed from a 316L steel case with a printed dial, and the US$1,999 price seems very reasonable. As with the Zelos Spearfish Dual Time, unboxing the Nova 37mm involves a well-made leather three-watch travel roll and a small, unimposing watch — until the lights catch the dial. That is when I lose my train of thought. The impact is substantial, so let’s unpack the dark gray matter versus the dazzling glimmer of the dial.

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

Tantalum is hardly seen at this price point, even if the Fratelli might recognize it from a Seamaster. It’s usually seen in watches by haute-tech masters like F.P.Journe and Urwerk. Tantalum is a metal rarer than gold, and the blue-gray hue comes with serious heft. This 7mm-thick watch weighs 76 grams on its leather strap. Compared to my same-sized Kurono Aoyama Edition at 55 grams with a thicker movement, that’s a 40% weight increase. The weighty, compact feeling hit me the moment I put it on, and the alien look of a matte-blasted case for a dress watch also threw me off balance. This is partly because tantalum is very hard to machine and polish, so the simplest bevel takes time. Here, it offers excellent contrast, and tantalum is again used for the bezel, which is polished up to a deep gloss with a dark, blueish hue.

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

A dial of patterned complexities

Tantalum is close to platinum in weight, and Elshan Tang of Zelos has matched it up with a thick and soft Horween two-stitch strap. The contrast between a dark, demure in-box look and exposure to a hint of sunlight makes the watch. Combined with the surprising weight, the inner dial with its aventurine sparkle is captivating. And Elshan could have left it at that with a plain outer edge, but no. A polished chapter ring separates the blue aventurine from a gray meteorite outer dial with its intricate patterns. The Muonionalusta meteorite is believed to be as old as Earth itself, and its striated criss-cross pattern is an excellent match with the slightly darker tantalum case.

Hands-on With The Zelos Nova 2

Along with an outer circle of dot markers for the minutes, another polished ring frames Arabic hour numerals with the right amount of space to let them breathe. The polished details work well within the bold dial, and the central hands have a lancet-style design with a central crease. With the traditional two-tone dial design, I’m happy to see a large sub-seconds display at 6 o’clock and a discreet “Z” logo underneath. Even at $2K, the value proposition of the Zelos Nova 37mm is, to my mind, considerable. And I would say the same even with a lesser movement than the storied ETA/Peseux 7001.

The Peseux connection

One of the ways Elshan Tang has been able to keep the Nova super slim is the ETA/Peseux 7001 (ETA acquired Fabrique d’ébauches de Peseux in 1985). I enjoy its smooth-winding nature in my Holthinrichs Ornament, and it’s a tried and trusted Swiss choice. Decorated with delicate Côtes de Genève decoration and blued screws, the 7001 has 17 jewels. And its most notable attribute is its ultra-slim 2.5mm thickness. This movement has been in production since 1971, so it’s a solid choice used by several brands.

The ETA 7001 was the base movement for vintage calibers, including the Peseux 7040 and the Omega 651. As an aside, the 7001 was also used by Nomos for many of the brand’s ’90s references. This movement choice is a big reason for the Nova’s slimness. It is only 7mm thick without the crystal (~9mm total) and has the ergonomic forte of a flush case back.

A glittery conclusion

I’ll be sincere and admit that the Zelos Nova 37mm was adept at plucking my heartstrings. It did so from the moment I put the alien weight of the tantalum case on my wrist. It’s simply a captivating amalgamation of details within a perfectly sized case. It’s not one for tool-watch-only collectors or those who depend on friends’ acknowledgments of a big-brand purchase. This is one for the connoisseurs who understand the furtive imagination of Elshan Tang and his Zelos brand. So, do I have any criticism at all? With such a jam-packed dial, I might have replaced the Arabic numerals with simple indices. I might have even left the innermost meteorite ring unadorned. But that’s a minor detail primarily based on my eyes struggling to read the small, polished numbers. I’m getting old, you see.

The Nova 37mm Tantalum will be available from Zelos starting Friday, July 5th, at 23:00 SGT / 17:00 CEST / 11:00 EDT / 08:00 PDT. It is a limited edition of 50 pieces and will sell for US$1,999. There will also be four other versions in steel cases with various intriguing dials for US$749–799. Check out the lineup on the Zelos website.

What about you, dear Fratelli? Does the Nova confuse your preconceptions of a dress watch, or are you game for a material change? Let me know in the comments below. As for me, going hands-on with the Zelos Nova 37mm Tantalum left a weighty imprint.

Watch specifications

Nova 37mm Tantalum
Aventurine and meteorite with applied Arabic numerals and sub-seconds display, polished hands in a lancet-style design
Case Material
Tantalum with blasted matte case finish and polished bezel
Case Dimensions
37mm (diameter) × 43.5mm (lug-to-lug) × 7mm (thickness without crystal, ~9mm with)
Box-style sapphire with inner AR coating
Case Back
Polished stainless steel with sapphire crystal
ETA 7001: manual winding, 21,600vph frequency, 42–45-hour power reserve, 17 jewels, Côtes de Genève engraving, and blued screws
Water Resistance
5 ATM (50 meters)
Black Horween leather with two-stitch design, 20mm width
Time only (hours, minutes, small seconds)
Special Note(s)
Limited edition of 50 pieces