The Classic Zodiac Sea Wolf – A History
THE CLASSIC ZODIAC SEA WOLF
The first diver’s watch with a rotating bezel, the Zodiac Sea Wolf was announced at the Basel Fair together with the Fifty Fathoms from Blancpain in 1953. Both are credited with being the first commercially available diver’s watch. However, the Zodiac was rated at 10 atmospheres (339 feet) and was more highly rated than the Blancpain 50 fathoms (300 feet).
THE EARLY SEAWOLF – COUNT DOWN BEZEL
The earliest models had an external bidirectional steel bezel, and a pre-Sea Wolf prototype model is shown below. This is signed 10 Atm (339 feet) below the Zodiac logo, and name Zodiac, but has a plain screw-down case back.
The dial has numerals at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 with fluted indices elsewhere. The numerals have been inked over. The bezel is elapsed time, with numerals at 45, 30 and 15. The hands are broad lumed Dauphine shape.
This pre Sea Wolf was model number 691 with the AS1361 movement.
An early signed Sea Wolf production model is shown below, now with a count down bezel. Sea Wolf in cursive replaces 10 Atm beneath Zodiac on the dial.
It is shown with the original box below, with the Zodiac Oyster style stretch link bracelet
The original “SWISS” signed white dial below has developed a pinkish-orange patina. The original radium (signified by “SWISS” on the dial) on both the hands and the dial is intact. Over time the Dauphine hands often lost their radium and became skeletons.
The bezel is coin-edged plated brass and has numerals at 15, 30 and 45, and often shows brass at the edges due to wear.
The model number for the early Sea Wolf is 699, found inside the back screw down case back.
The arabic numerals at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 are interspersed with fluted steel baton indices, and the index at 12 is a double trapezium.
The 10 Atm designation on the prototype above is reflected on the screw down back reading ZODIAC SEAWOLF WATER TESTED 10 ATM ESPECIALLY, together with the Zodiac gun sight logo.
The screwdown back is shown above.
The model serial number is engraved between the lugs at 6 o’clock.
The serial numbers of metal bezel models generally run from 122xxxx to 192xxxx The case back is engraved “ZODIAC SEAWOLF WATER – TESTED 10 ATM ESPECIALLY” along with the Zodiac emblem.
The inside of the case back is stamped “Zodiac Ltd” followed by “Le Locle Swiss,””ACIER,””INOXYDABLE” and “699.”
The 17 jewel unadjusted Swiss “Zodiac Ltd.” stamped AS 1624 automatic movement is shown above. After winding the sharply threaded, Zodiac signed crown 39 full revolutions the movement had a power reserve of approximately 42 hours.
This watch measures approximately 34 mm excluding the crown, approximately 37 mm including the crown and approximately 17.5 mm between the lugs. Case thickness, measured from the bottom of the case back to the top of the bezel, is approximately 7 mm. Including the crystal case thickness, this measures approximately 9.5 mm.
Zodiac used A. Schild movements and the 17 jewel AS1624 was used by Zodiac and Ernest Borel. This AS1700 movement was also produced as 1580, 1641,1681 and 1709 and other model numbers are seen on Sea Wolf rotors.
A white dial version is shown above. This is a later model 699 and has the count down bezel but the dial now has triangular indices at 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock with applied numerals inserted into the lume.
The early Zodiac movement (AS1624 without hacking) which predates the calibre 70-72 movement. The AS calibre 1624 was developed in the early 1950s, and runs at 18,000 bph with a running reserve of 42 hours. Zodiac, in conjunction with Doxa, Eberhard, Favre-Leuba, and Girard-Perregaux, later refined AS base calibres to produce the Zodiac calibre 70-72 used in subsequent model Zodiac Sea Wolf.
For reference, the Blancpain had an elapsed time bakelite bezel also marked at 15, 30 and 45. The initial advertising referred to the mil-spec model. <LINK>
SEA WOLF “NORMAL” BEZEL
Early count down bezel Sea Wolf watches are rare, and the replacement bezel from the mid to late 50’s is much more common. The bezel was still plated brass.
Advertisements showed that both men’s and lady’s Sea Wolf models existed with this revised bezel, but lady’s watches are rarely found intact.
The new bezel could be considered either elapsed time or count down, as only 30 was marked on the dial, this time facing outwards, not inwards as for the models above (both Zodiac and Blancpain) and 0 to 15 minutes were marked with dashes and triangles.
