From barn find Rolex halo references like “Newman” Daytonas and “Big Crown” Subs to oddities and obscurities from every marque you’ve heard of (and even a few that you haven’t), to technologically astounding works of horological art from the great independent manufacturers, Tyler hasn’t just seen it all – he’s seen it through a loupe, he’s measured the movement’s amplitude, and he’s had it on his wrist long enough to tell you exactly what details make a watch truly special.
Between vetting and analyzing vintage pieces for C + T’s collection and his own passion for watches, Tyler’s developed into more than just a respected watch dealer, but a serious student of horology and brand history. Shortly after I took the gig as C + T’s Senior Editor, I found myself at the office with Tyler after hours. As we talked shop and mutually drooled over some rare pieces that were being photographed for listings, I asked Tyler what his true love was when it came to his own collecting pursuits. What manufacturer ultimately captured the heart of a man that spends every day handling and analyzing killer vintage pieces?
Tyler walked over to the safe, pulled out a watch roll, and unfurled it on his desk, revealing an incredibly diverse collection of Zodiac watches. Tyler explained his love of the brand, its design language and heritage, and its place in horological history over a bevy of colorful Sea Wolf references, a handsome Triple Calendar Moonphase, some Aerospace GMTs, and even a Sea-Chron. So, it makes quite a bit of sense that Zodiac is the first brand C + T has brought on to spearhead our collection of heritage-inspired modern offerings. Not only is it a brand we’ve all grown increasingly passionate about, but a brand that we believe produces some of the finest vintage-inspired watches on the market today – and at a price point that makes vintage vibe and tangible horological heritage attainable for the masses.
As we prepare to unveil our offerings from our new partner Zodiac’s modern lineup, we spoke with Tyler about his love of the marque, his own pursuits as a collector and fan of Zodiac watches, and why he, as an expert, believes Zodiac is the heritage brand to watch right now.
How did you initially get into Zodiac as a brand? Vintage Zodiac is a little off the beaten path for a lot of people that are just getting into watch collecting, and I think it’s a brand that a lot of us have to blossom into properly appreciating.
I first got into Zodiac in late 2017. It was very early in my career with Craft + Tailored and at that time, I hadn’t had a ton of exposure to Zodiac, but I was experiencing the natural progression most collectors go through, where they get into like the big names first and then discover different sub-sectors and avenues to become very passionate about through the education process. Learning about the Sea Wolf models and selling a few of them started to hook me in as a serious Zodiac fan, but there was one Sea Wolf that really ignited the obsession for me. It was a “tropical” dial Sea Wolf (ref. 722-946B) with a bezel that had a lilac blue look and it was on its original bracelet. It was in crazy good condition throughout, which was rare because a lot of those Sea Wolfs from the early ‘70s era with glossy black dials can be pretty thrashed if they’ve gone “tropical.” This example was super clean throughout and it really sold me as a Zodiac fan. That watch blew me away and I had to keep it for myself, even though it had originally been bought for us to sell. I ended up selling that watch recently, but it was a favorite in my collection for a long time.
My Zodiac collection has grown and things have come and gone since, but that first Sea Wolf really sent me down the rabbit hole. I was already interested in the brand and I thought it was cool that they produced the first dive watches and their history is one that should intrigue any watch collector, but getting that first really stellar piece really ignited a fire for the brand in me.
I think a lot of people are drawn to Zodiac for the overall aesthetic. What features beyond the brand’s history and heritage really drew you in?
The aesthetic is definitely a driving factor because vintage Zodiac watches – especially the colorful Sea Wolf models – had an aesthetic that was very unique at the time. A lot of other major manufacturers have undeniably taken inspiration from the early Zodiac stuff when it comes to how they apply color to their bezels and dials. when they were primarily seen as a very professional company.
