Zodiac is quickly becoming a brand that all affordable watch enthusiasts should pay attention to. For those unfamiliar, Zodiac has a long, storied history. They were major innovators for a time, and had the quartz crisis never happened, could have been one of the major brands today. But, it did happen and the brand got swept away like so many others, only to be bought and sold and bought again years later. Now owned by Fossil, a small team within the larger company is taking back the name and reestablishing the brand by re-imagining their iconic watches.
We’ve seen a few pieces from them in the last year or so, namely the very stylish Sea Dragon we reviewed a few months ago, which impressed us with its build and finish quality. But the watches we’ve been waiting for were the Sea Wolfs…and they are finally here. The Sea Wolf is Zodiac’s most iconic watch. First released in 1953, it’s one of the original modern dive watches, sharing the honor with the likes of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Submariner. The originals are incredibly cool collectibles in their own right, which we detail in Affordable Vintage: Zodiac Sea Wolf article.
Bringing back the Sea Wolf is exciting for a few reasons. First, they were great looking watches with a style that differs from the dive watch norm. With so many dive and sport watches these days feeling a bit too similar, something different, but classic is refreshing. Second, it revives an icon for a new generation. The name Sea Wolf is far from house hold (well, so is Fifty Fathoms, but, you get what I’m saying) yet it’s a significant watch that deserves some spotlight. Considering the brand behind it, they are poised for popularity. Lastly, it’s simply cool for a historic icon to be available in the price range.
As for the watch itself…this is a review after all… the modern Zodiac took the classic design and reinterpreted it for the new watch. Keeping somethings, changing others, but overall creating a watch that clearly is a Sea Wolf . Featuring a domed sapphire, 200m WR and Fossil’s own Swiss-made STP 1-11 automatic movement, the Sea Wolf comes in with an MSRP of $1,195, which is inline with their other watches, though higher than many would like to see. So the question is, does it live up to expectation?
Zodiac Sea Wolf Review ref. ZO9201
Movement: STP (Fossil) 1-11
Water Res.: 200M
Dimensions: 39 x 47.6 mm
Thickness: 12.5 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown: 6.5 x 2.5 mm
Warranty: 2 Years
The case of the Zodiac Sea Wolf takes the design of the original and updates it to moderns standards… but not too much. Coming in at 39 x 47.6 x 12.5mm, the Sea Wolf is a very wearable small/mid size watch. By staying small, relatively speaking, the design stays truer to the original, but the increase to 39mm is enough to make it a modern feeling watch. The ratio of the diameter to the lug-to-lug is also well executed. It might look long, but on a smaller watch, long lugs really add to the look on the wrist.
The case design itself then stays pretty true to original in terms of lines and geometry. You have a slab-sided cylinder with long blocky lugs jutting right out of it. I love the lugs on this watch, original and re-edition. They are very blunt and aggressive, giving the watch a nice attitude. The sides have a matte/brushed/unfinished look while the tops of the lugs are full polish for a bit of contrast. I typically prefer matte or burshed cases on my sports watches, but the limited use of polished surfaces on the Sea Wolf works. Coming off at 3 is a wide, flat screw down crown measuring 6.5 x 2.5mm. The design is very utlitarian, with simple grooves and no decoration, no even a Zodiac logo. As far as I can tell, the original Sea Wolves did have signed crowns, so not sure about the omission here. With that said, I like the no-fuss design.
The bezel is solid steel with a design that stays very close to the original. It has a thin, toothed edge, then angles up to meet the crystal. It has a 120-click unidirectional mechanism that is nice and snappy. The crystal has been updated to a domed sapphire with a slight lip. The lip gives it a more vintage look, as though it’s a box acrylic. I actually would have loved for it to be acrylic, but I understand is more desirable on the market.
Flipping the watch over, you have a display case back, showing off the STP 1-11 movement. Obviously, the original would not have had a display back, but given that they can maintain a 200m WR while having one, it’s a nice touch. Also because the movement is pleasantly decorated with perlage on every surface, and a nicely grained rotor that is solely decorated with a Zodiac logo.
