When most people hear “Zodiac,” they think of astrology or one of history’s most elusive serial killers. Most do not picture a Swiss watchmaker that has been around since 1882. Like many of their fellow Swiss watchmakers, Zodiac didn’t survive the so-called “Quartz Crisis” of the ’70s and ’80s and has since fallen into obscurity. Which is a shame — for a long time it was an accomplished maker of tool watches, having created one of the world’s first commercial dive watches alongside Blancpain and Rolex in 1953. It has also experimented with high-beat movements and avant-garde design.
More recently, the brand has made something of a comeback, though Zodiac’s revival is best described as a slow-burn return. Acquired by Fossil Group in 2001, the brand remained relatively obscure and unloved for years as its catalog included primarily overly aggressive tool watches powered by quartz movements. But Zodiac has done an about-face, now producing much more reserved, vintage-inspired watches powered by Fossil’s in-house mechanical movements. The brand started with various iterations of its iconic Sea Wolf dive watches and with its latest release, the Jetomatic, the brand is bringing the formula to one of the brand’s old pilot’s watches.
“We still have to build credibility in this space because we’ve gone up and down, up and down,” said Zodiac’s brand manager TJ McKnight. “The ups and downs kind of plague us because the brand has such a great heritage, and we’re expected to do the right thing with it. I think we are now, with the product we have.”
To create the new Jetomatic, Zodiac’s engineering team worked off old drawings of the original watch and even acquired vintage versions to reverse engineer the new watch.
The product is something the present-day watch community has been craving and that beloved brands have been producing for years: faithfully crafted reinterpretations of classic timepieces at reasonable prices. To create the new Jetomatic, Zodiac’s engineering team worked off old drawings of the original watch and even acquired vintage versions to reverse engineer the new watch. The result is a classic-looking timepiece with a matte black-and-cream, two-tone dial with raised numerals and hour indices coated in mint-colored lume that give the face depth. The case itself is 42mm in diameter and keeps the watch water-resistant to 100 meters. It also features a nicely detailed oversized “onion” crown. Overall it has the look and feel of an IWC Mark XVIII at a fraction of the price.
The Zodiac’s good looks are matched by what’s inside: an STP 3-13 automatic movement. While Fossil remains something of a four-letter word among hardcore watch nerds, McKnight notes the acquisition has given Zodiac a valuable and direct line to movements from the Fossil’s STP movement manufacturer. The 3-13 has a similar architecture to the workhorse ETA 2824 automatic movement, but features blued finishing on the screws and a swan-neck regulator. Astoundingly, for the limited-edition version of the Jetomatic, Zodiac was able to get the movement COSC-certified.
For all the watch you get, the Jetomatic comes in at an incredible price: $1,095. Zodiac’s watches tend to dominate the $1,000–$1,500 price range, and while it’s clear to those in the know that the watch stands to be a very good value, it’s a precarious place for Zodiac to be in — given its lack of brand recognition outside of enthusiast circles. McKnight noted that watches in this price range don’t tend to do well in brick-and-mortar boutiques, so Zodiac has launched an e-commerce initiative. Similarly, McKnight said Zodiac doesn’t have the marketing resources of bigger brands and has relied on an increased social presence. That may not exactly sound revolutionary, but given the watch industry’s reluctance to rely on the internet, it’s relatively novel.
In the end, McKnight hopes that Zodiac will become a gateway watch for newcomers in the watch space. “We have a cool story to tell and a quality product. So if I can educate them on that I can get them in the game,” he noted. And he’s certainly on to something. Most other watches that occupy Zodiac’s price point come from younger, upstart brands that don’t have the same history or pedigree luxury watch buyers are looking for, and for Swiss contemporaries like Hamilton and Alpina that occupy the same price bracket, the Zodiac is a match in terms of detailing and quality.
As for the Jetomatic, there’s a certain “in-the-know” allure to watches like it; at worst, the presence on your wrist will garner a respectful nod from even the most persnickety watch geeks. At best, the watch may be seen as part of the full return of a classic Swiss brand.