The Zodiac Sea Wolf that came out in 1953 was one of the first professional diving watches that was ever produced, and while that first design was pretty no nonsense and straightforward, the brand quickly took that first design and evolved it. They recognized early that a lot of their watches weren’t just being purchased by professional divers, but also recreational divers and the idea of having some fun with their designs came into play pretty quickly. These watches were being sold to hobbyists and in the same way that people have fun with board shorts and other recreational gear, people wanted stuff that gave the wearer a sense of personality. That sort of individualistic identity is what drew me to vintage Zodiac so deeply, because they’re aesthetically very fun watches that don’t visually take themselves too seriously, but are ultimately very serious and collectible dive watches. Zodiacs are watches that you can wear and be very different, but still have a serious and collectible watch that you can bring to a watch meetup and make a splash with because the fun design elements the brand has always played with really stand out more than something more generic like a no-date Submariner – which is a fantastic watch, but not huge on personality.
Most people can only afford one good Submariner, but for a fraction of the money, you can really explore the best of vintage Zodiac, which was a direct competitor to Rolex in-period.
Yeah, definitely. For $14,000 you can get yourself a pretty nice Rolex Submariner; you could get something like twelve different vintage Zodiacs for that amount of money – maybe more – and all of them being vastly different and all of them like scratching a different itch within a collection. The thing a lot of people don’t consider is that Zodiac’s line has always been about more than just the Sea Wolf. One of my favorite watches that I have is a Zodiac Triple Calendar Moonphase from the late ‘60s. The watch is beautiful and has a gorgeous “tropical” moonphase and the whole package is very, very cool and very well done, but it’s a watch that would sell for maybe $2000 retail. If any other watch company as well-known as Zodiac produced a similar watch, say Omega for example, it would be at minimum $5k if it was in steel and closer to $15k if it was in yellow gold. The point being you can get really cool, world class stuff with Zodiac for a really approachable price, and that includes a full range of what collectors would be interested in and includes everything from highly-complicated watches, to chronographs, GMTs, and obviously iconic diving watches, but Zodiac’s name and heritage holds weight now and it is a collectible brand, but they’re just one of those under-the-radar brands whose true value hasn’t caught up with their price point yet.
My attraction to dive watches is that they were purpose-built tools and that were intended to be used in a rugged, utilitarian way, and it’s ironic to me that something like a no-date Rolex Sub is a luxury item now. To me, that shift erodes some of the inherent allure – and not just because they’re expensive, but ideologically. So to me, Zodiac’s divers have a unique kind of blue collar appeal that most heritage brands have lost as the market has risen.
I agree. You could use Rolex as an example, and they started with professional divers that wore wool sweaters and beanies while they were on deck, but either in diving suits most of the time or saturation diving and spending a lot of their time underwater because that’s how they made a living. The number of people that wear a Rolex dive watch today and are actually using it in the capacity it was intended for is vastly different. The brand has really evolved from a purpose-built tool to a status and a luxury item – which is fine for the brand and has its place, but does feel like an identity loss. Whereas with Zodiac, I still think that all of the watches that they produce today – while they are updated and could be seen as a luxury item – still lends itself to recreation a lot more so than I would say a modern Rolex does.
I have a modern Zodiac and I take it into the water, I surf in it, and I tend to beat it up because it just feels right for the kind of watch it is. It doesn’t feel needlessly precious, but more importantly, it feels perfectly rugged. I’m not worried about scratching it up a bit and I know it can handle what I throw at it. With modern Zodiac watches, I see their direct lineage to the brand’s core designs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and even some of the designs from the late ‘50s that catered to the professional or the recreational user that bought the watch to use it, not as jewelry. I think that spirit still carries through to Zodiac’s offerings today in a really strong way.
What Zodiacs do you have in your personal collection now and what’s the standout Zodiac stuff that you’re just never going to sell?
I’ve had a lot over the years. I had around twelve Zodiac watches in my collection at one point, and I now have it down to four. I have the Triple Calendar Moonphase I mentioned earlier, which has a black dial and a “tropical” Moonphase and is more of a dressy piece. I have a Sea Wolf from the ‘70s that’s sometimes referred to as the “orange blaze” and has a black inner dial, square markers, a white hour hand and a red minute hand, and this very long, radial-style outer minute track. It’s almost like a “tuxedo” dial, where it has a really bright minute track and a black glossy center dial – but it has a faded orange color to the minute track that’s actually fully reflective. So if I put UV light on it, it glows. I’ve kept this example as my sole vintage Sea Wolf because it really embodies everything that I think Zodiac did right in terms of their unique designs, their personality, and the aesthetic decisions that set them apart from their competition.
