Sometimes I really wish I would have been in my 20’s in the 1950s so that I could have attended the 1953 and 1954 Basel Fairs that saw the unveiling of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Rolex Submariner, and Zodiac Sea-Wolf. What an exciting couple of years! Each of these watches offered something a little different, however they were all pioneers of the modern dive watch. Zodiac is the least talked about of these three brands, although it is not less deserving of praise. Zodiac, as a brand, was founded many decades before Hans Wilsdorf got into the horological game. Furthermore, Zodiac is also a brand that has innovated in many ways and the Sea-Wolf is a good example of that.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the first Sea-Wolf from 1953, what it had in common with the first Fifty Fathoms and Submariner, what it did differently, and briefly talk about its evolution.
The First Zodiac Sea-Wolf from 1953
Dive watches born in the 1950s were smaller than they are today. The first Sea Wolf, as far as I could tell, measured 35mm in diameter, 43mm lug-to-lug, and came with a 18mm lug width. By all means, these dimensions were outstanding although they seem diminutive by today’s standards. (I secretly wish that an independent brand would dare make a diver this small again.) Despite its reasonable dimensions, the 1953 Sea-Wolf was a capable watch and boasted 100 meters of water resistance, twice that of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms which many collectors and historians believed to be the most robust dive watch of that period.
The dial of the first Sea-Wolf was ultra legible. It came with Dauphine hands and Arabic numerals at the cardinal points that were framed with applied triangular markers. This made the Sea-Wolf ultra legible and somewhat equally as badass as the Fifty Fathoms that came with a massive bezel insert and large printed numerals. From a mechanical standpoint, the 1953 Sea Wolf was powered by a A. Schild automatic caliber. (A. Schild was a Swiss movement manufacturer in operation between the 1890s and 1970s.) Having an automatic movement aided in keeping the watch water resistant as it reduced the number of times a crown had to be unscrewed to wind the movement.
How it Measured Up to the Competition
All dive watches born in the 1950s came with the usual attributes of dive watches: a legible dial, water resistance, a screw-down crown and case-back, and a rotating bezel. The fact that historians say of the bezel of the Sea-Wolf that it was unidirectional would imply it had clicks, like the one found on the Fifty Fathoms of the same year, while the bezel on the first Submariner was bidirectional and friction-fitted. (As far as I know.) The bezel on the Blancpain came with markings for each 5-minute increment, indicated with hash marks and numerals, while the one on the Sea-Wolf had a full graduation for the first 15 minutes. That made the Sea-Wolf a little extra special compared to the competition.
Having designed the bezel in this way, it could be used either as a count-up or count-down bezel, something that wasn’t as straightforward on the Blancpain. This type of bezel markings became standard shortly after the Sea-Wolf was released, and was made famous by none other than the Rolex Submariner. But it should be noted that a subsequent version of the Sea-Wolf had a fully-graduated scale for the first 30 minutes, making it even more practical and versatile. And as mentioned in the introduction, the Zodiac had double the water resistance of the Blancpain, making it a better dive watch.
Evolution of the Zodiac Sea-Wolf
As all divers born in the same golden years of 1953/54, the Sea-Wolf evolved tremendously over the past few decades. Although Zodiac stopped its production shortly after the beginning of the Quartz Crisis, it brought it back to life and with great strength when Zodiac was acquired by the Fossil group in 2001. Since then, the Sea-Wolf collection has seen many iterations, showcasing unusual combinations of colors and the addition of GMT complications, as well as “in-house” calibers. I put the quotation marks around “in-house” because the movements are produced by STP which was acquired by the Fossil Group in 2012. So they are made by a sister company, not by Zodiac proper.
While both the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and Rolex Submariner retail for close to $10,000 in 2023, the Zodiac Sea-Wolf retails for roughly $1,600. This means, in some way, that the Sea-Wolf remained somewhat affordable while its early competitors became luxury items. (However, quality luxury items.) Zodiac even re-created the original 1953 diver in the model called Sea Wolf Skin which has preserved the unique dial and bezel layouts that made the original model stand out from the crowd. This model also retails for $1,600.Featured image: www.theoandharris.com