Below is the revised bezel. The watch retained the dial from the model shown above with broad lumed dauphine hands. The dial below still reads “SWISS” below 6 o’clock
The 699 model designation continued but the case back changed to a press fit rated initially at 10 atmospheres, later becoming 20 atmospheres.
This watch has the AS1624 movement.
Below is a black dial model with a gold plated bezel, again with broad dauphine hands. The triangle in the bezel is sometimes wider, and lume filled as above and below.
The ZODIAC name, logo plus “SEA WOLF” in cursive are on the top dial at 12 o’clock.
“AUTOMATIC” in cursive is at 6 o’clock and “SWISS T < 25 MC” is on the bottom of the dial.
This represents a change from “SWISS” with radium lumes, to a model emitting less radiation with tritium lumes. T < 25 MC represents an emission of less than 25 millicuries of radiation.
The advertisement above, shown with a black dial model explains the new press-fit case Silic seal, and other aspects of watertightness of the new model.
The diagram demonstrates how the round Silic sealing ring gasket is compressed into a triangular void between the case and the back. If the pressure increases on the back with depth, the compression of the Silic increases, together with the watertightness. However, the case back is consequently often very difficult to remove after use.
The glass is held in by a metal ring which compresses the glass against the case to provide a watertight seal.
The winding crown has a self-lubricating waterproof washer.
The model had black edged broad lumed dauphine hands.
The 10 ATM case back was engraved on the flat, while the 20 ATM casebook was engraved on the slope.
The watch above has the snap-shut type back. Engraved on the watch back is Zodiac Seawolf, (with the Zodiac cross-hair symbol), 10 ATM Especially Water-Tested.
10 ATM case backs are rare, and 20 ATM backs are common. Engraved on the slope of the 20 ATM watch back is : Zodiac Seawolf, (with the Zodiac cross-hair symbol), 20 ATM Especially Water-Tested
Zodiac later included a central back bone in the hands to assist in retaining the lume. This was not always successful.
At some point about 1961 the calibre 70-72 17 jewel movement was introduced and the inside back case was engraved 702-916.
“AUTOMATIC” in cursive is at 6 o’clock and “SWISS T < 25 MC” is on the bottom of the dial.
The signed 17 jewel Zodiac calibre 70-72 automatic movement was introduced in 1961, and has an AS1687/1688 calibre base, and runs at 21600 bph with a running reserve of 40 hours. The movement is hackset, and the calendar function is quickset (old style). This very successful AS calibre, later with 21 jewels was produced under the Communautee Horlogere de Precision, and was also used by Doxa, Girard Perregaux, Favre-Leuba, and Eberhard & Cie. for their men’s automatics during the 1960’s.
The AS1624 movement gave way to the 70-72 series and became model numbers 702-916 for the no date version and 722-916 Datomatic below.
The 70-72 movement family was based on the manual wind calibre AS 1687/1688.
The automatic mechanism was a joint development of Doxa, Eberhard, Favre-Leuba, Girard-Perregaux, and Zodiac.
Ranff specifies for the family:
61: manual wind
68: manual wind, date
72: automatic, date
74: automatic, calendar
75: automatic, 24h display, date
76: automatic, day, date
78: automatic, date
86: automatic, day, quickset date
88: automatic, quickset date
The first model the 702-916 had no date and had dauphine hands with broad lumes. The lume material was prone to falling out, and the hands were changed to have a central spine.
The hands now commonly had a backbone. This model has the wider lume filled triangle on the bezel. Model numbers progressed to 732-916.
SEA WOLF DATOGRAPHIC
In the early 1960s the Zodiac acquired a date complication, and the Sea Wolf Datographic was launched. The model number inside the back case was 722-916.
Datographic advertising in the June 1962 Playboy referred to the Adventurer’s Watch ….in and out of the water, with an 17 jewel automatic.
Early models still had the broad lume dauphine hands from the no date Sea Wolf but most had backbone dauphine hands. Broad lume triangle featured at 0 on the bezel.
Flexible expanding bracelet on original watch
Inside case back reads 722-916
The watch was popular with GIs serving in Vietnam, and was advertised in 1966 – 9 armed forces newspapers.
