What watchmaker can afford to ignore the dive watch's popular appeal? Nearly every horological concern big or small has their own take on the category. But I recently noticed an anomaly: one of the old-guard Swiss brands stands out from its prestigious peers by being totally absent from this segment. Zenith doesn't make a dive watch.
It begs the questions: What's stopping them? Should they? And what might a successful Zenith dive watch look like?
Zenith doesn't have a strong association with diving, and many brands today feel new releases need some type of "heritage" justification. Although Zenith has some historical dive watches in their catalog (like the S.58 and Sub Sea), these aren't particularly significant models in dive watch history. The brand would need to create something contemporary to stand out.
What Zenith lacks in dive watch heritage, however, they make up for in general sport watch provenance: pilot's watches and chronographs characterize the modern brand's image. A dive watch would fit right in.
Zenith doesn't have many vintage diver models to reissue anyway, but that's not the only reason its dive watch should be conceived as a contemporary piece. Zenith's average price point and historic name make it well positioned to offer a luxury dive watch somewhere in between the two major players in this space: Omega's Seamaster Diver 300m starting at around $5,000 and the Rolex Submariner at around $9,000.
As these brands have shown, a dive watch collection should be anchored in a simple and down-to-earth design: save the chronographs, skeletonized versions or what have you for later. It's the refined details, excellent quality, in-house movements and, let's not forget, the Zenith name that would make such a dive watch competitive. Zenith, in fact, already has a collection that would perfectly accommodate a diver: the Defy.
The current Defy collection is the home of a slightly confusing range of mostly technical wonders and ultra-modern, skeletonized models that seem stylistically fashion-oriented. Including a diver within the Defy collection would bring needed focus, purpose and balance to the brand's lineup, which includes its sporty Chronomaster chronograph, Pilot and dressy Elite collections. The 41mm case of the Defy Classic might offer a good starting place in designing a modern diver.
Is the market where Zenith's hypothetical diver would be positioned extremely crowded and competitive? Sure. But the brand is in a unique position. In terms of direct competition, IWC has comparable prestige and price range, so Zenith might aim for something with more stylistic versatility and mainstream appeal than the IWC Aquatimer.
With respect to marketing, Rolex and Omega again provide good models: partnering with a technically ambitious project like Rolex's Deepsea Challenger or Omega's Ultra Deep seems like an obvious tack. Storytelling is important for luxury brands like Zenith, but there's also a certain advantage to a (relatively) clean slate. Every company has to start somewhere, right?
There are many factors to consider in making a successful dive watch for a well established brand like Zenith. The company seems to be in a rare position, however, to offer something unique and fill a highly desirable niche. Zenith should take the plunge.