Zodiac Aerospace GMT Review – Baselworld 2019 Limited Edition
By: Greg Bedrosian
The recent re-issue of the Zodiac Aerospace GMT is the closest thing that we will get to a Cinderella story in the world of horology. Underwhelming offerings from luxury Swiss brands and the absence of the Swatch Group left a vacuum at Baselworld 2019. The annual tradeshow was scoured for a champion to talk, podcast, and blog about.
It didn’t take long to find one. However, it was found in the most unlikely of places. The Limited Edition Zodiac Aerospace GMT became the perfect story. The buzz snowballed and the watch quickly sold out online.
Zodiac Watches has been operating in various capacities since 1882. Like many other legacy brands, the rights to Zodiac were bought and sold by a few different entities before ending up with the Fossil Group in 2001. How did Fossil (headquartered in Dallas, TX) “win” Baselworld 2019 when the tradeshow wasn’t even a contest to begin with? Let’s take a closer look.
The vintage versions of the Zodiac Aerospace GMT that you can find on eBay will be 36mm. As with most modern reissues, this new Aerospace GMT increases the case size to 40mm. This size is the sweet spot for most tool watches. 40mm isn’t risky and it’ll fit nicely on many wrist sizes and shapes.
I’ve handled almost as many oyster cases as a shucka’ in Government Center on Patriot’s Day. The Zodiac Aerospace is a welcome departure from the traditional oyster case that we see iterated across so many different brands. At first glance I thought, “Oh boy, another oyster case.” That wasn’t true at all. Once I began handling the case, I noticed how different the details felt in hand.
Lug to lug the Zodiac Aerospace GMT is 47.5mm. That is right in the sweet spot for my 6.75” wrist. The angle bends sharply down from the slim flanks. Expect the Aerospace to wear a little smaller than most 40mm tool watches.
I measured the height to be 14.0mm. Due to Zodiac Aerospace GMT’s angled lugs, the watch never felt too tall. It will easily fit under the cuff of most dress shirts. But let’s be realistic: if you’re wearing this watch, you’re not going to be hiding it.
The 6.2mm crown is placed at the normal three o’clock position. The first noticeable feature is the lack of crown guards. Visually it’s a nice departure from the norm. It also enhances the vintage feeling while handling the watch.
The dial is distinctly Zodiac – not just another Submariner homage. Metal applied square hour markers are tipped with small rectangular printed lume plots. The difference in height between the markers and lume is something that really adds depth to the eye that you might not see in photos.
Besides the Zodiac logo, there are only three lines of text. “Aerospace GMT” and “Automatic” are in cursive instead of the usual block fonts. This keeps the dial clean and true to its vintage relatives. The Aerospace GMT is rated for 200m of water resistance, but Zodiac didn’t feel the need to crowd the dial to remind you.
The hour, minute, and GMT hands are relatively simple and easy to read. They are just “sticks” – no snowflakes or Mercedes logos here. The sticks are all business for their intended functions. The seconds hand is a rectangle, not a lollipop.
The green-hued lume isn’t as strong as I hoped for on the Aerospace GMT. The hour, minute, seconds hands are adequate, but the GMT hand is not. There is the smallest bit of lume on the tip of the GMT hand that fails to capture enough light to charge enough to be useful. The hour markers only have a sliver of lume as well. However, the raised hour markers themselves are very reflective and will shine even in low light.
I love a contrasting boxed date window. Zodiac didn’t get fancy here. It’s just a little white box around a color matching date wheel. This is another interesting detail that might be overlooked at first glance. Bravo!
With GMTs, I like to discuss the bezel separately. It’s important because it is one of the nuances that separates them from most dime-a-dozen divers. The safe choice here is the gray and black colorway. But it’s boring, even for me. This is going to be an umpteenth watch for many enthusiasts. The blue and orange colorway is much more exciting and differentiates the Zodiac Aerospace GMT from its “cola” contemporaries. Until a better nickname arises, the blue/orange Zodiac model is currently referred to as the “Gulf” after the classic racing colors.
The Zodiac’s “bakelite” style bezel insert is actually clear mineral crystal over the colors and text. The appearance in hand looks like a fancy glass tile backsplash. This style of bezel is another welcome departure from the current flood of aluminum and ceramic inserts. It was nice to see dark black numbers over bright colors for a change.
How does the bezel action feel? Solid. The bezel itself is a twenty-four click bidirectional. It moves and locks into place with a commanding presence that requires just the right amount of pressure. This is in sharp contrast to many homage GMT watches.
Most GMTs under $2000 simply re-purpose the brand’s existing diver, insert a new movement and bezel text, and call it a day. What you are left with is a unidirectional bezel that seems out of place. The Zodiac Aerospace GMT bezel is a welcome change.