The dial of the Sea Wolf re-edition stays true to the original aesthetic, but also reinterprets it. The surface, which originally had a slight dome to it, is now flat, but dressed up with a slight sunbursting, making the black more dynamic. On the surface is a primary index of applied markers featuring distinct large triangles with metal numerals embedded with lume at 12, 6 and 9. The original came in date (datographic) and non-date, the latter being the more desirable aesthetically and as a collectible. The re-edition is only in available with a date, so instead of a fourth triangle at 3, which would create a very bold dial, you have a bit of a gap, where the date window is placed. Adding a non-date version to the collection is a no-brainer in my opinion.
Alternating with the triangles are thin applied rectangles with lume lines and steel surrounds. They stay close to the original, but have a slightly different design. Regardless, they work and look good. Between the markers are white lines for the individual minutes/seconds. Overall, it’s a very attractive design that while clearly vintage for those who know dive watches, holds up well for a new watch. It’s bold, legible, and sport while the applied markers add a touch of class.
On the dial surface, just below 12 is a circle/cross logo and “Zodiac” logo. Just above 6 it reads “automatic” and “200m/660ft”. All pretty standard fare, properly proportioned and not distracting. In an odd move, they left off the “Sea Wolf” script that was located on the originals below the logo at 12, and honestly it is missed. That touch of script would have given the dial a slightly more classic feel. It’s also surprising as they did keep the script on the Sea Dragons. Looking at the dial, it might have been a crowding issue, but the loss of personality is felt.
The bezel layout keeps the original design in tact. It’s all steel with no color or lume, save the pip at the origin. So, you just have engraved markings, for a very clean, albeit not very legible look. The index consists primarily of lines and a few triangles, save the numeral at 30, all accurate. One interesting detail to the index is that the first 15 minutes are marked in typical dive bezel fashion, except there are also little triangles at intervals of 3, which is something that you’ll find on the vintage models too.
The handset of the Sea Wolf is particularly cool and unique, and they stayed true to it on the re-edition. The hour and minute are polished steel Dauphin style with lume filling that has a split line down the center. The second hand is a thin polished stick. It’s a good look that is very vintage, and has a nice dress/sport feel. The lume on the watch is fantastic. It’s heavily applied C3 (or looks like C3), glowing brightly and for a decent amount of time. Even the thin strips on the rectangular markers glow well.
Straps and Wearability
The Sea Wolf comes mounted to a 20mm Jubilee style bracelet and it’s great. First off, it’s accurate, as one of the bracelets the originals came on was in this style, so it completes the look. Second, it’s excellently made and very comfortable. It has an elegant taper, going from 20 – 16mm by the clasp, for that thin, vintage feel. The links are a mix of brushed and polished, matching the case finish. As with most Jubilees I’ve tried, it has a decent amount of flex to it, which works with a smaller watch and increases the comfort. They also created a vintage-style clasp, which makes the bracelet work like a 2-piece strap. When you open the clasp, you unhook one side from the other. This makes for a very small and clean clasp design. They also gave it an expanding spring, making the clasp “stretch” a bit if needed. A great touch that comes in handy on hot days.
It looks great on the watch, though it does down play the lugs a bit. Jubilee bracelets are interesting as they are a bit decorative and dressy, yet work on sport watches. A perfect example is that they are standard on many Rolex Datejusts, which is a staple dress watch. On the Sea Wolf, it does dress the watch up a bit, making it more than suitable for the office, yet ready for a dip in the ocean. Since I really like the long lugs, I threw on one of our black Model 2 straps. The vintage style of the strap is an obvious pair the aesthetic of the watch, and the lack of end links emphasizes the lugs, making them look longer. This is a good way to dress the watch down again, for a more casual, stylish look. Naturally, the Sea Wolf would work with pass-through straps and rubber straps as well.
