October 2, 2017
by David Bredan
Colorful watches clearly are not for everyone: next time you can, just take a look at the selection inside the windows of your local watch retailers and see for yourself how conservative watches still are, as brands do all they can to closely follow trends and the taste of the broader public. However, once you do find a funky-looking piece that you like, most of everything else will just appear so safe and dull. Enter the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 and ZO9264 watches, which might just be some of the best “go anywhere but not bore you to death” value proposition watches out there.
With its baby blue bezel and vibrant, saturated orange elements, all further highlighted by a dark dial, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 is one heck of a “zero cares given” watch – and I already friggin’ love it for that. Being at the end of summer with some decent sunshiny days still remaining in my life may have me feeling more inclined to show my appreciation of the neat weather through my love of watches – but I won’t let that keep me from finding what this Super Sea Wolf 53 is like if you are in with it for the long run. Furthermore, Ariel had the ZO9264 with him in Los Angeles, so we have images of that alternative as well.
When I first put it on I already knew, the 1,495-dollar Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 is not just among the most expensive Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression pieces, but also in the upper tier of “enthusiast dive watches.” Just 82 pieces of this iteration exist, but you can shave $300 off the price if you opt for a non-limited version on a strap, like Ariel’s blue-on-blue ZO9264 that retails for $1,195. Curious to find out how this stands up as a value proposition, I began my time with the more expensive model – and will focus on this throughout, but will compare it to the less expensive variant where it makes sense.
As is usually the case, let’s begin this review once again by looking at the larger picture, namely the history of the brand and the particular watch at hand. First of all, Zodiac is a historical brand – of course it is, it says Zodiac 1882 on the caseback, m’kay?
It all started as a workshop in 1882 – big-expensive manufactures had not been growing out of the Swiss land at the time like they do today – established by one Ariste Calame. Calame started his operation under his own name but soon enough switched to Zodiac, though it was not until 1908 that the brand name became officially registered – which is also when the production of the brand’s first wrist watches began.
Understandably, the Zodiac watches that enjoy a cult following today are the charmingly unique tool watches from the ’50s and ’60s. These pieces, namely the Sea Wolf and its numerous iterations, offer a more unique look at an affordable price point and decent enough build quality – something that we’ll find applies to both the vintage originals and the modern pieces alike. Plus there is the quirky but awesome Astrographic (reviewed here) as well – we mustn’t forget about that.
Add to all this impressive achievements like a small 10.5-ligne movement with 8-day power reserve from 1937, the Dynotron “Swiss electronic watch,” and what over time turned into an incredibly diverse range of watches from triple date chronographs and GMTs through early 36,000vph high-tech pieces and dive watches all the way to dress watches… and you know you are looking at a brand with the proper zest to make timepieces.
All this noted, the Sea Wolf is this 200m water resistant, legible, unique-looking diver that made its debut in 1953 and gained traction in the late ’50s and early ’60s. They went so far as to write “Especially Water Tested” on its caseback and advertise it as “The most popular watch in 3/4 of the world” – since, as they explained, that much of the world is under water and the Zodiac Sea Wolf is the “undisputed first choice” of skin divers. What the heck, it even came with an “unbreakable lifetime mainspring and balance staff” and was advertised as “an official watch of the Swiss Federal Railways.” Mind you, while truth in advertising arguably wasn’t as closely regulated back then as it is today, all this still is an impressive list of features for a skin diver watch to boast about. Also, if you’d love to have the modern version of the original, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf Skin reference ZO9205 is the one.
Fast forward to the quartz crisis and you’ll know what I’m about to say: Zodiac was one of the innumerable brands that didn’t make it through the late ’70s and ’80s. The story continues in the regular fashion: the rights to the brand have been sold and re-sold until it ended up with the Fossil Group, pretty much the world’s largest group of fashion watch brands. Zodiac, however, is of course the odd one out.
Zodiac watches all get the “Swiss Made” stamp on both the dial and the case – and as far as I know (and in my experience so far), only cases produced in Switzerland can be stamped Swiss Made; a watch that complies with Swiss Made regulations (more on those here) but without a Swiss Made case will only have said marking on the dial. Needless to say, not all Swiss made cases are stamped “Swiss Made.” Anyhow, Fossil’s Swiss movement manufacture is called STP (Swiss Technology Production) and it is STP who provides the movement for pretty much all Zodiac Sea Wolf watches. More on the movement soon, but now…
Even with its unusual colors, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 is one safe design these days – vintage-style watches are very much in and the ZO9265’s 40mm wide case hits a sweet spot at a time when watches finally appear to have not only stopped growing in size year-over-year, but shrink a bit. The lug width is 20mm – if you want to keep a watch simple, just adhere to 40-20-12 (or less for that latter, thickness figure), and you should be alright.
Make no mistake however, the Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression is a great and interesting looking watch, even with its more sensible proportions. There is just “something right” about a 40mm wide, round watch – it feels, wears and looks right on the wrist. The relatively long, straight lugs make for a more confident look, which saves the Super Sea Wolf from looking like a kid’s watch. I find that many 38-40mm watches don’t have enough character, especially not when matched with more vibrant colors, but the ZO9265 looks every bit as cool and mature as one could possibly expect an orange-blue watch to be.
One last note on the color scheme here: I just can’t stress enough how fantastic of a summer-time watch this is – and when I unavoidably am going to be wearing it during the freezing cold winters of Budapest, it will still look good enough to remind me of fun times from last summer. Because it has a medium size (by modern watch design standards), its loud colors stand out more and are not overwhelmed or turned into vulgarity by a ridiculously larger size. When seen on the wrist, out and about, the ZO9265 looks both fun, unique, and comfortable. If I had to describe a fun but mature watch, I’d say it should display those qualities.
The 40mm-wide case of the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 is crafted from 316L stainless steel (like most all other quality steel watches) and is water resistant to a depth of 200m, making it a proper dive watch. Additional dive watch elements are a screw-down crown and a steel, screw-down caseback with an embossed and polished Zodiac logo and acid-etched markings (“acid etched” – maybe it’s just me but that sounds pretty cool).