If there was ever a watch that made me want to get out my red beanie and watch Life Aquatic, it is the Zodiac Sea-Chron Automatic Chronograph. The Sea-Chron is a watch dug from the depths the Zodiac archives. The original Sea-Chrons date back to the 1960s and you can feel it in these modern reissues. These are dive watches that are meant to sit on the beach in Turks and Caicos. The hand that wears this watch drinks nothing but Singapore Slings with a Mezcal chaser. The arm that wears this watch is touched only by tropical-printed silk shirts.
Watches like this, I think, offer great entry points to a mechanical chronograph with a load of value at a price point that is accessible (for a watch). They also offer something different from other vintage reissues. Within the design of this particular Zodiac are a few features I was genuinely surprised by as I started to wear it. The Zodiac Sea Chrono sports a ceramic bezel, sandwich (or dual layered) dial, great blue lume, and a pretty great bracelet all at a fairly reasonable price for a Swiss chronograph with this level of detail.
Zodiac Sea-Chron Automatic Chronograph Specs
|Case Size||42mm x 17mm x 51mm|
|Power Reserve||62 Hours|
Beefy Vintage-Inspired Case
This Sea Chron (SKU ZO3605) uses a case similar to the Super Sea Wolf’s. It’s larger, and a bit thicker, but overall it has the same general lines. I kinda like this, to be honest. It allows for some cohesion across the brand’s catalog and makes it easy for the watches to be related to the same Zodiac Super Sea Wolf “family.” The timepiece measures out at 42mm x 51mm lug to lug x 17mm thick. This is a thick boy. On my 7.25-7.5” wrist I can just barely pull off the case size but that is mostly due to the length of the lugs.
If my wrist was any smaller I’d get some lug overhang. Now, I don’t think there’s anything scarier to hear as a watch enthusiast than “this watch is thick,” or “this watch is long in the lugs,” but I encourage you to not take the numbers at face value. While large I find this watch comfortable and easier to wear. The watch is a big statement on the wrist but for me, it adds to the feeling of robust utility.
On the right side of the stainless steel case, we have an oversized 7mm signed crown. Flanking the crown you’ve got two plunger-style pushers. I have to be honest, the pushers give this watch an identity problem. The crown screws down and the watch boasts 200m of water resistance, but these pushers don’t screw down. I’m sure they’re gasketed and just can’t be used underwater but I think a better fit would have been screw-down chrono pushers like we see on the Tudor Black Bay Chronos or the Sinn 103s.
A Surprise Sandwich Dial
The dial of the Sea Chron was truly a surprise to me. When I first looked at this watch online I didn’t notice that it had a sandwich dial. Zodiac simply describes it as a blue sunray dial, which it is, but the lume plots, and sub-dials sit on a layer beneath the blue portion of the dial. This gives the watch a ton of depth and visual interest under that sapphire crystal when it’s on your wrist. They also offer a black dial version.
Moving beyond the sandwich, we have a pretty typical tri-compax dial layout. Your running seconds is at nine o’clock, your hour totalizer at six, and your minutes totalizer at 3. It’s all pretty standard here. What I will say is between the sub-dials, branding, and tachymeter you have a ton of information on the dial and it can appear a little cluttered at a glance. On the other hand, you have a ton of functionality and as a result, this watch can tell you a lot.
Around the dial, you have a domed ceramic bezel. The ceramic is a nice durable addition for this particular watch. However, I do find it visually disruptive to have the only text on the bezel sit at the “30” mark. I would prefer it either with more text or no text. The whole bezel is lumed with Super-LumiNova, however, and it looks great when charged up.
I like the handset on the Sea Chron. The hour hand is a polished hand with two separated plots of blue lume. The minutes hand is a contrasting white hand that pops out from the dial. This allows pretty quick acquisition of the minutes, again as a dive watch this is pretty key.
