Zodiac Astrographic Watch Shows Mars On Mystery Dial

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 28, 2019.

The red dot seconds indicator resembles the red planet, and the branding plays on that, with an included patch that depicts the orbit of Mars. Photos By Bloomberg

Zodiac has relaunched the watch, tying it to the current Mars buzz.

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Its limited-edition ‘mystery dial’ explores time, space and our current mission to the red planet

 

 

There is something wonderfully novel about the “mystery dial” of the Zodiac Astrographic. From a design perspective, it sticks out even from the crop of wild designs that proliferated in the ’60s and ’70s.  And that is saying something when you consider the barrel cases, UFO cases, gradient dials, and far out colour schemes that were popular back then. This era of watch design saw some very unique designs. It also takes folks a considerable amount of time to understand how it works, especially if they are not watch enthusiasts. The recently released re-edition features slight updates from the original model launched in ’69, but it certainly has not lost any of its oddball charm. In fact, the changes that have occurred over the past 50 years in science, technology and space travel have perhaps made the watch even more interesting. The design of the Astrographic is very much a product of its time, when retrofuturism was in full effect, and Zodiac has found an interesting angle to build a relevant story around the new edition of the Astrographic in 2019 that is completely distinct from the ’69 model. The watch is limited to 182 pieces in both gold plated and stainless steel case executions.

Both the original and modern re-edition are characterised by a series of three translucent discs stacked on top of each other, each with a single hand applied on them. The hour hand sits closest to the dial, then above it the minute hand, and then lastly on top sits the seconds “hand”, but instead of a traditional seconds hand it is a floating dot. For comparison, we have photographed a vintage model that was produced by Zodiac for the Greater Greensboro Open. Today the Greater Greensboro Open is called the Wyndham Championship on the PGA tour. The seconds hand is actually a golf ball, and the dial is, you guessed it, green like a golf course, along with the tournament logo at nine o’clock. There is an inscription on the back  — “JWT 1976”. It is a sort of goofy watch that is just plain fun to wear.

On the practical side of wearability, the limited-edition Astrographic does feel slightly top-heavy with a 10mm case, but if you are into ’60s/’70s sports watches then you have already acclimated to the lack of balance on the wrist a lot of watches with larger, oddly shaped cases have. It does seem like door jambs have a slightly higher than usual gravitational pull on the 43mm case, so beware. What is most impressive about the re-edition is the radial “sunburst” polishing that has been out of trend since the ‘70s. Unless you come across a new old stock vintage watch with this finishing, it is incredibly rare to see it when it is perfectly pristine. This polishing just sings when it is applied to the bountiful real estate the Astrographic’s UFO case offers.

Even when it was released, it was not a watch that took itself too seriously. In fact, the original advertisements used to claim that it was “the most exciting watch you can wear”. The emphasis was never on accuracy, water resistance or technological innovation; it was always about how fun and exciting the watch is. If you want a tech-forward watch you might look at a Pulsar or Accutron instead of the Astrographic; the Astrographic feels like a watch that would appeal to a sci-fi enthusiast or a space nut that just wants something cool and unique rather than folks who demand cutting-edge technology. The original watch was powered by an analogue Swiss automatic movement, and the current iteration is powered by Fossil’s STP 3-13 movement. The underpinnings of this watch are no different than any other mechanical Swiss watch; it is just the aesthetic execution that takes a turn towards the future-forward vibe.

On both the new and old model, the date is positioned at 12 o’clock, there is an obtrusive zodiac logo smack dab in the middle of the dial along with “Zodiac” printed on the lower half of the dial, and the case is just a tad too tall to put it in the “very wearable” category. To a person with practical sensibilities, or to someone that is bound to purist horological design philosophies, this watch must sound hard to love on paper. In our community, we tend to take our watches very seriously, so I can see where a kitschy, unbalanced design might not appeal to the Zodiac base in the same way the Aerospace GMT did — but keep in mind, they were contemporaries in their time, born from the same horological zeitgeist. The Aerospace GMT solved a very practical aviation problem, but the Astrographic riffed off an abstract, perhaps romantic space-age notion of the era. Other manufacturers experimented with “mystery dials”, but none to the same effect as Zodiac.

And that is exactly how Zodiac has relaunched the watch, tying it to the current Mars buzz. The red dot seconds indicator resembles the red planet, and the branding plays on that, with an included patch that depicts the orbit of Mars. In 2019 we are closer than ever to putting humans on Mars; it does not seem so far away at all. Nasa even has very specific plans in place with the Moon to Mars initiative. In a sense, this branding is almost a continuation of the sort of space-age optimistic notion the original design played on. Back then it seemed like Mars was the next stop right after a successful landing on the moon. Of course, we know it is a little more complicated than that, but the same sort of buzz around Mars exists today, except it is actually not that far off this time. Like all of Zodiac’s branding, it is fun and playful and, in this case, incredibly relevant.

It was during the turn of the century that we developed a particularly romantic view of the red planet. The advent of the telescope allowed us to fill in some details that had previously been left to the imagination, like what the surface of Mars might look like. All the sudden it became more real, and it served as the perfect backdrop for stories of fantasy, adventure and, of course, interplanetary romance.

The Mariner 4 spacecraft performed the first flyby of Mars in July of ’65, and then in ’76 Viking 1 and Viking 2 actually touched down on the red planet, offering data on soil samples, the atmosphere, and even sent back images of the Martian surface. And of course Opportunity, the rover that landed on Mars in 2004, sent its last images back to Earth last year. Oppy, may you rest in peace.

Zodiac has positioned the Astrographic as a sort of tribute to all the past unmanned missions to Mars, and a horological encapsulation of the attitude present in the catchphrase from Total Recall that Buzz Aldrin popularised, “Get your ass to Mars.” Watching that little red dot orbiting around the “mystery dial” on the astrographic, you cannot help but think “Buzz, you’re damn right we will!”

The Astrographic comes in gold-plated and stainless steel case executions. It retails for US$1,295 (RM5,451.95). — Bloomberg


This article was originally published on Hodinkee.