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The Sea Wolf was developed in collaboration with Jacques Cousteau

Started by Grossisten, February 26, 2024, 05:30:58 PM


While the origins of Blancpains Fifty Fathoms and the Rolex Submariner seems relatively well uncovered and the stories told in many variants - little factual info seems to be available on how all of a sudden Zodiac allegedly was in the finals of presenting the worlds first commercial dive watch. (The launch year of the Sea Wolf is contended though, so far the most solid fact available is that the trade mark was registered in 1955 and the first ads so far discovered are from 1957).

Specialist (at the time) watch manufacturer Blancpain was commissioned by the French navy, large scale luxury brand Rolex seemingly continued an already existing line of research into waterproof watches - but Zodiac had no apparent reason nor history leading them into to the deep sea so to speak.

What Zodiac did have however was a ferocious appetite for winning.

The 1930ies was a terrible time in the Watch industry following the crash at Wall Street in 1929 and the ensuing world economic crisis. Zodiacs main market was Japan, a country that closed its borders to foreign imports (and turned its political backs to the outside world) as a means to steer through the storm - putting an extra strain on Zodiacs finances.

With a new CEO at the helm, Rene Calame, grandson of the founder, Zodiac gave up being a manufacture and stopped produced its own movements and instead went all in on the still relatively new wrist watch. Still, money was tight, Mr. Calame much later looked back at a period when he and his dad had to take it to the road suitcase (full of watches) in hands trying to sell to watchmakers in especially France and Switzerland.

Mr. Calame had another strategy too - that of continuous technical innovation. Zodiac was for instance an early adopter of automatic movements and it was perhaps this that slowly turned the tide.

No sources reveal exactly how the situation was turned around, but Mr. Calame wanted Zodiac not only to survive, but to win. One factor seems to have been becoming the official provider of watches to the federal Swiss railways. By the time WWII was over Zodiac came out strong with a series of daring designs and technical leaps forward that got them noticed in the watch world: The launch of the power reserve gauge complication as seen in the Autographic models - that was developed in collaboration with Le Coultre - was a first in wristwatches (the complication had been introduced in pocket watches at an earlier point but never caught on). Another big impact seems to have been made by the (then) daring design of the Glorious.

It is only natural to think the Sea Wolf as an extension of this aggressive innovative streak given that it was launched only a few years later than the Autographic and the Glorious.

But how DID they come up with something as new and challenging as a dive watch? Well a small piece of information just popped up that confirmed something I thought I knew, but never saw any sources for and thus never mentioned before:

In the 1958 in the magazine Revue Internationale d'Horlogerie the SeaWolf - alongside an image of an early 10ATM SeaWolf - is mentioned as "created in collaboration with the laboratories of commandant Cousteau", as he is called in French.


Jacques Cousteau is THE legend of exploring the oceans, if you've never heard of him, Google will quickly sort that out. Especially through his Oscar winning documentaries from his many underwater expeditions he offered the world fascinating insights to the life under the surface and made scuba-diving (the technology for which he helped develop) popular among the wider population.

That is blue blood heritage if you ever find it in watch history - and its right here at the core of the Zodiac brand.

Now there is still much more info to uncover about the creation of the SeaWolf, hopefully I will have luck doing so in the future. Please don't hesitate to share any info you may have on the topic.


I was very excited about my discovery when writing this piece. Having considered the info further, I guess we need to keep an open mind to this fact being incorrect. It stems from a magazine mentioning many watches and even if it is a trade-specific magazine they might have gotten it wrong. For instance you may get the impression that the SeaWolf was just launched and since the article is from 1958 this does not match the year we commonly refer to. There is also a risk that the journalist mixed up info about the Fifty Fathoms or the Submariner with the SeaWolf as Blancpain did work with the French Navy (that the commander used to belong to) and Rolex apparently also consulted with Mr. Cousteau. However the piece I found strongly indicates the Zodiac-Cousteau link to be true as does Yuriy's added info below - and as mentioned this is knowledge I always had but could never prove - I am convinced I was told this by my late Zodiac-agent father when I was a child, but obviously this is a very distant memory and can serve as no historical fact. I lean towards believing it to be correct and will keep searching for info about it.


I just found a Zodiac ad in French from 1959 stating that Jacques Cousteau did indeed test the SeaWolf. I think we may now consider this fact confirmed.


On first Sea Wolf issue we can see two bezel variations: Incremental and Countdown. I saw somewhere (not on top of my head where) that the Countdown was suggested by Commander Cousteau. It was his personal preference. Looks like the industry did not follow his suggestion.  :D


This is amazing, Yuriy - I think we are piece by piece adding to the overall watch history here. I would like to find a source or two more to feel completely convinced about the Costeau-collaboration, but it certainly looks like there is something to it.


I seem to remember reading an article about him and Zodiac, maybe in Diver Magazine.
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