Fossil Group-owned Zodiac watches has been making a very impressive comeback over the last few years with cool timepieces that embrace Zodiac's rich history of design and style. What that means for you is that Zodiac watches are back to being serious timepieces for watch people - and the best news is that they also deliver a solid value. Today, I'd like to review the modern Zodiac Astrographic that is a remake of the classic Astrographic that Zodiac produced originally back in 1970.
The Zodiac Astrographic exists as part of a class of "mystery dial" watches that have origins going back over 100 years - probably a lot longer. Back in the Art Deco era, Cartier produced a series of mystery clocks which had hands which appeared to float on the dial. This effect was produced by putting the hands on transparent discs. In 2013, Cartier even produced a watch known as the Rotonde de Cartier Mystery (hands-on here) which produced a similar effect. Cartier, of course, is by no means the only company to have done this, and mystery dial wrist watches are an uncommon, but fun treat for collectors and those who like a little style in their watches. What makes the Zodiac Astrographic unique as a mystery dial watch is that it is a sporty one, whereas most are a bit more formal in their design.
In fact, come to think of it, I can't come up with too many other sport-style mystery dial watches produced today - Zodiac might have cornered this market. Of course, the risk with any mystery dial watch is legibility - which I am happy to report is not an issue here. The various styles of the modern Zodiac Astrographic all have the hour, minute, and seconds hands (the latter is just a moving red dot on the dial), each on their own transparent disc. These discs are connected in the middle of the dial and spin moving the hands around as you would normally expect - only they don't have a visual connection. There is a small black dot applied to the sapphire crystal over this central connection point to complete the "mystery experience."
Even with the hands floating, they are still quite legible with both the hour and minute hands as well as the hour markers being applied with luminant. That means good legibility in the dark. I think that the cleverness of the Zodiac Astrographic dial is offering a unique design that is clearly a "mystery dial," but offers the readability people expect from a daily wear sports-style watch. Each of the various dial versions of the Zodiac Astrographic changes the colors of the hands and face a bit. I find that all of them are rather easy to live with but liked this particular Zodiac Astrographic ref. ZO6601 with the silver dial that matches the case nicely.
To create the dial effect, the face of the watch is set down a bit with the outer dial being on a raised plane. Even though the case is more angular in its shape, the dial is round. The dial is also symmetrical in its design with a date window placed over the 6 o'clock hour indicator. With legibility and some welcome retro sporty style, I have to give the Zodiac Astrographic's dial high marks for very successfully achieving its goals. If you want something a bit more unique, there are other dial colors in styles such as gray as well as the lovely blue and red of the Astrographic ref. ZO6603.
On the wrist, the Zodiac Astrographic is not a small watch but wears comfortably. The "vertical TV screen" style case is 39mm wide by 45mm tall. The case is also 12mm thick - but visually looks a bit thicker. You also have a nice heft to the steel case and bracelet - which is produced from thick steel links. Always a fan of tapered bracelets, I applaud Zodiac retaining this important element of the Zodiac Astrographic's style - which also tends to the wearing comfort. Those looking for a less-than-conservative yet immediately familiar design will appreciate the Zodiac Astrographic whose core theme and concept has aged surprisingly well.
With 100 meters of water resistance, the case also has an exhibition caseback allowing for a view of the automatic mechanical movement inside. This movement is actually produced by the Fossil group - who owns a movement manufacture location in Switzerland. The movement is designated as the Swiss Made STP 1-11, and I believe it is functionally equivalent to the ETA 2824, with about 42 hours of power reserve operating at 4Hz. For the money, I am further impressed by the quality of the decoration on the movement which includes handsome machined perlage polishing. As I said, for the value-price of the Zodiac Astrographic, this is an impressively suitable automatic movement, and I think Zodiac made the right decision by letting you view it through the rear of the case.
For the money, you get a lot of nice little detailing all over the watch in areas where you'd see a lot cheaper options in some competitor watches. The Zodiac logo on the crown is offered in high-quality relief, as is the logo on the deployant clasp buckle. Rather than some cheap etching, you get a nicely relief-engraved part which adds to a high-end feel of the watch. Speaking of the bracelet, I also want to offer appreciation for the small micro-adjust holes in the deployant that allow for a more precise fit.
To a degree, a lot of these little details are to be expected because Zodiac is anything but a small brand, given its ownership. The company has the resources to offer some great value with the parent company's manufacturing strength and economy of scale. In many instances, you see similar values in brands under the Swatch Group such as Hamilton, Tissot, and Longines. People looking for a lot for their money can count on brands like this, and now, you can add Zodiac to the list. A quick view (today) of Zodiac's website offers the ability to survey the Heritage Collection families; the Sea Wolf, Sea Dragon, and Astrographic. Each includes a mechanical automatic movement as well as a vintage inspired design from Zodiac's archives. With this base, I am confident in the brand's ability to appeal not only to the mainstream, but to serious watch lovers looking for something that has their considerations in mind.
Currently, each of the Zodiac Astrographic models are limited editions - with some models being exclusively available at vendor partners Zodiac has selected. I am happy to see what the brand is doing and will continue to enjoy that Astrographic as a unique, but comfortable daily wear. Price for this Zodiac Astrographic reference ZO6601 watch is $1,195 and it is limited to 5,000 pieces. Prices are similar for the other models and a bit more for the PVD-gold coated model. zodiacwatches.com
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we'd recommend it to first: Sport watch lover looking for a great daily wear with a retro character.
>Best characteristic of watch: Solid value with fun dial that also happens to be legible. Comfortable on the wrist as well.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Heavy case might be a bit much for some, but minor quibble.