Review: Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53
After More Than 60 Years The Sea Wolf Still Leads The Pack At Zodiac
Having collected vintage watches (almost exclusively divers) for the past few years, I have been fortunate to come across a number of different models. Ranging in size from 34mm all the way up to 44mm, I have an affinity for almost all of them. In a world of constant reissues, re-imagining, and re-branding, I generally have a firm stance that it is virtually impossible to beat the original. When the opportunity arose a few weeks back to take a brand new Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 for a spin, I thought it could be segued into an opportunity to assess how it stacks up to the original example. Turns out, the crew at Zodiac got a lot of details right.
For those unaware of Zodiac’s history in the diving realm, it is more extensive than most in the community give them credit for. In fact, through the course of my research, I uncovered a few anecdotes or images that lend credibility to the durability and prevalence of the Sea Wolf. Originally introduced in 1953, the Sea Wolf was on the market as early as (or before) horological icons like the Rolex Submariner and Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms. With the capability of reaching depths of 660 feet, it was built for aquatic endeavors, and represented significant utility for a modest monetary investment.
A pet peeve of mine with these modern iterations of vintage divers, is when brands try to manufacture or exaggerate the history of a model. The romanticism of wearing a timepiece that comes from such pedigree means something to those of us with an appreciation for heritage. Ambiguity and marketing tactics can sometimes obscure the legitimacy of a model’s past exploits. In my opinion, verifiable credibility and firsthand accounts reign supreme, and two examples of Zodiac Sea Wolves in action come to mind.
Just a few years back, it was widely accepted (and assumed) that the majority, if not all, Aquanauts from the US Navy SEALAB program wore Rolex Submariners. This is largely true. That being said, not all of these highly skilled divers went for the ubiquitous Rolex. While researching a watch in my collection, I scoured photographic archives from the US Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington. During the process, I came across one individual wearing an original Zodiac Sea Wolf. In the mid 1960’s – when many divers wore a Blancpain Fifty-Fathoms or the aforementioned Submariner, the humble 35mm Sea Wolf was right there making history right alongside these coveted vintage models. Earl Murray (the owner of the SEALAB Sea Wolf I spotted) was an ex-navy serviceman studying at Scripps Oceanographic Institute, and thus served as a civilian diver for the program. I find it kind of perfect that he went with a classic, steel Sea Wolf because it serves as a testament to the utilitarian functionality of the watch.
Another diver, just a decade after SEALAB II, trusted his life to a Zodiac Super Sea Wolf on multiple occasions. In the mid-1970’s, Cliff Newell was working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s dive program. He was sent to train on the JIM suit and assess the feasibility of its use for scientific advancement and research in undersea ecology. Newell wore his 75atm-rated Super Sea Wolf during this training, and beyond while working as an Aquanaut in various programs. He describes his Zodiac timepiece as, "tough as nails and with a good bracelet." - A statement that I think still holds true for modern iterations.
Now that we have looked to the past, it is time to look at the model of today. This modern Sea Wolf features a powder blue bezel – a color that has become more prevalent over the past few years. Interestingly, this is a color that Zodiac introduced on their divers back in the 1960’s, and the hue remains true-to-form. The 40mm case is a contemporary size, but shows restraint on behalf of those responsible for paying homage to the prototypical Sea Wolf. I am not a watch designer or manufacturer, thus I can only speak from the experience that I have in wearing and studying a range of models over the last few years. It seems to me that there is a great challenge in making a modern iteration of a vintage diver – and I think that is often overlooked by the collective community.
I am something of a vintage watch nut. I admit it, and in fact, even embrace it. I like bracelets that feel just a little questionable. My preference is models that focus on functionality, rather than hype or future market value. Nowadays, watches aren’t the tools that they once were, and that is widely accepted among most collectors. I, however, like to feel like my watch could still be a tool. In that regard, Zodiac delivers. In the case of the Sea Wolf, the modern upsizing to 40mm was a good play. The original size, though entirely appropriate, is just a bit smaller than modern proclivities seem to lean.
The white chapter ring as well as the blocky hands and indices are a direct reference to earlier models, and I prefer it over the dauphine-handed version, personally. While the amount of lume is generous, the actual glow is somewhat weak and short-lived. This is an issue that I suspect we will see addressed in the future, but did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the watch. The bezel rotation is crisp, and the use of the transparent insert perfectly mimics the acrylic or Bakelite materials used in the past. The crown features the Zodiac logo, and is quite easy to use. Despite being completely screwed down, it does poke out a bit more than I would prefer, which can make it appear to be unsecured when that is not the case. Like the lume, this doesn’t affect the day-to-day at all, but is an area for improvement in the future.
So often, with watches like this, the bracelet is an afterthought. It rarely amount to much more than a footnote at the bottom of a review. Vintage watches (and consequently modern iterations thereof) can succeed or fail based upon the style of the bracelet. Most new watches seem to feature a consistent thickness, while the vintage realm was all about that taper. The Zodiac Sea Wolf is on a jubilee – which is a bracelet that deserves the same attention to detail given the timepiece itself. Heck – when Cliff Newell thought back on his Zodiac, he specifically mentioned the bracelet! The taper on this Sea Wolf 53 begins at 20mm with the lugs and ends at 16mm meeting the clasp.
If you think I am too stuck on the bracelet, you may be right. However, consider the ramifications this has for the rest of the watches in the Zodiac lineup. If the company is taking the time to honor historical design elements and ensure that the watch still takes advantage of current technology and materials, this means that folks like me who lean heavily into vintage models now have a viable option for a watch that successfully bridges the gap between the past and the future. I can take this zodiac snorkeling, to a barbecue, mowing the lawn, sitting on a beach and anywhere else I choose. Beyond that, I can feel totally confident that the crystal won’t fog up if the humidity is high and that rain won’t permeate ancient seals. I get the joy of a vintage vibe with the security of something brand-new.
What is your take on the current generation Zodiac Sea Wolf? So many vintage-inspired watches exist in the current market. You could say it is saturated even, but then again, based on its presence in SEALAB II - the Zodiac Sea Wolf is a model that can handle saturation! Just a little dive humor for you... Thanks for reading!