Before we dive into the zero-grav beauty that is the Zodiac Astrographic, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I'm a product designer by trade (our company happens to work with ISRO), a true-blue cinephile, and a certified space nerd. And these quirks/attributes define my watch-collecting habits to a very large extent. But more on that later.
Like most watch collectors and space nerds, I tend to gravitate towards a space watch (no pun intended). And there are some great ones to choose from — the G.O.A.T., i.e. the Speedmaster, the Seiko 6139 Pogue, a little more left field (and, frankly, more interesting) with the Fortis Cosmonauts, the Bulova Lunar Pilot and I can continue, but we really have to get to the meat of this article.
You see, all watches that I’ve mentioned above have been designed by considering function over form. Yes, they’re lovely, but they were designed to do their job and to do it well. Where they lack is the romance of space exploration. And the designer half of me needs more, it craves the unusual and it just can’t be one of the 10 Speedmasters in a room of 11 watch collectors.
At the peak of the space race in the 1960s, one can only imagine the sheer wonder that took over the minds of every man, woman and child. They went from ‘oh so that's a rocket’ to putting a man on the moon in the span of a decade! That's absolutely insane if you think about it. Look at the films this era gave us — Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Alien franchise. And it is from this glorious and overly optimistic vision of the future that the Zodiac Astrographic SST was born.
The Astrographic doesn't have regular earthly hands; there’s a floating minute and hour hand that spins around the Zodiac logo at its centre. Then there is the seconds hand, an orbiting red circle at the edge of the dial that represents mankind's next conquest, Mars. This layout is called a mystery dial in watch circles; the illusion is achieved with the hands being printed on thin glass discs stacked on top of each other. The only giveaway would be the edges of the glass discs or the centres of the glass discs, which are connected to the movement. But those are cleverly hidden with the Zodiac logo and the hour markers printed on the underside of the crystal.
The dial is in a gorgeous deep sunburst navy blue, a colour similar to Earth's Exosphere, the last layer of Earth's atmosphere before you’re in the blackness of outer space. And all this spectacle is housed in a very simple, retro-futuristic, rectangular brushed metal case. As a product designer myself, I can see the narrative behind this design swirling and taking shape in the heads of the designers at Zodiac. The watch would be perfectly at home on the sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey because it's the embodiment of a vision of the future from the 70s, just like the film. And for a designer/space nerd/cinephile like myself, it was love at first sight.
I don’t specifically remember where I first saw the Astrographic, but I do remember my eyes widening. It just spoke to the Captain Picard fanboy in me and this was followed by a frenzied Google search. It was introduced by Zodiac in the 1970s and came in either a rectangular or a round case. They also released a completely gold version, a rare champagne version and a smaller variant for women. But, for me at least, it's the blue rectangular one that actually cast a spell. Zodiac did do a re-issue in 2010 with a round case, which was really quite stunning, and an ok-ish rectangular one, but they lost a little bit of the charm of the originals.
Zodiac has been around since 1882 and is well-known for the Bold Sea Wolf, Super Sea Wolf and Sea Dragon watches. I don’t know who was in charge of naming the watches at Zodiac, but I like him/her.
The SST movement, i.e. the split second timing movement, was one of the first 36,000 bph hi-beat automatic movements. It was specifically chosen by Zodiac to give the seconds/Mars hand as smooth a sweep as possible. The case is 38 mm wide and 42 mm lug to lug with a thickness of 12.5 mm; it has a brushed finish throughout. What’s more, it has a push-to-change date window in a very tasteful, white-rimmed circle at 12 o’clock. The bracelet is reasonably well made for a 70s vintage watch; its colossal 24 mm lug width works seamlessly with this rectangular case.
The watches come up for sale every once in a while on chrono24 or eBay and a good one will set you back by around $600 — a bargain for the amount of watch you get. But that being said, finding one with all the glass discs intact can be challenging. Furthermore, the markers and the Zodiac logo are printed on the underside of the crystal, so replacing a broken crystal is pretty difficult. The movement, while being a hi-beat pioneer from the 70s, is easy enough to service and mine hasn't given me any trouble. I managed to find one for an absolute song on eBay with some nasty scratches on the crystal, but nothing that some sandpaper, a dremel, cerium oxide and a LOT of elbow grease couldn’t fix. I found my champagne version on Luxepolis, but she had a blank crystal. I managed to remedy that by recreating the Zodiac logo and the markers within millimetre precision of the original and pasted it on the underside of the glass.
The Astrographic gets a lot of eyeballs, thanks to its deep dial with all its floaty wonderfulness. And, it gives me the tiny window to ramble on about space —
soul-satisfying, for me at least.
Will it keep ticking in space? Probably not. Can I look at it on my wrist and pretend that I'm going to have a diplomatic dinner with Aliens from Alpha Centauri? Hell, yes.
An additional bit of trivia: The Zodiac Killer, a serial killer active in the early 70s, apparently got the idea of his insignia from a magazine ad for a Zodiac watch.
(Coordinated by Aakriti Jadwani)
Adip Mehta is a product designer and creative director at Black White Orange Brands, a brand licensing agency, and A47, the official licensee for ISRO. His watch preferences are broad, but he does have a weakness for vintage racing chronographs. He loves photographing his watch collection with some added flare. You may know him as ‘smallwristwatchguy’ on Instagram, where he swears he’ll become active again.