One-Watch Summer: Putting The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Diver Through Its Paces In Spain And Portugal
As I diverged from the steep ravine that some friendly locals referred to as a path to let through a group of tourists coming up from the beach, I made a critical error. Leaving the safety of the path exposed me to loose sand and gravel. As I pivoted on my right foot and shifted my weight onto the left, I experienced the kind of gut-wrenching vertigo that you do as the expected grip gives way to a lack thereof. Everything happened in a flash. Due to my instinctual backward-leaning stance, countering the sheer steepness of the rocky descent, I went down on my back. The forward momentum carried me a couple of meters downhill, pushing my backpack up towards my shoulders, leaving the space just above my hips exposed to take the brunt of the fall, and bringing me straight onto the edge of a sandstone outcropping.
As I fell, my arms instinctively swung back to try and cushion the fall. Both of my forearms dug into the rough terrain to try to stop my advance. “Not the watch!” I remember thinking, as I raised my left arm, having come to a stop. A few weeks before getting on a Madrid-bound flight out of Schiphol airport, Mike Pearson sent me a message. He asked whether I had some time to talk about Zodiac. More specifically, to introduce me to the brand, its story, and the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin. That was the watch on my wrist the day I took a tumble on the descent down to Praia da Ursa. In fact, that was the watch on my wrist for every waking hour of my ten-day holiday this summer. Today, I’m here to share with you my thoughts on (and stories with) said watch.
Back to the start
I mentioned that it was a chat with Zodiac’s global brand director Mike Pearson that started all of this. Those of you who aren’t lucky enough to have met Mike should know this about him: the man radiates enthusiasm for watches. And it just so happens that this passion of his is rather contagious. So it didn’t take long after we exchanged a brief greeting and introduced ourselves for the call to take a turn for the deeply nerdy. I had, of course, already heard of Zodiac. My knowledge of the brand stemmed from having watched the namesake 2007 David Fincher movie. Introduced in 1953, the Zodiac Sea Wolf plays a key role in the movie after it is found on a suspect’s wrist in the investigation of a serial killer’s murders. But other than this bit of film trivia, I was fairly clueless.
Sure, I had seen some of the colorful iterations of the Super Sea Wolf GMT released in previous years. But Mike’s overview of the brand opened my eyes and allowed me to appreciate both its rich history, exciting catalog, and big ambitions for the future. You see, unfortunately, the Zodiac brand disappeared in the 1970s. It went the way many other brands also did during the so-called “quartz crisis.” After a series of unsuccessful rebirths, the brand was purchased by the Fossil Group. After some tenuous first steps, the Zodiac began to gather momentum. And if we fast-forward to the present day, we see a brand that has done its share of walking under the respectful stewardship of Fossil and is now ready to run.
Long story short, after our call, Mike said that he’d love to send me a watch for me to check out so that I could gain a better understanding of the brand and get a feel for its watches. I proposed a long-term review: “Send me a watch, and I’ll dedicate my summer holiday to it. I’ll wear it every day, and write a full long-term hands-on review.” Mike agreed. Ultimately leaving the choice up to me, he expressed his personal bias towards the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin. I liked the look of the watch, but looking at all of the colorful options available on the Zodiac site, it felt like a chance to go with something bright for the summer. After much deliberation, I made my choice. The watch I’d spend my summer with would be the teal and turquoise Super Sea Wolf Aquamarine Dream.
This particular model caught my eye due to its brilliant combination of blueish-green tones. It was also a nice touch that it came on a steel bracelet and a rubber strap. And finally, the fact that it had a COSC-certified chronometer movement and a 200m depth rating made it seem like a perfect summer watch. Mostly though, it was the unique colorway. Mike agreed to send me the watch (which I later learned was a limited edition, originally designed by Ariel Adams of aBlogtoWatch) but insisted upon also sending me the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin so that I could “experience the best the brand has to offer.” Boy, was he right! In the end, the bright colors of the Aquamarine Dream were no match for the SSW 53 Skin’s sheer charm and wearability.
My summer watch chose me
Time should never be your main priority when you’re looking to relax and spend it in a leisurely manner. A fun, brightly-colored watch is perfect for brightening up dark winter days. It’s even great for the occasional festive moment in summer. But somehow, the slightly smaller size, the fully-brushed case, and the more subdued black, silver, and orange colorway of the SSW 53 made it hard to take off my wrist. As it turns out (and I know Lex will love this), a more unobtrusive and slightly more subtle and understated watch is best when you are on vacation. And though I still deeply appreciate the Super Sea Wolf Aquamarine Dream, it was just not meant to be. Not for this summer, anyway.
