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.
FIRST, A BIT OF HISTORY
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).
Agenerally more rarely encountered design element is the crystal covered bezel. Zodiac fitted the baby blue bezel with a K1 mineral crystal, with a “blaze orange” minute track and a pip – lit up by the Natural Super-LumiNova underneath it. The discreet reflections of this domed crystal add so much to the impression the Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression makes. It looks more refined and visually interesting. K1 mineral crystal arguably isn’t as hard as sapphire crystal, but it will require a lot of effort to scratch it – the one on this review piece is perfect even after a fair bit of wear. Watch repairer friends tell me one need not worry about it ever fogging up or losing its sheen either.
Quality of execution on the steel case and bracelet is decent enough for the price. The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 both looks and feels solid, with polished and brushed surfaces interchanging between different segments of the exterior. The crown is easy to use and screw back down, the bezel feels solid with no wobble at all, and the bracelet is a lot better than the Jubilee-type ones encountered ever so often on niche desk divers – the four-figure price is definitely reflected here.
The five-link bracelet with its solid links naturally appears to have been strongly inspired be the evergreen Rolex Jubilee bracelet – and while the execution will expectedly fall short of that, it is way better than the ones you get on few-hundred-dollar watches. As much as I enjoy wearing beater watches, the similarly styled bracelet on, say, a Seiko SKX007 I think is just intolerably bad. The piece attached to the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 was good enough that it’s not only that I didn’t want to take it off and bury it in the garden the moment I saw it, but actually felt happy to wear the watch on the OEM bracelet (more on wearability just below).
The ZO9265 also comes with a rubber strap along the Jubilee-style bracelet, but I didn’t receive that rubber strap with the review piece – I have seen it hands-on at Basel though. It was a flexible and nicely made strap with the original ardillon buckle. Lots of holes for easy adjustment made for an easy fit, though if you have a smaller wrist, you’ll want to know that the longer part goes around and extends a bit longer than you’d probably want it to.
Wearing comfort on the bracelet is great. The stacked rows of tiny little links enable the bracelet to effortlessly wrap around the imperfect oval shape of the wrist – I haven’t had issues with hair-pulling either, which is a good thing.
The clasp I have not grown to enjoy as much as I did the bracelet: it takes what I feel to be a bit too much force to close, and the asymmetrical design means that you have to get used to which end you close first. Additionally, there are some sharper edges here and there, which makes the whole process of closing the clasp that tiny bit more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Little things, but hey, they are worth noting.
One ingenious – and, in truth, redeeming – feature of the bracelet and clasp is the self-adjusting micro-adjust element found at both ends of the clasp – when I come into power, I’ll set it in law that all watch bracelets must have this. It’s a relatively simple and, better still, very discreet way of doing a micro-adjust clasp: as your wrist expands and you’d need the bracelet to do just the same, at the two ends where the bracelet’s links meet the clasp, there is a small spring loaded piece that allows the bracelet to effortlessly expand by not more than a few millimeters on each side. Unless you’re Hulk himself, that will perfectly suffice. Great work here, Zodiac.
I mean, just look at those massive hands. I don’t know of too many other watches where this much surface of the dial is covered by the two main hands at any time – good luck reading any of the fancy text with these two bad boys running around. While the hour and minute hands are relatively close in shape and size, you won’t ever confuse the two – the very different colors will help you tell them apart in the light, while the totally different shape of the lume segments in each helps distinguish them in the dark.
The thick hour and minute hands will not allow for as easy and accurate legibility as some beautiful, hand-sharpened dauphine hands, but this chunky, orange hand and the way it matches with the block indices and orange minute track is just the perfect match for the Super Sea Wolf.
Luminescent coating on the hands is as good as it gets – Seiko’s insanely bright LumiBright lume notwithstanding – while the indices appear to have been treated with a comparably lower quality material. Zodiac calls the lume on the hands Natural Super-LumiNova (though I am not sure what “natural” stands for here, apart from the fact that it’s better than on the indices), while the indices have C1 Super-LumiNova. Add to this the lumed pip in the bezel, and you have a light-show perfectly good enough for a true (and costly) dive watch.
Inside the limited edition Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 ticks the STP3-13 “in-house” movement. When I say “in-house” what I mean is that STP is the Fossil Group’s movement manufacture – in Switzerland, of all places – that you can read all about in Ariel’s manufacture visit here. The STP3-13 in the ZO9265 is a three-hand movement with date that runs at a frequency of 4Hz (28,800vph) and has a power reserve of 44 hours.
Where it really flexes its muscles is its COSC Chronometer certification – again, just for the limited edition, whereas the baby-blue/deep-blue piece that Ariel took pictures of has the same STP3-13 movement but without the COSC certification. Zodiac/STP really should have named the COSC certified variant differently to save everyone the confusion. Anyhow, the dial of the ZO9265 proudly boasts ‘Automatic Chronometer’ on the dial – sort of as a presumptuous wink at Tudor and Rolex. There is no see-through caseback but the movement does have a Zodiac branded rotor, perlage, and blue screws.
Price for the 82-piece limited edition Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265 is $1,495, while the non-limited, blue-on-blue ZO9264 that ditches the bracelet and the COSC certification retails for $1,195. This makes these relatively more expensive than many other indie divers or the go-to options from Seiko, but quality of execution both inside and out, along with a great bracelet and a COSC certified movement help justify the expense. Hands-on, the Super Sea Wolf 53 is your budget Tudor competitor, and not your overpriced Seiko option. From the super safe vintage originals and black-on-grey models to the ZO9265, Zodiac put together a strong line-up of well-made, vintage inspired watches and if enough people can get them to try on in person, I expect them to do well in what actually is a very competitive market. zodiacwatches.com
>Model: Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression ZO9265
>Size: 40mm wide
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Into vintage dive watches and wants something that looks straight from that era, but also demands modern build quality and performance.
>Best characteristic of watch: Just such an honest and fun-looking watch, that is an absolute joy to wear. Also looks like a watch, with just enough character to make it unique.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Wish bezel was sapphire and that the hands’ great lume was on the indices too. Clasp has a few edges that are too sharp.