The advertisement below reads :
Most popular watch in 3/4 of the world
3/4 of the world is underwater. In that world, skindivers have made the self-winding Zodiac Sea Wolf their undisputed first choice. Big. luminous, easy-to-read dial. Tested and guaranteed for waterproofing and accuracy 660 feet underwater. Sweep second hand and movable bezel to tell your time under at a glance. Unbreakable lifetime mainspring and balance staff. There’s no better watch, no better value for active sportsmen. Men’s or ladies’; black or white dial; Model 1750 W, $110.
BAKELITE – WHITE OR LIGHT BLUE BEZEL
The models with a white or light blue bezel are 1750B and 1750W and the serial numbers of these bakelite bezel models generally run from 192xxxx
Usually, a 72B movement is used. The model number is 722-946.
The advertising pamphlet from the period is shown below.
The right hand side (front cover) advertises the Super Sea Wolf, no. 1796 for $150, also Datomatic models nos. 1763 (gold), 1750B (black), and 1750W (white). The left hand side (back cover) advertises nos. 1781B, 1781W, no date 3080B, 3080W, and also Ladies Sea Wolf, nos. 2062B and 2062W. The pamphlet also lists the Sea Wolf Features. Most watches are priced at $100 to $110.
Zodiac Sea Wolf two-tone yellow gold plated and stainless steel watch with original two tone jubilee style bracelet.
A white bakelite bezel, white dial model, with contrasting lume at 0 on the bezel.
The rarer no date version 3080W is below.
Below is the light blue bezel model.
Below is the black dial 1750B with white bezel.
Above is the no date 3080B model.
The 72B movement was used in the bakelite bezel model with date and 72 movement without date.
A famous example of a watch also using this movement is the very rare Girard-Perregaux Observatory Chronometer.
However, despite the pedigree, as explained in Steve Kings Blog the offset cannon pinion is a problem for this 72B movement. “To most of us, the term “offset cannon pinion” sounds like a jumble of seemingly unrelated words, but to a Zodiac collector it’s an all too familiar and dreaded part within their timepiece. It causes a thoroughly annoying problem, and worse than that, it is a long obsolete and out-of-production part. While decent Sea Wolfs can be purchased in the $200 to $300 range, an offset cannon pinion will run you about $80 on eBay, if its available.”
This leads to the unbelievably annoying problem that the mechanism works perfectly, but the minute and hour hands will not advance.
The 1750 models are shown at the top in the pamphlet above, but adjacent, using the same case numbering is the orange 1781B.
A very rare ladies Sea Wolf is shown on the bottom left of the pamphlet and below. Model 2062B. This is 30mm diameter, and has the Cal. 46-47 movement, case back model number is 472-346.
This next model also used the 72B movement, and carried 722-946 on the inside case back, which otherwise was identical to the 722-926.
This had an orange chapter ring, and came in black dial with rectangular indices, with no numerals. The date window was framed in orange. The hour hand is white with 2 lumes, and the minute hand is orange with one lume. The crown protruded from the case and was easily damaged.
The white dial version with a black hour hand and the original bracelet is shown below.
All Zodiac Seawolf models have the serial number engraved in the case between the lugs at 6 o’clock.
Rolex Watch forum: Frogman4me
ZODIAC 53 SKIN
Although Zodiac made other Sea wolf models, they deviated from the long-run classic style and are not covered in this article, and even the 1781W/B only really pays homage to the bezel and movement. Some can be seen in the advertisements above. The SST 36000 coffin or bullhead case model 862-952 with the hacking Cal. 86 movement is perhaps the most interesting.
Zodiac fell on hard times, but the brand is now part of the Fossil group stable, and in 2015 the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin was released as a heritage model. Curiously this does not say Sea Wolf on the dial, or the back case but otherwise has many design features of the early Sea Wolf Datomatic. The series is ZO92xx and is easily found on the internet.
The Sea Wolf has stayed true to its classic looks for a long period of time and has always been affordable. However good examples are becoming hard to find.
The keeper would be something like the NOS orange Sea Wolf shown below. While a deviation from the classic dial, the orange chapter ring makes this a very desirable watch, although difficult to maintain.
Expect to pay $1500+/- for a good example.
Image Vintage Zodiacs: Nalu
The grail would be first or second-generation model 699. Decidedly rare.
Generally, the no-date Sea Wolf is slightly more desirable and reliable than the later push-in quickset date Datographic version, and the early model with the Arabic numerals on the count down is very rare.
Expect to pay $2000 for a pristine version.
Alternatively, a NOS version might be found in the original box in a similar price range.