All too often, when a great old, but defunct brand name falls into new hands, either nothing happens with it, or they take that once great name and sully it with a poor lineup and bad decisions. It’s like a weird get-rich-quick scheme for watch brands. They think that by taking a once established name, they are guaranteed a successful new line… Well, design, branding, authenticity and a slew of other important things go into it, so most of those re-launched brands fizzle after not long. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Zodiac.
Zodiac was once a great and innovative brand, pushing the boundaries of design and technology for years, making some great cult classics, like the Sea Wolf. Unfortunately, like many others, they didn’t survive the quartz-crisis. In the mid 90’s Fossil brand picked up the name and revived it, though never re-established it to what it once was. As we learned in Basel this year (check out that article for some more details) there are some new minds at work at Fossil, who intend on reviving the brand correctly, making it one that is more palatable to normal consumers and of interested to us enthusiasts, by re-imagining Zodiac classics. Their newly dubbed “Heritage” line started with a modernized remake of one of Zodiacs most famous and controversial pieces, the Astrographic, and has continued with this review’s topic, the Sea Dragon.
Based on Zodiac watches from the 60’s, 70’s the Sea Dragon is in the vein of vintage dress divers. Watches with clear sport influence, but elegant cases and dials. Available is a variety of colors, the Sea Dragons are very eye-catching, already getting a bit of buzz on social media. They feature cool barrel cases with multi-color dials and domed sapphire crystals. Inside, they are powered by Fossil’s STP 1-11 “in-house” Swiss-made automatic movement. We have two to take a look at, a blue-dial option on leather for $995 and a green dial version on a bracelet for $1195 (currently available on Huckberry in blue for $844.98, green or silver for $998.98). While their prices are a bit high, the Sea Dragons make an immediate impression with their high-level of finish and stylish aesthetic.
Zodiac Sea Dragon Review
Case: Stainless Steel
Movement: STP (Fossil) 1-11
Dial: Various colors
Strap: Leather or Steel Bracelet
Water Res.: 100m
Dimensions: 39 x 46.5 mm
Thickness: 12.5 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: 6 x 3 mm
Warranty: 2 years
Price: $995 – $1195
The case of the Zodiac Sea Dragon is a throwback to the days of the dress diver, mixing mass with nice finishing for something sporty and elegant. Measuring 39 from 12-6, 46.5 lug-to-lug and 12.47mm tall, it’s a smart size for a revival of an old design/style, making it big enough to look and feel modern, but small enough to stay true to the original concept. It has a slim, dress version of a barrel design, that clings to the bezel, preventing it from over powering the dial or becoming too massive. The added bulk of the lugs does beef it up, adding presence on the wrist.
The geometry is very elegant, and well emphasized by the case finishing. From above you have a clear barrel shape with gorgeous burst brushing that throws light every which way. The edge of the barrel is then beveled with a polished edge that creates a subtle transition from case top to side. The edges at 6 and 12 cut off sharply with a polished downward facet that creates short and angular lugs. The line that seperates the brushed top from the polished lugs is very sharp, for a striking look. On top of the barrel mid-section is a wide polished steel bezel, which hints at traditional cylindrical cases. The staggering of finishes creates a watch that glistens beautifully, changing in different light.
Looking at it from the side, the design continues to be interesting. The center case, which is horizontally brushed, is thinner than one would expect, at about 5.5mm in the center, making it wear thinner than 12.5mm typically does. It also has an elegant bow to it, letting it conform to the shape of the wrist. Much of the height actually comes from the bezel and the boxed sapphire. The crystal is particularly cool as it really has the shape of an old acrylic, standing up over the dial, then doming. It’s great that they went with this rather than a dome that was flush with the bezel… just adds a lot of character.
Off of three is a smallish screw-down crown measuring 6 x 3mm. It has a deeply toothed edge for grip, and a Zodiac circle-cross logo on the flat end. Though plain, it works with the design and is in proportion. The watch actually has a 100m water resistance, which is higher than expected for a watch this style, but refers to the fact that it is a sport watch by a sport brand, not just a lookalike. It’s great that they made it this way as too many brands would have just made this a total style piece.
Flipping the watch over, you have a screw-down display case-back. The aperture is 25mm, giving you a nice view of the STP 1-11 movement, which is pleasantly decorated with perlage. Around the window are various details about the watches, etched into the surface.
The dial of the Sea Dragon is fun and colorful, with a vintage sport aesthetic. Though there are a variety of different dial colors available, the set up remains the same. There is a main, central surface with a saturated color and sunburst finish. On top of this are applied bi-color markers with the dials secondary or highlight color on the outer half, and polished steel on the inner, and a line of lume down the center. There is also a large Zodiac logo at 12 and a date window at 6. The outer edge has a cream colored chapter ring (true on all except the red and silver dials, which have a black ring) with a mix of black markings and highlight markings. The minute/second index on the outer chapter ring consists of longer lines for each minute/second, thin markers for sub-seconds and highlight color numerals and lines every 5. The hour and minute hands are wide blocks with a design that closely mimics the applied markers, with a mix of steel, highlight color and lume. The seconds hand is just the highlight color.
The inner area and outer ring create the dress-diver dynamic, with the inner area feeling more formal and vintage, and the outer ring speaking to sport. The hands too have a 70’s sport feel, reminding me of something you’d find on a chronograph.The use of a bright highlight color ties everything together, creating a gorgeous, congruous dial. The color palettes then give each their own style. As seen in the pictures, we had the blue dial and green dial on hand.
