Off the Cuff: Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin

Artiste Calame, the founder of Zodiac, began making pocket watches in LeLocle, Switzerland in 1882. The brand made a number of early innovations, including the flat pocket watch, the automatic sports watch, and the power reserve gauge. But perhaps their most important contribution to the world of horology was the first purpose-driven dive watch–the Zodiac Sea Wolf. Launched in 1953 alongside the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, the Sea Wolf would be emulated and recreated by numerous brands around the world, becoming one of the most emblematic skin diver designs.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin @calibre321

By the early 70s, they had pushed the limits of diving with a patented crown and stem system that allowed them to create a 750m diver which the US Navy Seals quickly adopted. Of course, like many brands of that era, the quartz crisis sent the company into a tail spin that eventually led to its sale in 1990 and subsequent bankruptcy in 1997. Genender International swooped in and bought up the pieces, discontinuing the Sea Wolf line.

Four years later the brand would be sold again to the Fossil Group. Still, the Sea Wolf remained moth-balled. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 2015 that the icon would resurface to much fanfare as the Super Sea Wolf 53. Since then, the popular line has added dozens of variations, all harkening back to the same seminal design.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin on a leather NATO @calibre321

Part of the popularity has been the “small batch,” limited run focus. For instance, once each new colourway sells out, there is no guarantee that it will ever be produced again. The model featured here (ZO9204) was introduced in in 2020, for example, but has disappeared from the brand’s catalogue ever since.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Nautical, vintage styling @calibre321

The Sea Wolf 53 Skin has now been joined by the Compression, The Aerospace, the GMT, the World Time, and most recently, the ISO-certified Pro Diver–all variations on a very successful theme. What I like particularly about this model is its adherence to the original watch it references. Aside from its case size–the modern incarnation is 39.5mm in diameter and 47.5mm lug to lug–the 53 Skin is a faithful reissue. The metal bezel appeared on the first Zodiac diver in 1953 and would prove much more successful than the attractive, yet fragile, Blancpain bakelight–even though later models of the Sea Wolf would turn to bakelight, and also be reissued as some of the more vibrant colourways in the Super Sea Wolf Collection. The unique marker layout, with the sole numeral at 30, first appeared in the mid fifties, essentially allowing use of the bezel as both a countdown and elapsed time tracker as necessary.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Datographic (Source)

However, the dial layout, with its iconic triangular markers at 6, 9, and 12, and the date window at three, are a recreation of the 1962 Sea Wolf Datographic. The dauphine hands, also faithful to the Datographic, have a unique spine down the middle which was originally designed to help retain the lume–which by the 1960s had evolved from radium to tritium. This new model uses C3 Super-LumiNova for a clear, long-lasting, green glow.

The circular case and its squared-off lugs would prove to be an influential utilitarian design, copied, and even improved upon by others. It is easy to notice the influence on early EPSA single crown compressors, which found their way into the design language of certain pilot watches like the Heuer Autavia and Sinn 103, as well.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Powered by the STP1-11 @calibre321

The 53 Skin, for its part, has a screwed down crown. The gentle dome is sapphire and matched on the screwed down exhibition caseback. These provide for an updated water resistance, over the original, of 200m. Visible through back is the STP1-11 and its tastefully decorated rotor (other models use the STP3-13). This movement is produced by the Fossil Group. Based on the ETA 2824-2, it offers a 4Hz beat rate and is accurate within 20seconds/day. I find it particularly smooth and pleasant to wind.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
C3 Super-LumiNova @calibre321

This version of the Sea Wolf comes on a textured leather NATO with stainless steel hardware and a custom-designed, signed buckle. However, other references can be purchased with a 5-link bullet bracelet, which is a recreation of the original JB Champion model fitted to early Zodiacs. The bracelet can also be purchased separately.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Available on both a NATO or a 5-link bracelet @calibre321

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SPECS

Case316L Stainless Steel
39.5mm Diameter
47.5mm Lug to Lug
12.5mm Thick
20mm Lug Width
120-click Unidirectional Steel Bezel
Screw Back & Crown
200m Water Resistance
Dial & CrystalDomed Sapphire /w AR
Sunray Dial
Dauphine Hands
Applied Indices
C3 Swiss Super-LumiNova
MovementSTP1-11
26 Jewels
28 800bph
44-Hour Power Reserve
StrapTextured Leather NATO
/w Stainless Steel Hardware & Custom Buckle
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin

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Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin on a tropic-styled strap @calibre321

Of Interest

The nautical vintage styling of the Sea Wolf, and its advantageous 20mm lug width, makes it a perfect pairing for a variety of straps and bracelets. Tropics and waffle straps are both practical and period correct. The Forstner Klip and JB Mesh also bring out the retro qualities of the watch. The Super Sea Wolf is hand-assembled in Biel-Bienne, Switzerland.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin on the Forstner Klip @calibre321
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
39.5mm case fits most wrists comfortably @calibre321

Quibbles

My only issue with the Super Sea Wolf is the amount of glare in the crystal. The watch remains legible, due in part to its bold markers, but the dome is a magnet for ambient reflections.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Classy applied logo @calibre321

Final Thoughts

In the same manner that YEMA have been able to rebuild their reputation on the back of their Superman case, the Fossil Group have done wonders with the Super Sea Wolf 53. Its classic styling and polyvalent design have proven to be fertile ground for numerous colourways from the staid and traditional to the assertive and bold. It would be easy to build a collection out of this line and not feel wanting. The 53 Skin, for its part, is the ideal dress diver–sporty and clean. Its discreet rendering is the consummate mix of function and fun. The is dial is uncluttered and balanced. The elegant hands fit perfectly with the polished steel edges of the indices. I appreciate the how the colour-matched date-wheel feels unobtrusive. The applied logo at 12 is a classy detail. The bezel action is firm. The movement is a joy. Really, what’s not to like?

The 53 Skin Collection (also called “The Core”) ranges from $1095-1295USD. For more information, visit the brand website.

Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin Watch Review
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin @calibre321

About the author

Brent Robillard is a writer, educator, craftsman, and watch enthusiast. He is the author of four novels. You can follow him on Instagram.


Off The Cuff articles are full-length, hands-on reviews of the watch in question and represent the opinion of the author only. All photos are original, unless specified otherwise. If you would like to have your watch reviewed on this site, contact us here.

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One thought on “Off the Cuff: Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53 Skin

  1. Pingback: Other Watchy Bits: A Brief History of Seiko Divers – Calibre321

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