Sometimes, it just takes time and patience to find the watch you’ve had on a wanted list…and that’s exactly what I had to withstand when it came to locating the subject of this week’s #TBT, the Zodiac Sea-Chron. Believe it or not, a Sea-Chron had been on my list for roughly a year before I landed the piece before you. It wasn’t really that I had not seen any for sale, I was simply hunting “bigger game” and figured I’d be able to later grab a Zodiac on a whim. Silly me: this is 2016 and we’re all aware of what has happened with vintage chronographs as far as pricing and availability, so I had to wait. As we get into the details behind this wonderful watch, I hope that you’ll end up agreeing that the Sea-Chron should be a tough watch to find – it’s simply that good.
Spending quality time with the Zodiac Sea-Chron
First of all, I took delivery of the Zodiac Sea-Chron less than a month ago. I then wore it every few days while at a weeklong conference in the USA and then, with a one week breather in between, almost daily for a week while vacationing in Tenerife (a lovely place once you step away from the all-day English breakfast places…). For so many of us out there, at least most of the folks I speak with, we have been collecting at somewhat of an alarming pace. With the Zodiac, I feel like I took the time, stopped, and smelled the roses and it was really very rewarding. When I write #TBT, I do try to give my thoughts about a particular watch after owning it for at least some period of time, but I’m not sure if I’ve penned an article having worn a watch for so long of a consecutive period. In any case, despite the hit your Instagram account might take (kidding…), try it for a week…you really get a feel for the absolute detail behind a watch that you may have bought purely based upon pictures on the internet. And now that I’ve given my public service announcement…
I have no beef with Zodiac as a brand. In fact, they’ve done a nice job of reinventing themselves under the large umbrella called Fossil. They’ve reissued some fantastic pieces, primarily in the diving genre, from the 1960’s and early 70’s and I enjoy their heritage. A funny thing happened, though, when I was over in the USA and showed the Zodiac Sea-Chron to my Dad. First off, he really liked the watch and all the detail, but as someone who grew up diving in the 1960’s and 70’s down in South Florida, he gave a little chuckle and stated that Zodiacs were thought of as somewhat disposable back in the day. That’s not to take away from their history – heck, Shelby Cobras were largely disposable after they’d been through a few seasons of racing, but it is an interesting reminder of how we view things retrospectively today and how time does help beautify certain things. Yes, I like Zodiac’s vintage divers such as the Sea Wolf, but as it is the case for so many of yesteryear’s brands, Zodiac cranked it up a notch with the Sea-Chron.
The Zodiac Sea-Chron – some history
Unbeknownst to most, Zodiac had been making a very attractive, but far more rudimentary three-register Valjoux 72-powered chronograph prior to the introduction of the Zodiac Sea-Chron in the later 1960’s. The Zodia-Chron, as it was known, was equipped with a fairly slender stainless case and a non-rotating tachymeter bezel (dot over ninety, present and accounted for) and a style more typical of the early 60’s. It even contained Zodiac’s “hermetic” in script on the dial to announce that it was, like so many other Zodiacs, able to survive the water. These are what I’d called “under the radar” pieces today, but they do show up on the market from time to time. The Sea-Chron that replaced it, though, was a watch far more in tune with the times.
Those lovely roating bezel chronographs
We’ve talked before about how the mid to late 60’s saw a real boom in diving and all things watersports. It was also a real high point for other adventurous pastimes such as motorsport and personal aviation. It was here that brands, such as Breitling, Gallet, Heuer, Fortis, Enicar, Croton, and Zodiac decided to mix it all together to create what just might be my favorite sub-genre of vintage chronographs: the rotating bezels. For certain, not all rotating bezel chronographs were created for the purpose of diving, but it did give watch brands the ability to add a non-static scale for measurement purposes in lieu of throwing more and more information on an already busy dial. This idea wasn’t invented in the 1960’s but it definitely blossomed into a popular option and the Zodiac Sea-Chron was just one of the models in the mix.
Diving into the details of the Zodiac Sea-Chron
True to the brand’s heritage, the Zodiac Sea-Chron features a big, bold diver’s bezel around its crystal. It’s, without a doubt, the defining characteristic on this watch despite a number of intriguing differences versus similar contemporaries. In the case of mine, the bezel is black –it’s gone a bit grey over time – but there are later pieces where the bezel is uniquely silver with black script. It’s a very peculiar and simple bezel that contains a lume pip at 12:00 (or “0”) and then triangles for the first 20 minutes to provide ample warning to a diver that the hour is running short. Amazingly, other than some sticks every five minutes, a sole Arabic “30” shows on the bezel. Plus, it’s a very thick bezel with ample knurling all the way around its diameter. I find it relatively easy to spin, but it certainly isn’t loose. There’s certainly no notching as it spins bi-directionally and I must say that trusting this piece as your air supply monitor without switching on the chronograph must have been a dodgy ordeal indeed!
