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How well made were Zodiac watches really and how do they hold up in comparison?

Started by Grossisten, March 12, 2023, 06:32:34 PM


I'm increasingly getting frustrated with people online that claim that Zodiac was of inferior quality to other Swiss brands, particularly Omega. Some of the criticism centers on the main spring barrel, that cannot be serviced (and apparently was not intended to), others point to the automatic function, a particular wheel and bridge wearing out too soon. Interestingly this criticism has been raised by a few watchmakers. Are they right in any of this though? I'm not skilled enough technically to evaluate it, and I realize that I'm asking in a fanzone here (I'm not a fan, I'm more sort of a fanatic myself....), but: What - objectively - are your experiences, what do you see? Is there any truth to these allegations? I was brought up to believe that Zodiac was of the best quality, watches were rarely returned for service or repairs under the guarantee in the over 30 years my father imported them, in fact he used to complain that they were to well made, he could only ever hope to sell one watch to each customer in their lifetime. So I guess I'm also asking how well made Zodiac watches were and how they hold up in comparison to vintage models from other brands? What would BWG's take be on this issue?


I have heard that opinion quite a few times in the past and it always makes me laugh.  Vintage Omega is generally well made, as is vintage Zodiac. 

They cry about the sealed barrels, but other Swiss brands like Bulova and Longines were using sealed barrels (or barrels supposedly "lifetime" greased that you were not supposed to open).  Also, the Zodiac mainspring barrel can be serviced.

They also cry about the offset cannon pinion because watchmakers back in the day did not want to truly take movements apart.  If they had, the offset cannon pinions would have been cleaned and greased like a regular cannon pinion and they would not be as much of a constant issue now due to wear requiring nearly all as-found watches to be properly serviced to correct the problem.

Those are the same people that will tell you that 36000 beat watches wear horribly over time, which is why they are not a popular beat for brands to use.  Again, not true.  The AS based 36k beat Zodiac SST movements do not exhibit any more wear than a regular movement, and in fact, it is pretty uncommon to see overt wear problems in their gear train.

To me, much of their complaints boil down to what they "believe" is a superior brand.  Not that it actually is.  The same way that Heuer fanatics can't stop themselves from believing (and telling everyone that is unfortunate enough to get close to them) that Heuer is the center of the vintage watch world.  There were quite a few of these brands that made nice quality watches back in the day, when the Swiss watch industry cared about their offerings.  The same cannot be said about current "Swiss" production.


Thanks for your detailed input!

I agree that these sort of remarks often have brand-fanaticism at their core, Rolex- and Heuer-fans being the worst it seems. I'm puzzled that even watchmakers fall into such traps.

In this case I allowed myself to argue that even if an Omega would be a good starter brand for a new vintage collector it is also a relatively expensive starting point as Omegas over here are extremely popular. I didn't even point to Zodiac but rather Certina and Tissot as cheaper alternatives, but once I challenged the Constellation as "the most perfect dress watch" pointing to certain Zodiacs, notably the Olympus, all hell broke loose :-)

The other factor seemingly at play is the lack of Zodiac parts that make many watchmakers give up on them and create a bit of resentment it seems. I always point to this myself as a challenge for those considering a vintage Zodiac.

As a side note I've also heard watchmakers heavily criticize modern Omegas for being "crap" (I'm guessing this is relative to their high price point) and hating to work on them. I guess this is a topic with potential for strong opinions......


There is so much to unpack here.

•   Younger watchmakers
•   Younger collectors
•   Scarcity of parts
•   Why a sealed barrel?
•   The offset canon pinion

"Back in the day" men bought a watch. They then expected to wear it for the rest of their life. And they only had one watch. When it broke, they got it fixed. Why? Because it was cheaper than buying a new watch of course. (Excluding gifted watches that may or may not have supplanted his original watch!) It was not until the 1980's that Swatch taught men it was OK to have (and even wear!) more than one watch. And you could because they were inexpensive plastic watches with quartz (yes, I can spell it correctly) movements. They taught us that you could have a watch for every suit or mood. And you could we several on each arm. Google it.

The Zodiacs we collect are 50, 60, even 70 years old. They have been long neglected, never regularly serviced, pulled out of a dead guy's dresser and worn until it stopped, and then sold off on eBay. Add to this all the fumble fingered watchmakers that think they can fix anything with hands in a case. Today's watchmakers find out they can't get parts and the Zodiac movements are not like others when it comes to a service. AND they take time to properly service. The parts in our watches are more often so worn that it takes a true master to repair them.