As fate would have it, it would be the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin that would ensnare me with its vintage charms. Mike even sent over an extra black Tropic-style rubber strap, saying, “It’s how I like to wear mine — it doesn’t get much better than this!” The appeal of the mid-century skin-diver aesthetic is undeniable. And when you’re spending long, hot days in and out of the pool or the ocean, it’s also the perfect thing to see when you look down at your wrist. It’s a special feeling. Something like treading in the footsteps of those who truly put these watches through their paces… Back in the days when the Zodiac Sea Wolf prowled the beaches. Back when dive watches were tools and not status symbols. Seeing the Zodiac on my wrist truly inspired a feeling of summertime fun and adventure.
An adventure watch through and through
I wasn’t about to let that inspiration go to waste. There was no time to sit idle and not chase that feeling. Luckily, before I knew it, my bags were packed, and I was on my way to Spain. There, I’d spend my first few days away. I’d catch up with family, enjoy the dry heat (as well as the culinary delicacies) of the central Iberian Peninsula, and jump in the pool every chance I got. Thanks to the Super Sea Wolf’s 200m water-resistance rating, I could do it all worry-free. After a few days, it was time to hit the road. The car was packed. Looking down at my wrist, it was almost a quarter past ten in the morning. I had no reason to doubt it, as the ’53 was running well within chronometer spec. In five hours, I’d be in Cascais, Portugal.
This is where the second half of my holiday would unfold. It was also where the watch would truly be put to the test (even beyond what I had originally planned). My underwater camera had held up well in the pool, so I had faith it would perform well in the (slightly colder) waters of the Atlantic. And though both the camera and the Super Sea Wolf 53 held up beautifully — thanks to a quick rinse with fresh water after every use — a last-minute cancelation from the Cascais Dive Center quickly put an end to what I was most excited about in my visit. Regardless, the watch saw plenty of action. It shrugged off the tumbling surf and faithfully kept time during a couple of outings free-diving. Even during that tumble on the descent to Ursa Beach, it remained unscathed. Thankfully, my NATO strap took the brunt of the fall.
The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin
Reminiscing aside, it’s time to take a closer look at the watch. As I mentioned, the original Zodiac Sea Wolf was introduced in 1953. It’s worth noting that it was one of the first commercial dive watches made available to the public. In fact, it debuted within the same two-year time span as both the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Submariner. The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin pays tribute to the original and comes in a 39mm stainless steel case with a fully brushed finish. The case is 12.7mm thick, including the slightly domed sapphire crystal, and has a rather compact 46.5mm lug-to-lug. It comes on a 20mm Italian rubber strap, but steel bracelet options appear to be available on the website. I wore the SSW 53 Skin on the ZOS1007 Zodiac Tropic-style rubber strap, which perfectly complemented the watch’s vintage skin-diver-inspired aesthetics.
There’s something extremely genuine about its looks. The case, dial, crown, hands, and even the case back feel like something from another time. Like an unusually solid NOS vintage watch, fresh out of the time machine from the mid-1960s. However, it certainly doesn’t err on the side of conventional. The matte black ceramic bezel insert features an orange triangle with a lume pip at 12 o’clock. The rest of the markings, which are filled with the same orange-glowing lume as the dial’s markings, follow a rather unique pattern. The first 15 minutes have extra arrows and shorter hash marks. At 6 o’clock, the number 30 is the only numerical representation on the bezel. On the right side of the case, a signed domed crown with pronounced notches allows you to wind and set the watch.
Vintage inspired with a modern twist
Now, I mentioned plenty of details that make this watch feel special. I want to focus on two aspects of the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin that highlight the careful attention to detail that Zodiac puts into it. First, let’s look at the dial. Its pebbled, matte black texture is fantastic. Catch it in the right light, and it looks like freshly poured asphalt, offering a clear backdrop for plenty of excellent details. The first things you might notice are the sharp hour markers. Like sharks’ teeth of various sizes arranged in a circular fashion, their tips all face the central pinion. Four larger markers, at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, have a dual layer. The first is an applied triangular marker with a brushed texture. The second layer is a generous helping of lume. This is carefully applied to leave a negative of the corresponding number.
Every other hour marker consists of two shapes — an applied metallic block with a ridge cut at its center (aligned with the outer minute track’s hash marks) and a triangular lume application. At 12 o’clock, an applied Zodiac logo (in the same brushed finish as the markers and hands) sits above the brand’s name in white text. Above the 6 o’clock position, the signature scrolling Super Sea Wolf name in bright orange sits atop the words “automatic” and the watch’s water resistance rating — “200m/660ft”. In the center of the dial, we have the hands. Matching the triangle theme, the skeletonized, flat dauphine hands are filled with plenty of orange-glowing white lume. The hour hand is differentiated with a central metal band. The polished seconds hand has an oversize orange-painted arrow tip, which is skeletonized yet left lumeless.
