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Living In The Past - A Volvo, a Highschooll Teacher and a Zodiac SST

Started by Tomcat1960, January 06, 2015, 10:37:12 AM


I like old things speaking to me. That's why I like vintage watches. Here's a particular one - a Zodiac SST marked for VOLVO (the Swedish auto maker) - and I'd like to share the story it's got to tell with you:

To begin with, some history. It's not a habit of mine to quote large parts of a feature from another website, but Zach Weiss of "Worn & Wound" summarized exactly, in content and wording, what I'd have written on Zodiac and their high-beat movements that whatever I wrote would look like copied off, so I decided to quote it right away:

Quote from: Zach Weiss of Worn & WoundZodiac is a curious brand that, at its peak, made just about every type of watch you could imagine. Triple date chronographs, GMTs, 24 hour models, divers, dress watches and watches with all together novel designs were common place for this well regarded Swiss brand. Models such as the Sea Wolf, Olympos and Astrographic are classics in their own right, demonstrating great design and a remarkable amount of creativity. Zodiac was a genuine innovator amongst Swiss brands, and in the late 60's was one of the first brands to bring out an automatic movement with a frequency of 36,000 beats per hour (detailed timeline here). Referred to as their SST or Split Second Timing line, these watches guaranteed (literally) to be the most precise in the world. The idea being that the higher frequency movements, which "tick" 10 times per second, are more accurate than watches with a frequency of the more standard 28,800 bph. While the previous claim is likely debatable, a more obvious benefit to a 36k movement is that the sweep of the seconds hand is incredibly smooth.

Period Zodiac Advertising
Source: Worn & Wound

The Zodiac calibers 78, 86 and 88 appear to have been based on movements originally made by the Girard Perregaux brand. The primary difference being the addition of an automatic winding mechanism, which was developed as a collaborative effort by Doxa, Eberhard, Favre-Leuba, Girard-Perregaux, and Zodiac. Watches with hi-beat movements like this are still a rarity today, being made by only a handful of brands, notably Zenith and Grand Seiko, and cost a pretty penny. However, a good condition Zodiac SST from the 70's should run in the $100 – $500 dollar range, leaning towards the cheaper end, which firmly places them in the "affordable" category. A quick ebay search for "Zodiac SST" will likely turn up several vintage Astrographics, a strange watch with "floating" hands, and maybe a couple dressier models.

Source: Google Image Search

This is interesting: the 86 is deemed a Zodiac 'in-house' calibre, when in fact it is more like Mido's extensively refined AS- and ETA-calibres. Roland Ranfft wrote about the '86':

Quote from: Roland RanfftRare high-frequency movement
The base movement came from AS, but never existed as AS-calibre. It was delivered to Favre-Leuba for their calibres 1149 and 1152 (both 21600A/h), and to Zodiac for this model.

... and at a different spot

Quote from: Roland RanfftThe calibre is based on the manual wind calibre AS 1687/1688.
The automatic mechanism is a joint development of Doxa, Eberhard, Favre-Leuba, Girard-Perregaux, and Zodiac.

... which he reiterates in his movement archive.

And, yours truly, on NAWCC's forum "mr bill" posted a list of calibers from where to obtain a replacement cannon pinion:

Quote from: NAWCC's 'mr bill'
same gear in AS 1652,87,88,1852....FAVRE LEUBA 1143,49,52,53

GP 30,31,32,33,31a,

zodiac 61,68,70,72,74,75,75b,76,76b,78,86,88

But anyway, whatever it has been derived from, its most striking feature is the smooth movement of the second hand. Just cool.


As cool as driving a Volvo. I am, and so was, obviously Mr. Alfred Haas. In my mind's eye I see him coming to 'his' Volvo dealer, someplace South-West-Germany. They knew him there - he had been driving Volvos for fifteen or so years now, starting with his dad's "humpback-Volvo", replaced by another one he bought used when he went to college. After his graduation he became a high-school-teacher (Mathematics and Physics) - his ride now being a Volvo 'Amazon'.

Source: Wikipedia

He got married, and their trusty Amazon carried them through the better part of the 1960s. Mr. Haas went on to acquire a degree in Mathematics. That's when he bought his first new Volvo, a '144'-type four-door sedan:

Source: Google Image Search

Over the next four years the Volvo served the Haas family well - Alfred's wife gave birth to a son and a daughter and they moved from the crowded city of Stuttgart to a more laid-back countryside neighbourhood. The obvious disadvantage was that Mr. Haas now quickly racked up kilometer after kilometer on his trusty white Volvo, and when he came in to the local Volvo dealer to keep an appointment for the 100,000 km service on his car after just four years, the Service Manager knew Alfred was in for a special treat.

Mr. Haas liked watches. He had to - to begin with, he was a teacher and part of his obligation was to educate young men and women in basic skills like punctuality. He did this by role model - being about on time was never good enough for him. Second, he was in Mathematics and Physics, the two basic sciences behind watchmaking. And third, he just liked watches because he did. He had been handed an old Omega from his father at the age of sixteen, which he had replaced with a Certina he afforded himself on occasion of his graduation. His wife gave him a golden Girard Perregeaux which he wore on special occasions only. That had been it - paying off the house was more important than a fanciful watch, even if his collection of watches looked somewhat 'aged' now, in the Seventies.