Slight detour: My first Zodiac bought for the collection I wanted to start in the mid-90s was a very thin 1960's stainless steel dress watch with a 17-jewel manual wind movement. I took it to my local watchmaker in Wilmington, DE upon receipt. Interestingly enough he was from Puerto Rico and has actually worked in the Zodiac repair facility there and had parts for them. When I went to pick it up after he called and said it was done, he had two things to share with me. One, this was an exquisite, extremely accurate, watch and I should be very proud of it. The second thing, as he knew I was beginning my collection, was that he was happy to service any watch that was for ME, but if I was reselling it, he was not interested in doing the repair. He said he could service a Rolex faster and make 4 times the money on that repair.

Today's younger collector only knows the Internet. They do not go to NAWCC watch shows. (Do they even have those anymore? Rhetorical question, we fell out over 20 years ago, I don't care.) They don't buy watch books or do proper research. (The history tab above has one of the lowest pages read metric on this website.) The Internet is filled with places like Reddit and Facebook where everyone fancies themselves an expert. And we know they are not, but not so the younger collector, I fear.

Lack of new parts for a vintage Zodiac is simply due to the fact that they original owners sold the brand and all brand owners afterwards were only interested in putting out new models that reflected their visions. They did not care about the original models nor did they keep having the parts made. The original brand owners used sealed barrels and offset canon pinions as they were easily replaced during a service. Ditto for the bezels. There once was a Zodiac worldwide trained maintenance and repair organization authorized to service these watches. Only Zodiac Agents had the necessary testing tools and parts that enabled them to service them. Back then almost every jewelry store selling Zodiacs has a factory trained watchmaker in the back of the store.

The sealed barrel made sense. You did not have to service it, just pull the old one out and drop a new one in and move on to the next watch repair. More info on this can be found here:,2134.0.html

As for the offset canon pinion, I would refer you to this most excellent post rather than regurgitate it here.,2097.0.html

The Internet can be a wild and dangerous place full of misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies by "experts". (This is why I never refer to myself as a/the Zodiac Expert!) I actually mentioned this to my doctor recently and he agreed and said never go to WebMD, but usually the Mayo Clinic can be trusted.

So now you have the musings of an old man on this topic. Not sure I can offer anymore but will always try to answer questions.
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Thanks Butch, more useful perspective on this topic. Great input.

I'm fully aware of the service organisation of yesteryear, I saw that in operation with my own eyes. That was part of the promise to customers, you could have your watch fixed anywhere in the world by an expert watchmaker.

This resentment towards Zodiacs is not just an issue with young watchmakers, also middle age and older ones have come up with opinions of the sort I referred to in my first post. I kind of get why from the picture that is being painted in this thread. What a shame that this is the state of things.

I'm annoyed when people claim that Zodiacs were not well made, my father never bragged nor exaggerated but as a trained watchmaker he was genuinely proud of the Zodiac watches he sold - as was my grandfather that was even better trained technically than my father. Its a shame they are not here to teach the uninformed (including me).....


Those two articles by Ultra-Vintage are absolutely brilliant by the way.


I don't want to seem to be picking on the young, I actually like them. But I do belive all I said above to be true about younger collectors and watchmakers.

If you are hearing it from older watchmakers I would blame that on long not having parts and not a lot of experience servicing Zodiacs. Call it uninformed ineptitude for them then.

I am glad you have value for BWG's articles. I keep getting him to write more but he just yells, "You want me to write articles or fix watches?". I exclaim YES!! and he just snorts at me and hangs up.

One article I have been trying to get him to write about is all the things he has done, learned, and made jigs for in the last 20 years of servicing Zodiacs. He has perfected the best possible metal bezel restoration. He has had Astrographic crystals made AND improved their water tightness. And I know he has made quite a few jigs for special purpose jobs that don't come up on every watch service but makes it easier when it does. His band work is nothing short of amazing. He has learned how to replate various metals. It would not surprise me to find out he has manufactured a part when needed like the old watchmakers used to have to do. He buys all the parts he comes across knowing they will eventually be used.

All of these things he does not get credit for because no one knows it. I am sure he services more Zodiacs than any other watchmaker in the entire world. He is expensive but not Ron Gordon expensive. His QA process takes longer than the servicing process. Years a go I convinced him to charge for his time and drive away the less serious collectors that want the watch back in 2 weeks and bitch the entire time that he is taking too long.

Sorry, I did not mean to start worshiping at the BWG alter, again, but he simply does not get the credit he is surely and positively due. He does more for Zodiac collectors than anyone else in the world, and he does it better. And has a world wide clientele to prove it.
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