I normally mention the movement first, but because the bezel on the Zodiac Sea-Chron just jumps out so much, I started there, but one thing that adds to the lust worthiness of this watch is its mechanical heart. Of course, it features the well-known and proven Valjoux 72 that was used in so many of history’s great chronographs. Here, its employment is extremely obvious due to some monster pushers – gloved users would love these – and the familiar further offset from center of the lowermost.
Starting the old lump is a familiar, and reassuring, feeling transmitted through a reasonably large, but more long, signed crown. It’s a nice tactile experience and I appreciate Zodiac going to the length of signing it and making it long enough to provide ample clearance from the slightly overhanging bezel.
The case on the Zodiac Sea-Chron is in stainless steel, complete with adorned screw-down case back denoting its 200m-water resistance. It has a diameter of roughly 39mm and a convenient lug spacing of 20mm. The design of the case is a bit different than a lot of period chronographs with its softish lugs and mild chamfers. It is awfully close to the previously reviewed Meylan chronograph (I mentioned that it seemed that both used the same case), but, watch detectives, it is a bit different. The Zodiac’s lugs are thicker and in order to accommodate a greater depth rating, the underside of the case seems a bit thicker as well. Now, let’s move on to where everything is gained or lost – the dial.
The Zodiac Sea-Chron has a very different dial than its Valjoux 72 powered counterparts. You’ll note that, perhaps in a nod to cost savings, there are no solid objects applied to the dial. Massive, still green, tritium pillows of lume were screened onto the matte black dial along with any of the writing that you see. Add to this an outer track for the tachymeter and you have a dial that most closely resembles the previously reviewed Gallet Multichron Pilot – but that model contained applied torch indices. I’m not slighting the Zodiac’s dial at all. In fact, I find the big lume indices striking and particularly like the big circle at 12:00. Another detail worth mentioning is the smaller hours sub register at 6:00. Perhaps this was a concession to the fact that most divers would normally have used the larger minutes and running seconds registers and it gave the wearer the ability to glance very quickly for a readout. In any case, it’s a neat difference. Other little niceties show themselves such as big diver-esque hour and minute hands filled with delineated regions of lume. Also, you’ll note that the sub register hands have silvered pivots and black stick hands – nice one! All in all, with its very moderately domed crystal, the dial on the Sea-Chron comes off as well-spaced despite all of the detail and looks fairly large.
The Zodiac Sea-Chron is a real eye catcher
Finding a Zodiac Sea-Chron on its original period JB Champion bracelet is rare, so I’ve basically been wearing it on leather. In most of these pictures, I have it on the Rover Haven shell cordovan strap that I reviewed and I think that it looks wonderful and complements the acquired ghosty patina on the bezel along with the fade that exists on the dial. As for wearing, well, this is such a great watch. Yes, it’s smaller than the Breitling 765CP that I am so fond of, but there’s a chalky similarity in how they both look (the Breitling also lacks any applied pieces on its dial) despite more writing on the Zodiac’s dial. The Zodiac has great presence and could comfortably rest as the cornerstone of anyone’s collection.
Zodiac Sea-Chron’s are still affordable
Speaking of collectability, here’s the funny thing about the Zodiac Sea-Chron: they’re still pretty darn affordable. Despite a market that’s gone nutty, Sea-Chrons can still be found for well under $2,500. Blame it on the brand name, the fact that they were relatively easily to source up until 6 months ago, or the fact that many exist with a highly grimy patina, but they’ve been slow to take off in price. Still, at roughly $2,500 (even less for a silver bezel), this represents what is probably a 30% increase in value over the last 6 months or so and I’d guess that values would continue to creep north. I sourced this piece on, where else, eBay and actually found the seller’s Instagram account and chatted with him. It’s definitely an honest watch that has received attention in the past and it currently runs beautifully. The only thing I did was polishing the crystal to expose more of that lovely dial. When you’re looking for a Sea-Chron, go for originality and ensure that moisture hasn’t caused extensive damage inside – remember, these were originally made for the water. Check for relumes, but also realize that due to the extreme amount of lume, greenish examples exist and they actually may glow for 20-30 seconds after seeing bright light. As mentioned, crowns should be signed and the cap pushers are a lot bigger than most pieces from the era. Aside from that, the bridge on the Valjoux 72 should be signed and do take comfort that they’re at least serviceable.
Since obtaining the Zodiac Sea-Chron, it’s done heavy time on my wrist and I’m oddly in no rush to wear something else. I’ve also noticed, and maybe it was just the tropical scenery, that when I posted pictures of this watch, it was as well received as anything that I own – and maybe more than most. Yes, this Zodiac is a great looking chronograph and a very rare bargain in the marketplace for now. Let us know in the comments below if you happen to own one of these great watches and what you think. Until next week…