Tradition had it that 'special' customers at major car companies got watches on occasion of having driven 50,000 or 100,000 kilometers with a new car. My father had been given a gilt 'Mauthe' by Volkswagen when he topped 50,000 km on his 'beetle' in sales rep service for 'British American Tobacco', and I'm pretty sure he was given similar accessories by Mercedes when he rose the ranks later to become Sales Director for South West Germany. (I bet he met Mr. Haas, every once in a while, in traffic jams around Stuttgart.) That same tradition was upheld with Volvo - dealers were granted budget to buy presents for customers. I can imagine that Volvo had some saying in the nature of these presents - if a watch was bought it was meant to be a quality watch. After all, nothing could have caused more embarrassment than a watch broken in the hands of a valued customer to whom it had been given as a present in the first place.

Official knowledge at Volvo's Headquarters these days has it that Certinas were well liked - to the point that Volvo even had an agreement with that brand - but, quite obviously, other brands were deemed worthy as well. One of these must have been Zodiac and, as pointed out by Zach Weiss, this brand was particularly well esteemed because of the bold designs it had. Moreover, the SST-movements were at the pinnacle of progress on the eve of the quartz revolution, the ideal present, then, for the customers of an automobile manufacturer making the epitome of reliable mechanical engineering - a Volvo.

So when Mr Haas picked up his car that evening the dealer's fatherly proprietor took him to the showroom, where he was handed a brand-new, boldly-shaped Zodiac SST inscribed

'100'000 km


Haas Alfred'

... on the back.

'Volvo' was printed on the dial, too, the structure of which reminds one immediately of a car radiator web.

This dial print is what convinces me of 'Zodiac' being at least one other "official" Volvo watch brand. (Timex was another one, used in 'small and emerging markets' (like Spain), but this is another story.)

Probably, he was given some flowers too, or maybe a bottle of wine, photos were taken and the whole thing was published in 'VIA VOLVO', Volvo Germany's Customer Magazine. He went on driving Volvos - a 244 four-door sedan from 1978 to 1984, a 245 station wagon from 1984 to 1992 and an 855 station wagon from 1992 to 2000. That was when he was promoted to become headmaster of 'his' high school, a post on which he served into retirement five years later. His ride: a Volvo 960 four-door sedan.

Sadly, Alfred passed away in 2010, having worn the hexagonal Zodiac ever since he'd got it at his local Volvo dealership in 1974.

His wife held on to the watch for another year or so, before she moved into a retirement home close to Berlin, where their daughter lived. The house was emptied by a service firm charged by the estate agents, and they sold it to the dealer I bought it from on e-bay. Allegedly, it had been serviced - in reality, however, it ran poorly and the 86's hallmark date-quickset didn't work at all. I returned it twice to have it fixed, but to no avail. Still, the watch had exactly what satisfied my desires - unusually shaped case, blue dial, 'Volvo' written on the dial and the smooooth movement of the second hand - I couldn't return it for good. So I went to my watchmaker instead, who identified a broken date actuating lever which he was able to replace from a junker. He afforded it some cleaning and oil (not forgetting to mention that the watch hadn't even been opened in decades - so much for 'freshly serviced watches on e-bay') and it ticks away happily ever since.

Of course, I'm aware that the SST technology was, more or less, a dead end in horology and that parts supply is limited. So I wear it only occasionally, like when I'm going to visit my local Volvo dealer to keep an appointment for the 300.000 km inspection on Tomtesläde, my red (Volvo color code 601) '850' Langwagn.

Never have provoked any reaction by the service manager though - like most people these days he doesn't even wear a watch ... ;-)


Author's note: Mr. Haas's story is, of course, fictitious. The name "Alfred Haas" is far too common to pinpoint "the" Mr. Haas who owned this watch before. It is, however, the story the watch has told me ... and who am I to doubt any of the yarn an old watch is telling me? ;-)

After all's been said and done, there's a lot more said than done...

"Miracles?", he asked. "Forget about miracles. Those who walk on water just know where the stepstones are."

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Great story Tomcat.  You know, sometimes we just have to listen and believe what the watch is telling us.   :#Clapping


As you know, Tomcat, the Zodiac caliber 86/88 were high-beat versions of the same AS 1687/1688 ebauche that were used by many companies in the 60's. Ebel marked these movements as their caliber 313 and 314 in handwind versions, and as caliber 213 and 214 in automatic versions. Their automatic-wind system was a touch different (as was their jewel count), but this was in the day when "ebauche" meant "ebauche"--an unfinished bag o'parts that did not include the balance assortment.