Overall this is a great watch to look at. Like I said earlier it trends towards the cluttered end of the spectrum, but if you’re generally a chronograph fan this isn’t something new. If I could make a few changes it would be the addition (or likely redaction) of text on the timing bezel. I also think this watch would benefit from having a date at six o’clock.
Reliable Mechanical Chronograph Movement
Under the caseback, Zodiac opted to use Sellita’s SW510B chronograph movement in this watch. As I understand it, the SW5XX movements from Sellita are Valjoux 775X clones. This explains a little bit of the thickness of the Sea Chron. Based on my experience with various chronographs that ran Valjoux movements, they were all thick.
The trade-off, on the other hand, is that this movement design has been well-tested over the years and has proven itself hyper-reliable. The nice thing about this particular variant used by Zodiac is that they were able to bump the power reserve. The Sea Chron can boast a nearly three-day running time on a full wind, right at 62 hours. I don’t have anything I’d change here. At this price point, I wouldn’t expect an in-house movement or anything. I think the SW510B is nicely suited to the Sea Chron.
Run-Of-The-Mill Pin & Collar Bracelet
The Sea Chron ships on a 7-link bracelet and the lug width is 20mm. This stainless steel bracelet is sigh pin and collar construction, but that’s just temporary pain. Once sized the bracelet is a nice complement to the watch with its matching case material. It’s sturdy but drapes well around the wrist and gives the whole package that retro/vintage flare that this watch demands. The bracelet also comes with something I’ve come to appreciate in recent months: quick-release spring bars. It’s straightforward to remove to try a different strap material.
The clasp is sorta of love/hate. It’s a butterfly clasp that opens on one side and then the other unlike something like a more standard deployant clasp. The clasp also needs to be closed in the right order. It looks nice and clean, but it can be a pain to operate until you get used to it. One last thing I’d point out about the Sea Chron’s bracelet is that it does have a bit of a hair-pulling quotient. You want to wear this bracelet tight enough that it won’t slide around on your wrist, otherwise, it’ll take a bit of hair with it. I am envious of you low-to-no-arm hair folks out there…
So … Would I Buy It?
So, the $2,500 question: Would I buy the Zodiac Sea Chron? Yeah, I think I would. I love the dial and the attention to detail that Zodiac put into it. I think the one big determining factor for a potential purchaser would be if it is going to fit their wrist well. Where I think the Sea Chron will present a really good value is from a retailer or individual sellers on the pre-owned market. At the time of this article’s writing Sea Chrons can be found for sub $2k on Watchrecon and that seems like a nice value to me.
However! There are some competitive options out there that are worth taking a closer look at. The first one I would suggest is the Longines Avigation Big Eye. These can be found for around $1,500 on Watchrecon and in my opinion, are amazing values. Big Eyes run column wheel chronograph movements and are sized a little more reasonably than the Sea Chron.
For the size-conscious, I’d also point you to a used Omega Speedmaster Reduced (ref 3510.50). These are generally sub-40mm, run an Omega 3220 movement, and are massive values priced around $2k or so. They are thick for their size though, if that matters to you.
When it all boils down to it, the decision between the Sea Chron and another similarly priced chronograph will be an aesthetic one and probably a size choice. Do you want that Jacque Cousteau/Steve Zissou vibe dive chronograph on your wrist? Do you want to experience those tropical vibes while you’re sitting at your desk closing out some emails? If so, then I think the Zodiac Sea Chron might be a good fit for you and I encourage you to strap one on, pour yourself a Mai Tai, and start planning that next trip to Nassau.
Aaron is a Nashville based watch collector and road bike rider. In addition to TBWS, his articles can been seen on ABlogtoWatch and Bladereviews.com. Aaron’s interests primarily focus on tool watches — specifically in the dive, pilot, or field watch arenas. When not over enthusiastically asking someone about the watch they’re wearing, Aaron can be found traveling, cycling, trying new restaurants with his partner Carissa, or petting any and all dogs within his sightline.