The most interesting and disappointing thing about the Zodiac Aerospace GMT was the movement. Fossil does not currently have an STP GMT movement. Instead, they outsourced to an ETA 2893-2 movement for the Aerospace GMT. Variations of this ETA movement are in everything from small independents to Breitlings. You can find more details on the movement here in my review of the Steinhart Ocean 39 GMT.
The 2893-2 is a “caller” or “desk” GMT, meaning that the jumping hand is actually the GMT hand. To move the local hour hand you actually have to hack (stop) the watch. It’s annoying because if you have OCD tendencies (most of us WIS do), the watch will have to be reset all over again to the second upon landing in a new time zone. The only way around this is by rotating the bezel and using the “3rd time zone” as the “2nd time zone”.
The Zodiac Aerospace’s GMT hand lined up nicely with the local hour hand. It never felt askew. This had been a gearing problem with many 2893-2 movements in the past and it seems that the issue has been addressed.
There is a huge opportunity in the marketplace for a true “jumping-hour” hand GMT movement that operates like a Rolex or Tudor GMT. Could STP “Swiss Technology Production” answer the call? STP is owned by the Fossil Group as well. Think of STP to Fossil Group as what ETA is to the Swatch Group. Rumor speculation on a jumping hour GMT movement from STP and Miyota are both high.
Aside from the bezel insert colors, the Zodiac Aerospace GMT’s bracelet struck me right away as being unique. It is an oyster style bracelet with polished center links. Is this too close to the modern GMT Masters? No. The uniquely stepped outer links are a welcome change to the norm. They enhance the vintage feel without the use of faux rivets.
The bracelet is 20mm at the lugs and tapers down to 16mm at the clasp. There is nothing abnormal there. I do have a couple of complaints about the bracelet. The bracelet is adjusted with pins instead of screws. I feel that it unnecessarily cheapens the watch.
The other thing that I would change is the feel. There was a little too much play between the links for me. Most break in and loosen up over time. It will be interesting to see what kind of condition these bracelets will be in years from now. The clasp also has a little bit more wiggle than expected while open. When closed, there are no issues and it is secure.
The Zodiac Aerospace GMT reissue is a special piece. The watch is familiar enough, yet every detail of the watch is unique. Like many other watch companies, I fear that Zodiac realized that they had lightning in a bottle too late and now don’t know what to do with it. I actually had to clarify some technical details to answer questions people where asking on their Instagram posts. Zodiac couldn’t answer them correctly. They even pulled the watch down from their webpage. Hopefully, Zodiac has a plan.
Unfortunately, the Aerospace GMT is limited to 182 pieces worldwide for each of the two colorways. The orange/blue sold out in less than twenty-four hours and the black/grey a few days later. This has led to a lot of discontent among enthusiasts crying BS and cursing out Zodiac. The truth is that it was one of the few watches actually available for immediate purchase during Baselworld 2019.
If you missed out and still want an Aerospace GMT, you will be faced with some difficult decisions. You do still have the option of overpaying into the vintage bubble. However, the vintage models have already started to evaporate. Otherwise, you will have to seek out one of the limited-edition modern reissue pieces at over retail price. The third option is to wait patiently on speculation that Zodiac will have a regular production run of the GMT. Modern Zodiac isn’t shy about the use of bold color as seen with the Super Sea Wolf. We could see something daring again for another batch of Aerospace GMTs, just don’t expect to see the “Gulf” colorway and ETA movement combination again.
If you do manage to find one of the 182 blue/orange limited edition models for the retail price of $1,695, you are going to have something special. It will be sure to hold its own amongst much higher valued pieces at any watch meet-up. Expect the high-horologist crowd to drop their loupes and line-up to handle your Zodiac unicorn. Statistically, you’ll have a better chance of seeing a Ferrari F40 in the wild. Happy hunting!
Postscript − Final Thoughts
With unique watches such as the Aerospace, I try to imagine where it would take me when putting it on. Technically this watch would be classified as a “flyer”. I didn’t get the same feeling from the Aerospace as a GMT Master. I was driving to work and happened to pass an old WWII-era destroyer berthed in the port. The sun was just coming up to match the Zodiac bezel perfectly. As I passed the ship and it all came together, I imagined crossing the international dateline on a steel leviathan for the first time and becoming a “Golden Shellback” – GMT complications aren’t just for air travel and I think that this Zodiac belongs on the ocean.
Greg is a long-time watch lover based in upstate New York. Greg is a supply chain professional by day and private watch consultant by night. Greg brings his own style to the TBWS website as a contributor by blending bits of humor into technical assessments. You can follow his cycling and snowboarding adventures on Instagram as he pursues the perfect 3-watch collection.