The Sea Wolf really is ideally sized for a day-to-day sport watch. the 39mm diameter looks appropriate and by no means small, while the 47.6mm lug-to-lug ensures the watch sits well on the wrist. It’s also pleasantly thin and fairly light. So, not only does it fit well, it’s actually really comfortable and easy to wear for a long stretch. I can’t say that for every watch, including many in my collection, and it works towards making the Sea Wolf a very versatile watch. And despite being a bit smaller than many modern divers, it maintains a decent amount of presence thanks to the mass from the bezel.
Aesthetically, it’s also a winner. There are reasons beyond historical significance as to why the originals are collectible…they’re cool looking, and the re-edition captures enough of that style. That said, it’s doesn’t just look like a vintage watch made new, it works as a modern piece. It’s got some dressy elements, some sporty elements and some straight up tool watch elements too. So, it’s a look that goes with just about everything, and can be dressed up or down as needed with straps.
Limited Edition and Other Versions
The watch we’ve been talking about up unto this point has actually been but one version of the Sea Wolf that was released. It’s the iconic version, hence the emphasis, but they actually came out with more versions of a different design, with various strap, bezel and dial options. Unfortunately, they don’t really distinguish the name between the two, other than reference numbers, but the look is dramatically different.
The other version has largely the same case, but with an acrylic bezel, rounded crown and solid case back. The dial is dramatically different, however, with a markers and hands that don’t even relate to the other design. It’s entirely non-numerical with blocky markers at 12, 3, 6 and 9, and smaller faceted markers for the other hours. The hands are bizarre, like sketelonized paddles in gloss black. It’s an interesting design, though less cohesive than the more iconic model. That said, it is fairly accurate to another historic version of the watch.
The Limited Edition model, of which 82 were made, has a light turquoise acrylic bezel and silver sunray dial surface for a generally very pale palette. The bezel insert is quite cool. The color is odd and hard to pin down. It’s almost grey or light blue, or perhaps just a faded white. The index is then in black, for nice contrast. There are versions of this design with black, red and green bezels as well. I would love to see the classic dial with the acrylic bezel, as those were made in the past as well. In fact, there was a particularly awesome version with a white bezel and red markings that would make for a very exotic looking modern watch.
The Zodiac Sea Wolf re-edition is a watch I was eagerly awaiting the release of. When we first saw them in Basel two years ago, it was very exciting. It’s not often that a true classic watch gets re-released in general, let alone in our price range. And the Zodiac Sea Wolf is one of the coolest possible watches as it’s an icon that sits in the history books right next to some heavy hitters, and it’s just cool looking. Gladly, the re-edition does not let down. It’s a well-executed and well-made watch that is a pleasure to wear. Yes, there are a couple of things I’d change, but that’s true with every watch and the Sea Wolf succeeds where it counts. If they brought out a non-date, it’d be near perfect.
The biggest caveat is the price. At $1,195 it’s not a drop in the bucket and it has tough competition, but it is Swiss made so it’s not a far fetched price either. As with the Sea Dragons, which priced the same, the quality is there, the finishing is there and the movement, though a bit of a mystery, hasn’t shown reason for concern. It’s well finished, runs accurately and is made by a Fossil, a major brand with the resources to do it right, even if their name isn’t associated with mechanicals and the higher end. If it cost less, would it be more tempting? Of course, but that’s true for everything, and naturally deals can be found.
So, it comes down to did they succeed at bringing this watch back? Yes, I think so. The most successful aspect is the modernized, but restrained case size. It’s exactly what you want in a daily sport watch. Following that is that they didn’t try to change the concept or feel of the watch. It’s still a tool watch with a touch of elegance. Look at modern Subs or modern Fifty Fathoms… they are a far cry from their purpose driven origins. And while the price is maybe higher than we’d like, it’s not outrageous, so it’s a watch that people can actually own and use. Lastly, they also have a large range of different options, so you can pick the one that is right for you. Now, we get to look forward to the release of the Super Sea Wolf, another winner.