The blue immediately caught me. It’s a rich, dark sapphire blue that in some lights looks near black, other times has hints of teal, more like a Mediterranean tone. The highlight color here is a very 70’s orange, the kind of color that you’d want on a muscle car. I was worried it would be too high contrast in person, but the combination works well. The orange adds some excitement and brings the warmth of the cream colored chapter ring into the blue.
The green dial is a bright, but still saturated tone. It’s an emerald to forest green, that picks up light nicely. The contrast color here is a deep red that jumps off of the green. Though they are both about the same level of dress/casual, the green feels a bit more formal to me. Perhaps the play of the red and green is a bit more subtle and low key.
Overall, on both, the aesthetic of the dials is really on point. They have a vintage air to them, but don’t look too retro either. They have sophisticated elements as well as playful ones, and while they are definitely a riff on a sport design, there is an elegance and refinement to them. The colors are very saturated, and the mix of sunburst and matte areas creates a nice play. Both feature a bit of lume too, that while not about to rival a tool-diver, is better than expected.
Straps and Wearability
Depending on the dial color chosen, the Sea Dragon will come with either a 20mm leather strap or a heavy steel bracelet. Unfortunately, there is only one option per color (i.e. blue only comes on leather, green on bracelet), which seems a little odd. Nevertheless, both options are very well executed. The leather that accompanies the blue is nicely stylized with a slightly tapering design that is padded by the lugs. The color is a medium brown that compliments the blue well.
What makes this strap a bit more interesting is that it’s lightly burnished (think of a dress shoe with a darker toe, same deal), getting darker towards the sides. This adds a naturally worn in look, that is different than a forced patina and more subtle. On the watch, it gives it a casual look that is great for daily wear. The buckle that accompanies the strap is also well executed, with an interesting shape and nice finishing. Honestly, it’s nicer than buckles we’ve seen come with watches that are much more costly.
While I really like the strap, perhaps even prefer it comfort-wise, the bracelet is really something to behold. It’s also a slightly tapering design, with a mix of brushed and polished surfaces and solid, fitted end-links. The links are all thick, with a 3-panel design. The outer panels are brushed and the center panel is mirror polished. The links are removable via double-sided screws. Rather than only have screws on the exchangeable links by the clasp, they have the detail exposed on each. This gives it a bit of a vintage riveted bracelet look. The construction and feel, though, are anything but. If anything, it makes the overall watch look more modern. The tolerances on it are exceptional, with everything fitting together as it should. The bracelet closes with a discreet butterfly clasp, giving it a seamless look.
The links have a clever design to them, where they are concave on one side, convex on the other, fitting together perfectly with the concave acting as an axel. There is a small notch right before the concave side that acts as a natural stop for the convex side… it’s hard to describe (clearly) but it’s a clever design that shows a nice bit of thought and engineering.
On the wrist, the Sea Dragon wears well. It’s a great size, looking sensible, masculine, and having enough presence to standout a bit. This is thanks to the barrel design that has more mass than a 39mm classic shape would. The lug-to-lug is fairly short, so it should fit most wrists, and it wears thin, so it should fit under a shirt sleeve. Overall, it’s simply comfortable, particularly on the leather. The bracelet feels nice and solid, but the added weight is noticeable.
It’s an interesting looking watch with a lot of personality. The mix of colors, and nice case finishing make it a touch flashy, but not obnoxious. On the bracelet it has a bit of bling, but nothing I found unbearable. On the leather, it was simply cool and stylish, with just enough vintage flavor. It’s definitely a versatile watch that one can wear as easily with jeans and work boots as khakis and wing-tips. The colors on the dials are something you’ll have to consider, so I found the blue dial to be easier to wear.
There is a lot to like about the new Zodiac Sea Dragons. They are well made and well styled, with a cool look that I think is very easy to like and even easier to wear. Both the case and dial have a lot of interesting points to look at and get into, making it a great watch as a whole. The case has interesting geometry, a beautiful crystal and excellent finishing. The dial has an energetic mix of colors, textures and styles making it ride the line between sport and casual. The mix of vintage aesthetic cues and modern manufacturing comes together very well. Typically during a review I find some issue that gets a bit under my skin a bit, but with the Sea Dragon, I found them to be really well done though out.
That said, coming in at $995 on leather and $1195 on a bracelet, the Sea Dragons aren’t cheap. They are right up there with other Swiss-made automatic watches that are out there. In terms of design and execution, they are totally inline if not slightly beyond some of those other brands. So I don’t think they skimped on quality at all. But, inside is a fairly untested movement that not much info is available on. And vintage watches by Zodiac are available typically for less. The latter argument is a bit weak as that’s more to do with the market than quality, but the former is worth noting. The STP 1-11 is made by a Fossil owned manufacturer (presumably just Fossil DBA STP) in Switzerland, but they lack transparency about the movements. I don’t think a brand that large would make a misstep with their movement, especially as they are trying to gain Swiss cred, but it is a question mark. Certainly, they feel they can price to compete with ETA powered watches.
In the end, I think the watches speak for themselves and if you get one you’ll be very happy with it. I do wish they cost less, say $600+ as that would have made them a great value on top or a great design, perhaps helping the brand gain a foothold faster. It’s great to see them reviving Zodiac and doing so with smart design choices. Their next release, the Sea Wolf, is going to be a huge hit… I can feel it. So, if you’re looking for a nice alternative to larger modern watches, ache for something with a bit of color and a vintage aesthetic, the Sea Dragon is very worth considering. For my part, I’d consider it just for the case, as I feel like having some interesting alternatives to classic designs are very welcome, and this one is exceptionally well executed.
Go here for more info on Zodiac Watches