Cozumel, 1970, 30 years before Señor Frog’s opened across from the cruise ship pier. Bobbing offshore in a small panga, Palancar Reef 80 feet below, you dust yourself with talc and wriggle into your rubber dive suit. After spitting in your oval mask, you awkwardly shoulder a twin set of 40-cubic-foot tanks and puff in your Sportways Waterlung regulator. On one wrist, a compass and depth gauge; on the other, Zodiac’s latest dive watch, the massive Super Sea Wolf, with its brightly colored dial marking and the incredible water resistance of 750 meters. You push the bezel and twist it to align the zero marker with the minute hand, press your mask to your face and roll back into the Caribbean.
Long before digital dive computers, a watch was an essential piece of kit, tracking dive time to ward off the bends; and while dive watches had their origins in the 1950s, they reached their zenith in the late ‘60s. Better gaskets and case construction let watch brands produce watches with abyssal depth ratings in a competitive race to the bottom. The style trends of the day brought angular, modernist designs. It was in this era that the alpha male of this pack was born: Zodiac’s Super Sea Wolf.
With the resurgent interest in nostalgic watch designs and the continued popularity of dive watches, there has been an upswell of retro-style dive watches in the past few years. Last year, Zodiac released its Super Sea Wolf 53, an homage to its seminal Sea Wolf, one of the world’s first purpose-built diving watches. This year sees another blast from Zodiac’s past: the Super Sea Wolf 68, paying faithful tribute to its legendary forebear.
While it may seem like the easy way out to simply dust off a set of design drawings and reproduce a watch from 1968, to understand the appeal of the Super Sea Wolf 68 is to understand what Zodiac was and how far they fell. Let’s get one thing out of the way — Zodiac is now owned by Fossil. But while that poster child of oversized shopping mall watches may be regularly shunned by enthusiasts as mere fashion fodder, Zodiac has risen from the ashes of the quartz crisis and bankruptcy to earn back the respect it had in the decades when it was the tool watch of choice of airline pilots and Navy divers alike. To see solid offerings from Zodiac like the Super Sea Wolf 68 is like welcoming back a fallen hero.
The dive watch remains popular today not because people are diving, or because divers are even wearing watches (they aren’t). No, it’s because dive watches are simply the single most badass thing a man can wear. Aviator sunglasses? Sure, but not indoors or at night. Combat boots? A little creepy. But a massive watch with a glowing dial, long rubber strap and tactical rotating bezel is a 24/7 symbol of readiness and masculinity. Add the name, in retro cursive script, “Super Sea Wolf,” to the dial and you have a watch that grabs attention.
The solid, if unremarkable, STP1-11 calibre that ticks inside the Super Sea Wolf 68 comes from Fossil’s in-house Swiss movement factory. The finishing of its steel case and sunburst dial, with its lumed applied markers is flawless, even under a 10x loupe. The minute track rehaut “floats” above the dial, giving three-dimensional depth. Zodiac even reproduced the spring-loaded bezel with its functional locking ring perfectly. The long rubber strap, scented like vanilla, is pure 1970s dive goodness.
Cozumel, 2016, 85 feet down, you’re swimming past the coral heads on Palancar. Your dive computer starts beeping; it’s time to ascend. At 15 feet, you pause for a three-minute safety stop to let your body off-gas accumulated nitrogen. Hovering there, drifting in the blue, you count down the minutes, not with your digital dive computer, but with the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 68 on your wrist. Feels just as good as it did 40 years ago.