Affordable Vintage: Replica Zodiac Sea Wolf
Zodiac launched the Sea Wolf divers replica watch in 1953. When it was a featured at the Swiss Replica Watch Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, it really gained in popularity. The Sea Wolf featured the caliber 70-72 automatic movement that was a collaboration between ETA and A. Schild. The first model did not hack, but shortly after its debut they added a hacking mechanism. It featured a newly designed snap on case back w/gasket that they labeled as “20 ATM. Especially Water Tested”. This new sealing system, combined with the thick and highly domed acrylic crystal and a longer crown tube enabled the Sea Wolf to function as a genuine tool divers replica watch, rated to a depth of 660 feet.
The Sea Wolf is instantly recognizable with its bold triangle hour markers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, and unique lume filled triangle hands. This combination really gave the Zodiac a look like no other luxury replica watch at the time, or even to this day for that matter. The first generation Sea Wolf had triangle hands with only lume in them. Very soon after they switched to hands that had a line of metal through the middle if the hand, like the replica watch pictured here.
The original model came with a metal bezel, and later it was switched out for an acrylic bezel. Unfortunately, both bezels are plated brass, and easily susceptible to wear. The one pictured here has a mint metal bezel, and you can easily see the original matte finish. They came with either gloss black or white dial, and with a non-date and date option (called the Datographic). Unfortunately, the movement in the Datographic utilizes an offset cannon pinion that is prone to wear, and replacements are impossible to find. This weakness is not present in the non-date version, making the non-date much more desirable to collectors.
The good thing about this new movement was that is was thinner, and enabled the replica watch to be thinner as well. The original metal bezel version is a mere 7.5mm thick at the bezel, and just over 11mm including the highly domed crystal. At just under 35mm wide not including the oversized signed crown and with 17.4mm lugs, the Sea Wolf is downright svelte compared to other divers of the era.
The Sea Wolf was available with two different bracelets. The older version is a riveted oyster style with stretch links that was made by Zodiac. The later versions came with a JB Champion bracelet that looks a bit like the jubilee style. I’ve had both, and the JB Champion one is very nice and definitely more comfortable, but the stretch oyster has a “cool” factor that can’t be beat. The oyster is much harder to find, especially with the stretch links functioning properly.
The Sea Wolf is not a scarce replica watch by any means, but I’ve found them to be quite difficult to find in excellent condition. The plating on the bezel wears very quickly, leaving a brassy look to the edge of most examples. Plus, this was a replica watch that was very often used for its intended purposes, lending itself to wear from use. They were also sold at the PX military stores during the Viet Nam war.
The hacking feature and excellent water resistance combined with a cheaper price than others available at the PX made them quite popular with soldiers. Given their military connection and relative scarcity in good condition, the Sea Wolf has increased in value over the years. They can be found anywhere from $200 for a well used one, up to nearly $1000 for a pristine example with an original bracelet and box and papers. I’ve found that with some patience, a decent example can be found for around $500.
Zodiac expanded on the Sea Wolf line later on, adding a number of variations. There was one with an orange minute hand and orange minute track which looks very cool, and a chronograph diver too. The also did a Super Sea Wolf housed in a cushion shaped Super Compressor case. This one also came in a chronograph option. They had a gold plated dress diver version, as well as the SST which featured a “coffin” shaped case and an internal rotating divers bezel. Even later they released a newly designed Super Sea Wolf with a “buzz saw” style bezel, a sapphire crystal, and a huge 43mm case rated to a depth of 1000m.
According to a printed Zodiac advertisement, this Super Sea Wolf model was used by the U.S. Navy Frogmen and U.S. Navy Seals, and was the official replica watch of the Naval Special Warfare’s Underwater Demolition Team. These are all excellent replica watches that are popular with collectors, but nothing is quite as iconic as the original black dialed version with those unique triangle markers and hands.
The Zodiac Sea Wolf also has a bit of infamy attached to it, which we covered in our article, Replica Watches on the Screen: Zodiac. In the late 1960’s the Zodiac Killer terrorized San Francisco killing a confirmed seven, but potentially up to 37. He signed his cryptic letters to the police with what looks a lot like the Zodiac Replica Watch logo (cross in a circle). In the David Fincher film “Zodiac”, the main suspect is seen wearing a white dialed, metal bezel Sea Wolf. This reflects the true fact that their prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, was known to wear a Sea Wolf.
According to the fine folks at Zodiac, they are reaching back into their past and in the next couple of years coming out with the Heritage 1882 series, a nod to the year the company was founded. I’ve been told by Zodiac that in the Spring/Summer of 2015 they plan to release a Heritage version of the Sea Wolf! I was very pleased to hear that they are embracing their roots, and hopefully this will help to restore Zodiac to their former glory.
It looks very much like the vintage Sea Wolf, but with modern specs and durability. The Heritage Sea Wolf will measure 39mm wide, and feature an in-house Swiss automatic caliber STP1-11 movement. It will be rated to 20ATM, with stainless steel case and bracelet, AR coated sapphire crystal front and back (!), with Superluminova C3 on the indices and hands. It will be priced at $1195 on the bracelet. They even mentioned to me that the available bracelet will have “some stretch” in it, a great homage to the original stretch oyster bracelet. This is one replica watch I’ll be looking forward to!
by Christoph McNeill a.k.a. @vintagediver