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My Zodiac Museum

Started by Grossisten, January 07, 2020, 05:09:46 AM


Hi all,

I'm happy to be member of this group - how great to find a site with devoted Zodiac-fans!

I cannot recall if I've posted any of the following earlier, but I think I should introduce myself to you all through the story of my Zodiac watches. It's a long story, bear with me please.

I don't have a collection, you see. I have a museum. And its not only mine, I sort of share it with my sister.

The fact that it is a museum only dawned on me recently when trying to understand why I found some Zodiac watches more interesting than others and why I have often been reluctant to buy. You need to know also that my interest in the museum is relatively new, for years it just sat in a cupboard (actually in a safe...) until a series of events made me rediscover it.

The story begins around 1959 or so when my father completed his business studies. Having already trained as a watchmaker and optician he intended to launch a watch import business in Copenhagen, Denmark. My grandfather, a watchmaker and watch engineer, had trained and worked in Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Rome, Paris and most importantly Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland for almost 20 years before opening a shop in Copenhagen. (You could say the story begins in 1913 when my grandfather set out on his long watch journey through Europe, but I'll save that story for another day - we still have his journals so there is quite a story to tell. And then there is the story of my great-grandfather also a watchmaker.... but another time.)

At some point my grandfather became aware of a technically advanced brand, offering innovative watches at prices that suited the Danish market well - and Zodiac had no agent in Denmark at the time. He suggested this to my father and they approached Zodiac. Soon they were invited to Le Locle to visit the factory and negotiate a contract. My grandfather - who was quite the man of the world speaking several languages fluently including French - led the negotions on behalf of my father, still a very young man.

They got the deal and my father became the sole agent for Zodiac in Denmark. He started out modestly working out of his bedroom in his parents apartment, storing his stock in his closet. The business grew as Zodiac grew during the 60ies (increasing production, ranking among the top-5 brands quality wise in Switzerland, building/expanding a new factory) and after a few years my father ran his business out of a house he had build in the Copenhagen suburbs - one section was the company another became my childhood home.

I spend countless hours in his office after school climbing his second "warehouse" a giant safe in a back room and testing his typewriters and calculators. My mom did most of the administration, there was a bookkeeper (initially my grandmother) and a watchmaker doing all repairs under guarantee. I also roamed the basement which was converted to my dads third and final storage facility - the whole area was re-built with reinforced concrete and a giant vault door, like in a film. I basically grew up looking at and playing among Zodiac watches. (As well as BWC, my fathers second brand, and Zenith that he took in later on).

I also grew up accompanying my father on travels to Switzerland to visit the factory. He went monthly for many years, and the family joined a few times a year. The Zodiac company was family run, by the Calames, so they were no strangers to a family business - and we became their friends to some extent. My sister and I loved them, especially Maurice Calame, head of sales and later CEO, and his wife Mimi. They taught us kids skiing and helped us practice English, German and French. So I've actually BEEN to the Zodiac factory and have very fond memories of especially Le Locle, the small city it was located in.

We probably all know the story of the decline of the Swiss watch industry - and Zodiac unfortunately faced financial troubles in the 80ies. The Calames had to sell. Dixi Group took over and Zodiac joined forces with Zenith. In this period many Swiss brands had a strategy of climbing to a luxury level - a strategy that held very little perspective for a Danish agent as the market is small and luxury watches were not as widely popular as they are today. So my father decided to retire early, sold his stock (and his spare parts unfortunately) and closed the business.

10-15 years went by. And for some reason my father began collecting samples of watches he had sold. He approached his former watchmaker clients for unsold stock or uncollected repairs and had them restored/serviced. Slowly his collection grew. Only he called it his Watch Museum, not a collection. A museum of his years with Zodiac. Nothing really expensive in there, just interesting examples of different models. The only Sea Wolf I foolishly gave away to my brother in law not realising its iconic value when my father passed away 10 years ago. But he deserved it and it suits him really well, so....

I am now also an entrepreneur though in a totally different field trying to support my family through a small business and I've been thinking so much about what I might have learned from my dad (and granddad) about running a business and this is when the old Zodiac stories began re-appearing. I did have a small collection of my own and now I started going through the museum which was unfortunately in a poor state. Through this I realized that to be part of the museum a Zodiac needs to have been through my fathers hands - no point of buying one from say Germany or Sweden. And until now I have not bought any watches for the Museum, they where all collected by my father.

I have in fact bought two Zodiacs in my time (also separate stories for another time) - both for my personal collection, my daily beater a quartz diver from 1983 and a steel dress watch, chronometer  (caliber 72 I believe) for business - and I'm slowly warming to the idea of expanding the museum.

For now I've put a few models on display, still keeping most in a safe in a local bank. I hope to give the museum more attention so that I may tell and display the story of our family to my son and my sisters children. I'm only starting to learn about watches and Zodiac in details, this forum is invaluable in that respect. We shall see....

So this is the story of my Museum, sorry for making it so long. I do have photos of both the watches and the Zodiac factory/Calame family, but most are stored in the attic, so I'll post them at a later stage if you are interested.

I hope you enjoyed it - please don't hesitate to ask questions especially about Zodiac back in the day, about Le Locle and watchmaking in Switzerland, I may know a detail or two that could be new to you....



Soren, thank you so much for sharing this with us. We do look forward to your pictures with great interest.
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Quote from: Grossisten on January 07, 2020, 05:09:46 AM
10-15 years went by. And for some reason my father began collecting samples of watches he had sold. He approached his former watchmaker clients for unsold stock or uncollected repairs and had them restored/serviced. Slowly his collection grew. Only he called it his Watch Museum, not a collection. A museum of his years with Zodiac. Nothing really expensive in there, just interesting examples of different models...

Wow, super exciting!  Just reviewed your Zodiac chronograph post and see I missed the small part about your father.
I'd be most interested to see which models your father found interesting as an authorized dealer.

Zodiac was a pretty amazing brand with an impressive array of diversity.  They certainly took themselves seriously and did what they could to set themselves apart from the masses.  There was certainly more to them than the Sea Wolfs.  I'd love to know what their actual best sellers were back in the day.  They were among the top sellers of chronometers which almost no one mentions when reciting Zodiac history.

Oh, and welcome to the forum!

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