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Zodiac name

Started by waynes3, July 26, 2021, 10:50:10 PM


How did Ariste Calame come up with the name Zodiac and the meaning behind it.


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I don't think there is a definite answer to your question as this knowledge is long lost if anyone ever knew. However you can put it into context: When Ariste Calame started his small workshop in Le Locle watches were generally not sold by brand names. In stead many watches were "no name" or carried the name of the tradesman or business who sold them. This could be a department store of sorts or even a mail order catalogue business. Most watch manufactures sold watches to tradesmen or trading desks if they were not subcontracting for a bigger company and each watch was individually produced and this was done by hand.

Branding as a phenomenon is a result of industrialization. When companies startet putting out large amounts af a product to an extended marked instead of just providing the neighbors with fresh milk or meat or quality trousers or hand-built watches to a local trading desk they needed to be recognized and stand out from the competition. Heinz became famous because Heinz actually produced quality canned food and sauces in a time before hygiene standards and many competitors sold food that was dangerous even deadly to eat. In the Swiss watchmaking industry industrialization came relatively late as they found the traditional hand-made approach better - only when they discovered that american watch factories had overtaken them by lengths were they forced to change opinion. The need for branding thus also came relatively late. This happened during the first years of the Calame companys existence.

Ariste Calame started out by producing for other larger watch companies but then at one point expanded by selling to others and even exporting and would then have needed a brand name. The company for a period used the name Arcala (obviously coming from the  founders name) but also still produced for others (in the 1920ies you find Zodiac produced pocket watches labelled Knickerbocker Watch Co. which was New York business) as well as Zodiac, which ended up being the most succesful.

So what names to choose, Mr Calame must have thought once his need became apparent? Many companies looked towards words or concepts related to time obviously. And the original way to measure time (and check a clock or watch) was the sun and later the planets. So Zenith choose an concept from Astronomy (and the russian cultural context that was their major market at the time). The name Zodiac was found in astrology, Indian Astrology to be precise, but still they had looked to the sky that time measurement was so dependent on before atomic clocks.

Another factor was obviously that a name had to be be universal in some way (Universal Geneve comes to mind as an almost too literal example that meets all criteria), ie understandable og meaningful in other languages than the Calames' native French. This is why Omega worked for Omega, at this time Greek was still a part of academic training so the Greek word (and letter) was very useful (and even came with its own logo....).

To conclude: Zodiac was inspired by the greatest clocks of them all, the universe, and was chosen for marketing reasons.


An interesting treatise for sure, but is it really just an informed presumption? Or have you read this somewhere you can share with us?
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I hope its clear from my very first line that I know as little about this as anyone - or specifically I know nothing about how Zodiac came up with Zodiac as a brand name. The internal decision process I have no access to.

But most of the rest is derived from general watchmaking history sources as well as branding/marketing theory. One very interesting and recent source is Pierre-Yves Donzé and his book "Histoire de l'industrie horlogère Suisse, which is also available in English. I recommend it if you wish to further study the times Zodiac emerged in and what struggles the industry faced in different decades. (Zodiac is not mentioned though).

The so-called "Shock of 1876" is well-known in watch history - a delegation of watch industry officials travelled from Switzerland to the world fair in Philadelphia only to discover that American watch companies were far ahead in industrializing and thus standardizing watch production. It took the Swiss almost 20 years to recover and come up to speed and become fully competitive - in this period several brands were on the brink of bankruptcy, Zenith being one of them. This is likely to explain why the Calame-business remained small-scale for years employing only a few workers (I think this particular info stems from some websites in German).

Some details are also found on this very site (and echoed in several other), for instance the fact that Aristide Calame produced for others at start and only later started selling under his own brand name.


As good a theory as any sir. Unfortunately, as I always say, so much Zodiac history was lost over the years as the company changed owners.

Thank you for your thoughts on this. As always, an interesting read!
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George Liquor

Well whatever the reason, its a great name for a watch company.


I found another fragment of information that gives us a clue to the choice of "Zodiac" as a name for the brand: In a 1957 article about Zodiac it is mentioned that there are 12 signs of the Zodiac (astrological signs, like Leo and Pisces etc) - just like there are 12 hours indicated on the dial of a watch.

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