I also have a very cool Aerospace GMT that has a “Pepsi” bezel and on its original stretch, Oyster rivet-style bracelet. It’s a really cool watch that’s become a great travel companion because of its GMT complication; Cameron [Barr, C + T CEO] actually gifted the watch to me; Cam saw it and said “If you don’t want it, we can sell it, but it is really cool and you should have it.” I like it because it really shows its wear and it looks like a watch that’s really lived a life, but the condition isn’t bad or abused. It’s a testament to the quality and the craftsmanship that went into these things, even though they were at a lower price point than their competitors, all of my Zodiacs have held up really well – especially for watches that have seen significant wear. Aesthetically, it has a very classic GMT feel, especially with the “Pepsi” bezel, that’s obviously similar to what Rolex produced, but Zodiac did it in their own unique way that made it a very different jam, thanks to their unique case construction, the layout of the dial, and having a green triangle at the top. Some design elements were shared by competitors, but it wasn’t Zodiac copying Rolex so much as adopting a general format because it made the most sense for how this type of watch should be made. This Zodiac is the only GMT in my collection and it’s the only GMT I need; it’s just a super fun and easy-to-wear, and probably the most functional out of all the zodiacs I have in my collection because I actually use it when I travel. Finally, I have a Zodiac Sea Wolf Skin 53, which I believe came out in 2020. It has a blue mineral glass bezel, a sapphire crystal, a really nice blue sunburst style, and its lume is a really bright white, but actually glows orange – which Zodiac did in homage to the orange accents that they used to put on their watches in the ‘70s like the vintage Sea Wolf I have. I thought that was a really cool touch and a thoughtful way to subtly celebrate their own history.
Zodiac is the first modern line of watches Craft + Tailored is carrying. As a company that’s made its name as vintage specialists and experts in vintage horology, what does Zodiac as a modern marque represent to you, and why were they the first choice?
Beyond the quality of their build and designs, I think a brand’s history and heritage is their biggest piece of equity, and Zodiac’s equity as a brand is immense. It’s incredible. They were on the front lines of essentially creating the sports watch category, defining what makes a professional diving watch, and they were also one of the first companies to produce a watch with a GMT function. Those innovations are hard to overstate. Zodiac was never super concerned with trying to be the most expensive watch company, they’re more concerned with simply creating a quality product that’s going to last a long time and be accessible to the recreational user and the professional user alike.
Beyond the fact that I’m such a big fan of their vintage offerings, Zodiac makes so much sense for us as a brand because of how seriously they take their heritage and the way they approach celebrating that history. Other brands sometimes overdo it when it comes to leaning on their heritage, which I think is often the case with Omega, whereas I think Rolex usually fails to celebrate its heritage properly. Zodiac has found that perfect balance of celebrating what made the company so cool to begin with, while improving upon their designs at the same time. They’re a brand that is growing their own equity that they built back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s by actually listening to their consumer base and creating watches that are a direct influence of what their consumer base really wants, and what that consumer base is celebrating – which is smart because they’re a watch that appeals to enthusiasts. It’s a rare example of a brand that gets and appreciates the same things their consumers appreciate.
What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of Zodiac?
There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m excited most about the fact that Zodiac is undergoing an expansion as a relatively small company under the umbrella of a much larger fashion brand. It’s really, really rare that a major brand like the one that owns Zodiac understands what the brand they’ve taken on is about and what they need to flourish – in fact, I think it’s something we haven’t really seen before. But Zodiac themselves – while they’re a very fun and whimsical company at heart – take their core designs and their company ethos very seriously and I think that combination is a cocktail for longevity. It seems like they’re on track to simply do more of what they’re already doing and we love, but better and bigger, but without sacrificing what makes the brand special in the first place. Seeing how they celebrate the brand’s roots and history, but expand upon it and evolve it with the power of a major brand behind them is going to be really cool.
Photography by Alex Dash
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