Zodiac didn't invent the automatic winder as suggested on W&W, but rather it was done with a consortium of makers that they mentioned. All the calibers mentioned in your post referred to movements that looked basically identical to one another. Ranfft has said he doesn't know who manufactured the automatic mechanism, but I think it's likely that the joint venture was to provide the money for A. Schild to develop and produce it. All of these were either 17 jewels (with an unjeweled winding train), 21 jewels with jewels on the winding gears, or 25 jewels with a fully jeweled winding train. Again, Ebel is the outlier with 24 jewels, used differently than the others, and GP had their Gyromatic version that used jewels as clutches in the reverser gears (39 jewels, total).

The high-beat version was basically the same as the lower-beat versions (which beat at 21,600), but with a smaller balance, a different hairspring (probably), and different gearing, probably on the escape pinion or thereabouts. Ultravintage would know the answer to that. Zodiac used a Triovis regulator in their balance assortments, while most others used a geared regulator. I suspect parts like the cannon pinion would be the same regardless of beat rate.

GP was probably the first to come out with a high-beat version of this ebauche, but I think most had it at one time or another. (Not Ebel--their high-beat watch used an ETA ebauche, at least that's all I've seen.)

Here are pictures of a low-beat Ebel 214 and a high-beat Zodiac 86:

You can see the smaller balance wheel and different regulator on the Zodiac. It also has the hacking feature installed, which Ebel did not. But the Ebel is finished to a higher aesthetic standard. Notice also the differences in the rotor shapes. Again, this was back when even mid-line watch companies truly did start with unfinished ebauches.

The one thing Zodiac had that I've not see with any others is the quick-set date feature, actuated by pushing the crown in. I'm curious if they made those modifications or had AS do it for them.

Rick "loving the whole Volvo history" Denney


Hi folks,

the story continues, but with a twist.

First of all, thanks a lot, Rick, for this additional light you shed on the development history. I love these 86/88 machines, in the meanwhile I own four of them - most-used single calibre in my collection ;-)

Now here comes the twist. A collecting friend of mine contacted me recently and asked whether I was interested in a Volvo Zodiac he had received with a watch lot he'd bought on the internet. He sent me some images,

... showing an almost pristine dial (the laquer seems to chip off on all these dials sooner or later, perhaps due to the surface structure), ...

... an equally pristine crown (it looks as if it had never been touched before), ...

All images courtesy of Mr. K.-P. Müller Reinders, Frankfurt/Main, Germany[SIZE]

... and a lid prepared for a 'Volvo 100.000 km' signature, but with no name upon it. My assumption is, therefore, that it either lay with a watchmaker for the last thirty or so years, or with a Volvo dealer. Someone seems to have worn it, however, because the case and the bracelet look definitely worn with quite some scratches and dings.

What I did not realize at the time when I checked out the images, was that the movement was different:

Image courtesy of Mr. K.-P. Müller Reinders, Frankfurt/Main, Germany

I only realized that something was different when I attempted to set the date on my new watch. I pressed hard, but to no avail. I pulled it and there it went: both the date and the day can be quick-set on this watch. In the first moment I felt somewhat duped - someone obviously had replaced the original movement with some ETA stuff. I took a second look onto the image, and there it was: 'Zodiac 135' could be read on the rotor. I googled up and down the web, but couldn't find a 'Zodiac 135' anywhere. Technically, it's an ETA 2878 with 28,800 bph and built since 1975.

So here's the Hundred-Dollar-Question: did Zodiac ever rebrand the ETA 2878 as 'Zodiac 135'? I know they rebranded the AS 5008 (as Zodiac 95) and several other AS, ETA and FHF, but was there such a thing as a 'Zodiac 135'? Is there more information on that particular calibre out there? Why did Zodiac use it? Did they use it after the stopped the production of the 86?

*EDIT* I just found that the ETA 2678 (of 7.75 lignes) was rebranded as 'Zodiac 35', and like the '135' it can't be found in Roland Ranfft's pages. Is there a reference somewhere, so we can look up third-party movements and how Zodiac re-labeled them?

Thank you all very much in advance!

Best regards
After all's been said and done, there's a lot more said than done...

"Miracles?", he asked. "Forget about miracles. Those who walk on water just know where the stepstones are."

Visit me on Facebook!


In the late 70's or early 80's Zodiac started using ETA as their supplier. Probably when DIXI bought the brand.
Collecting Zodiacs is not for the meek; be an educated collector.
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Hi Butch, and thank you for this information. I've got two dates for the DIXI takeover - 1979 and 1982. Which one is correct in your opinion? And do you know when Zodiac stopped to produce in-house movements?

Have you ever encountered a "Caliber 135" before?

Best regards
After all's been said and done, there's a lot more said than done...

"Miracles?", he asked. "Forget about miracles. Those who walk on water just know where the stepstones are."

Visit me on Facebook!


Not sure, one of the 90's catalogs on the other site talks about DIXI. Zodiac had a factory, the always bought ebauches and finished them in house. The supplier just changed over the years/owners.

I do not collect Zodiacs that new, sorry.
Collecting Zodiacs is not for the meek; be an educated collector.
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