The brand we know as Zodiac was originally born under the name Calame in 1882 in Le Locle, Switzerland. The man and genius behind the company was named Ariste Calame, and his goal was to produce some of the world’s most accurate watches. Calame’s passion and dedication soon led the company to become one of the fastest growing Swiss manufacturers. It was not until 1908 that the Calame family decided to rebrand the company to bear the famed Zodiac name. During the early days, Zodiac was producing all its cases and movements in-house, a prestigious feat at the time. Then, the company limited itself to the manufacturing of pocket watches.
As the years went by Zodiac soon found itself producing some of the most noteworthy movements and timepieces, but it was not until1953 that the company struck horological gold. From 1953 to 1954, three Swiss watch manufactures burst onto the scene with the introduction of “civilian-ready” tool watches. Those companies were: Rolex, Blancpain, and Zodiac. In 1953 Zodiac released the Sea Wolf while Blancpain released the Fifty Fathoms. The real game changer came in 1954 with the introduction of the Rolex Submariner during Baselworld watch show. The Submariner soon became the go-to watch when it was seen on the wrists of famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau and the iconic character James Bond, played by Sean Connery.
Blancpain’s Fifty Fathoms gained notoriety after it caught the attention of the French Navy and the U.S Navy Seals. But the Zodiac Sea Wolf found itself alone and unaccredited. The watch that had started it all was soon overshadowed. The Sea Wolf although was a favorite amongst soldiers stationed in Southeast Asia due to its durability, affordability, and manageable size of 35 mm. Rolex continued to introduce game changing tool watches, while Blancpain kept adapting its lineage of Fifty Fathoms. However, Zodiac decided to stick to its guns with the Sea Wolf.
Vintage Zodiac Sea Wolf Ad from the 1960s
The Sea Wolf remained unchanged and stayed very much an authentic tool watch for years. This reliable revenue generator allowed the Le Locle based manufacturer to develop some of the most advance watches at the time. Zodiac thrived with the introduction of two notable timepieces: the Dynotron, which became the world’s first electronic watch and the Astrographic, which had an exotic “floating” dial. With the “floating” dial, the minute and hour hands rotated on suspended disks while a small red “moon” circumvents the dial depicting the seconds. Longines came out with a watch with a similar concept known as the Comet.
Zodiac was on a streak developing its own identity, but then disaster struck. A series of killings shook northern California. The man behind the crimes called him self the “Zodiac”. He boasted about his killings by writing coded letters signed with the distinctive Zodiac logo. Soon newspapers started printing the letters and the Swiss manufacturer found itself in a public relations nightmare. The Zodiac killer’s watch of choice… the Sea Wolf. People often say that any press is good press, but that statement did not apply to the embattled watch manufacturer. Zodiac soon saw its profits plunge and its market share disappear. By the end of the Quartz crisis the Zodiac brand was non-existent. That was until Fossil stepped in and bought the Zodiac name and brand in 2001. This revival gave rise to a new line of distinguished Sea Wolfs and other models, as well as refurbished vintage Zodiacs.
Written by Juan Lavalle