Taking an even closer look
I’ve given you an overview of the physical characteristics of the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin. Now, though, it’s time to talk about the kinds of details you might miss at first glance or without the watch in hand. The first of these is the bezel action. It marks a full turn with 120 loud, precise, mechanical clicks. It’s almost like turning a socket wrench but with an ever-firmer feeling. Personally, it’s the kind of bezel action I want in my watches. Seiko watches tend to err on the side of smoothness, which I’m not a fan of. And on quite the opposite side of the spectrum, the Zodiac SSW 53 feels like a proper purposeful tool. There isn’t a hint of back play or looseness to report. It’s simply bezel perfection. The next thing I want to look at is the case back.
You know a brand cares about its watches when it gets the case back right. Sure, Zodiac could have gone all-out, engraved the amazing Super Sea Wolf character on it, or any number of other cliche things to engrave on the back of a watch. The Zodiac logo also lends itself well to the circular canvas that the case back offers. Instead, it’s kept simple. The outermost edge has a polished dual chamfer, interrupted by the notches for an opening tool. This is followed by a broader sloped polished ring. On this ring, you find the brand’s name and logo, as well as the number out of 500 and other information (including the water resistance and model number). The flat central portion of the case back has a circular brushing and is engraved with the Super Sea Wolf name in the same scrolling text found on the dial.
Quality features of the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin
Now, it’s worth mentioning that all engravings on the case back are beautifully executed. They are not surface-level laser etchings (except for the unique number out of 500). This, combined with the quality feel of the bezel, its perfect knurled edge, and one of the most grippy crowns I have ever experienced, give the watch a qualitative feel. Thanks to the dial’s texture, applied markers/logo, and the matching orange highlights, the watch has depth and character. Nothing here feels like an afterthought. Truthfully, the only weakness seems like a product of well-intentioned ambition clashing with materials that are not quite satisfactory yet. I’m referring to the watch’s orange lume. It is stunning when fully charged with a UV torch, but it fades rather quickly.
The crown, whose logo is also deeply etched, operates the STP1-11. Technically, this is an in-house caliber. I say “technically” because it’s not a Zodiac movement. However, STP (like Zodiac) is owned by the Fossil Group. Personally, I’m not too picky when it comes to whether a movement is in-house or not. What matters is the quality of the movement. Based on the Sellita SW200-1/ETA 2824-2, it’s a classic Swiss workhorse. The movement, which normally has a date, is modified to be truly dateless. There are only two crown positions — one for winding the movement and the second for setting the time. It offers 44 hours of power reserve and beats at 28,800vph. I found it to be one of the most accurate automatics I’ve experienced. The Timegrapher takes my side on this and puts it well within chronometer spec (+2 s/d) in three positions.
On the wrist all summer long
All specs and technical aspects aside, the real test was wearing it all summer long and seeing how it held up. I must say, it really didn’t disappoint. I threw everything you can imagine at the watch (short of scuba diving), and it continues to tick away. From diving into the pool and swimming laps, snorkeling, and free diving to hanging on to the side of a tuk-tuk for dear life on the way up from Sintra to the Palace of Pena. Nights out in Madrid, countless hours on the road, and food poisoning in Cascais, the Zodiac stuck with me through it all. Even my tumble down the gravel path down to Ursa Beach, which left me scraped, bruised, and a little embarrassed, didn’t phase the watch. In fact, looking back at these pictures of my holiday, the watch is now a permanent part of some very happy memories.
Low-key enough not to attract unwanted attention yet brilliantly executed, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin is, in my humble opinion, one of the best dive watches at the sub-€1,500 price point (maybe even up to €2K). Either way, you can’t do better at just under €1,200 for a Swiss-made, automatic dive watch with plenty of charm, the perfect size, and cool cult credibility. The only thing Zodiac needs to do to make this watch perfect is to sort out the lackluster orange lume. But even that is not too much of an issue (as you saw in the pictures above). Ultimately, this watch just puts a smile on my face and makes me want to get back out there. Hopefully, this summer will only be the first of many that I spend with the Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin. But I’ll have to discuss that with Mike.
There you have it, folks! I hope you enjoyed following along with my summertime adventures with the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin dive watch. It has been a truly capable companion for all kinds of adventures. If you live in the Netherlands, head on over to de Bijenkorf and take a look at the Zodiac selection available. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. And should you be in the market for a reasonably priced, Swiss-made dive watch in the 39mm sweet spot, the ’53 might just be one to consider. Keep in mind that these are hand-assembled in Switzerland, and only a couple thousand are produced yearly. For me, it wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after having worn it for several weeks now, I can truly say that it’s a keeper.
Before I wrap things up, let me leave you with this promise: sooner or later, I’ll take this watch on the dive trip that it deserves and which sadly didn’t take place this summer. Stay tuned!
You’ve heard me wax poetic about it, but now I want to hear from you. What do you think of the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin? Do you dig it? Or is it not quite your thing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. For more information, please check out the Zodiac website.