Zelos has unveiled one of the most genuinely interesting watches to hit the microbrand scene in quite some time. The Mirage is what brand founder Elshan Tang calls an “accessible Swiss tourbillon,” featuring a movement that has been largely customized to Zelos’ specs by La Joux-Perret.
Case Material: Titanium, Timascus, Mokume-gane
Dial: Skeletonized with accents matching case
Movement: La Joux-Perret skeletonised tourbillon
Price: $10,900 – $11,900
Reference Number: n/a
Expected Release: Available now
The tourbillon’s identity in the watch landscape is complicated. Making one well requires exceptional skill, and along with repeating watches and split-second chronographs, the tourbillon is considered by many to be among the highest of high complications. A tourbillon’s purpose in a watch is essentially to counteract the effects of gravity on a movement’s timekeeping – it’s an idea that has its roots in pocket watches, which generally stayed in the same orientation throughout the day on one’s person. A wrist watch, it could be argued, doesn’t need a tourbillon – your arms and hands are constantly in motion throughout the day, and because your watch is always shifting positions, a tourbillon is either a redundancy or simply not useful. Of course, there’s wide disagreement on this topic, and many brands and watchmakers at the high end of the hobby have continued to develop and iterate the tourbillon specifically for wristwatch applications.
Watchmakers and authorities on tourbillons have good natured disagreements on the effectiveness of a tourbillon all the time, but it’s somewhat irrelevant anyway, because we all know that in high end luxury watches, function only takes you so far. So much of what makes a watch enjoyable, and valuable, is the artistry behind the design, and the tourbillon, with all the drama of its rotating cage, is perhaps the peak of the mechanical side of that artistry. The fact that a tourbillon, in modern watches, is almost always exposed on the dial side says a lot about how we feel about this complication: it’s meant to be seen, and it’s meant to say something about the person wearing it, and the brand behind the watch.
For Elshan, the tourbillon has been a point of fascination for years. “I’ve always loved the idea of a tourbillon ever since I started collecting mechanical timepieces as a teenager,” he told me over an email. As the founder of a watch brand, he saw an opportunity to produce the type of watch he would have had if price were no object, and was now well positioned to take on the challenge of producing such a watch at a reasonable price point.
It should be said, the Mirage is not inexpensive. But with a starting price of $10,900, it’s dramatically less expensive than a typical Swiss tourbillon, which can have price tags in the six figures. For that price, you get a watch with a dynamic and somewhat radical design. Besides the tourbillon itself, the watch features a few notable engineering feats that make it something more than simply haute horlogerie at the lowest possible price. Perhaps most impressively, the Mirage makes use of three sapphire crystals. One on the dial side, another on the case back, and a third in between, which has been used to “float” the hands, indices, and other dial elements, creating the impression they are suspended in air. The gear train of the movement has also been redesigned expressly for Zelos. While it would normally sit directly below the tourbillon cage, here it has been repositioned to run alongside it, which of course creates a strong visual impression from the dial side.
Building the Mirage was something of a leap of faith for Elshan. “The movement was brand new when I first started the project,” he told me. “I placed an order for these movements based on some 3D drawings as they didn’t have any actual movements available. The entire watch was designed around this movement, instead of the usual process of finding a suitable movement to fit our designs and specs.”
The end result is a new “halo” piece for the Zelos brand. While Zelos will continue to focus on divers and sports watches priced at $1,000 or less, the idea here is that the Mirage will be a first step toward producing more limited models with interesting complications at a higher price point for collectors.
Elshan is hopeful that the Mirage will cast a new light on small brands for an audience that has traditionally not paid much attention to the watches and community of small brands that we cover on Worn & Wound. “I hope it’ll get the higher end collectors to take notice of such ‘microbrands’ and the kind of quality and value being offered at the higher end price points,” he told me, when I asked him about the implications of a brand his size dipping into this type of complication.
If the Mirage is successful as a product and Elshan is correct that a different sector of the collector community would turn their attention to small, independent brands, it raises interesting questions about what the future has in store for enthusiast focused watch brands. Could it begin a trend? Would it open the door for other brands who may aspire to produce watches of similar value in small batches to try their hand at this type of release?
Regardless of the downstream impact of the Mirage, if any, it’s a pretty notable achievement for Zelos. It’s both a complete departure in terms of cost and approach, and also a watch that slides in nicely with the rest of the Zelos catalog. The brand has always shown an interest in incorporating exotic materials into their watches, and that’s really the throughline that connects Zelos’ prior more approachable pieces with the Mirage. While two Mirages will be made from titanium, the other eight will feature considerably more unique metals. Five pieces will be made from Timascus (titanium Damascus), a stronger variant of titanium that has been forged and folded repeatedly to give it a distinct wave-like pattern. Both blue and yellow versions of the timascus Mirage will be available.
Three pieces will be made in “Mokume-gane,” which refers to a Japanese metalworking technique that incorporates folded copper and nickel silver, and results in a woodgrain pattern. According to Zelos, owners of the Mokume-gane Mirage can expect their pieces to patina over time, with the copper elements aging to a dark red color.
The Mirage is available today through the Zelos website, and starts at $10,900 for the titanium version, with the Timascus and Mokume-gane versions selling for $11,900. Zelos
Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.