When a team tackles a rebrand with the goal to create something ‘different, without compromise’, it’s hard to imagine what the final product will be.
It turns out, in the case of Swiss-made watch brand Zodiac, the result is something bold and brave, yet truly authentic. Following a three-year evolution, Fossil Group relaunched Zodiac at this year’s Baselworld, showcasing three new key collections.
Fossil Group first acquired Zodiac in 2001 but did very little with the brand and eventually took it off the market four years ago.
“We felt like it was being compromised and we were going down a certain channel that wasn’t necessarily doing the brand justice,” explains Fossil Group chief creative officer, Brandon Little.
Step one for Fossil was recognising the brand was losing its way and being honest about it. Step two, Little shares, was saying “let’s go back and do something we are really proud of in regards to a brand that has a really distinct legacy”.
Zodiac has always been quite a different brand for Fossil. Known for its divers’ watches, Zodiac looks to partner with consumers embarking on an adventure – something the team has captured during the brand evolution as they’ve let their hair down and followed Zodiac in the natural direction it needed to go.
“We’ve taken the approach from Zodiac’s position that it’s doing something a bit more independent minded and when we kicked this off three years ago we said ‘let’s do something different without compromise’,” Little shares.
He continues: “That’s a really nice position to be in and I think it’s shown both in product and how we are bringing the product to the market.”
HEART OVER HEAD
Rather than focusing on business, Fossil made choices led by passion. This can be seen with the launch of Astrographic – one of the first Zodiac timepieces to be bought back to market by Fossil three years ago. Little says Astrographic was chosen as the debut product because the team were paying attention to what people thought was interesting about the world and the brand, rather than being concerned about whether it was the best piece to drive sales.
Astrographic was certainly a brave choice, but one that paid off. The Astrographic is one of the brand’s most celebrated collections and now offers two leather options. Featuring a sleek barrel-shaped case and a ‘transparent disc’ floating index system, the new range has been designed to capture the space-age advancement of 1969, the year the original collection launched.
Little explains that the Astrographic represents the direction Fossil wants the brand to continue in, as the original invention of the Astrographic marked Zodiac’s innovative and creative position in the market.
“I think the Astrographic sets a tone for what the brand has always played in, which was thinking differently. We like to tell the story of how the Astrographic came around. At the time, the industry was making watches and everybody kind of lived around the same region of Switzerland and a few partner brands at that point were making really high complication, very nicely done, chrono-automatics such as us, but what’s interesting is the original Zodiac founders decided to also do something like the Astrographic, which to me is like ‘how on earth did you come up with the idea?’ They were making these relatively serious timekeeping devices or diving watches at that point, and then it’s like ‘hey, let’s just do the Astrographic and just have fun with this’.
“So we thought, why not kick the brand back off with that. You know what, we are going to bring it back, but we are going to bring it back with a bit of fun and cheek around it and launch something that was really revolutionary at the time so we set a pattern.”
With the interest surrounding heritage and vintage watches at the moment, it would have been easy for Zodiac to have merely copied the brand’s back catalogue and done a series of re-issues. Instead, the brand is back more assured than ever before, with a stylish collection of watches inspired by its mid-20th Century back catalogue, very much celebrating its past, while keeping one eye firmly on the future.
“We’ve done two things,” Little explains. “We listened on social media and said ‘hey guys, who’s collecting what? What’s really important? Where do we see people buying relatively cool and inexpensive timepieces?’ And so we do target those, and we said in order to do it right, and to prove that we are paying attention to all the details, we needed to launch back.
“So significant pieces almost to the tee, but what we are going to do on the flip-side is with that, we are going to distort them. We are also going to tweak them and come out with variations that really push the brand forward. We don’t want to necessarily get stuck on just doing heritage pieces but we do think it is an interesting play, especially with some of the memories that are bought back.”
So to complement the Astrographic, Zodiac presented two new collections at Basel in March – the Sea Dragon Automatic Chronograph limited editions and the Super Sea Wolf 68 Automatic Bronze limited edition.
The limited edition Sea Dragon Chronograph takes the bold design cues from the original Sea Dragon to the next level. The new style offers two unique limited-edition watches, which pay homage to 1882, the year the brand began.
As such, one edition of the new Sea Dragon watch is limited to 18 pieces, while the other is limited to 82. To commemorate the piece’s exclusivity, each watch includes an individually numbered rotor. Both limited edition chronograph models have been COSC-certified to provide the highest level of accuracy.
Elsewhere the Super Sea Wolf 68 Automatic Bronze limited edition honours the history of Zodiac’s diving past, its impact on the watch world and the brand’s commitment to blending historically-renowned design with Swiss-made horology. The 82-piece Super Sea Wolf 68 “Marine Bronze” limited edition features an on-trend bronze case that gives a nod to the maritime material that defines historic marine ingenuity. Each edition provides a unique patina as it ages, taking the wearer on the journey of the watches’ unique character. A COSC-certified STP 1-11 automatic movement with a three-hand date ensures precision, while a dark brown matte leather strap and an optional olive green fabric strap with a velcro closure provides versatility.
Unveiling the watches at Basel proved a huge success for the brand. Little comments: “We were having fun and I think it shows. It’s a young minded brand but with a really long-winded history and we all personally really enjoy the product, so I think that also matters. It’s not just showing something and waiting for a response.
“Really the vibe was let’s talk, let’s have fun, let’s get really excited about these little interesting machines and what they mean and what they represent and I think that’s a good attitude to have around the market right now and the response was really good.”
With a fresh look and attitude towards marketing the brand, it comes as no surprise that Fossil Group will be thinking outside the box when it come to retailers for Zodiac. The company says that it will be looking for partnership, whether that comes in the form of a traditional jeweller or not.
“It’s an interesting time in the watch market and we think long-term partnerships are what’s going to drive success,” shares Little. “There’s a lot of options in the world for everything. So going forward is about finding the right people who want to do business and want to have fun and talk about the stories, and celebrate these things, and then we make business. And I do believe that if you think overall about the market, people will shop all over the place. I mean you can go into a barber shop and walk out with a leather bag.”
Little continues: “A guy walking into a very high end cycling shop can go in and spend £5,000-£10,000 pretty easily. And there’s other things in that shop. So for me it makes sense to go where they are going and spend a lot of their time, and I think if you can connect with the new sort of class of purchasing in a place that you feel comfortable then it might not be a traditional watch shop or it might be a traditional watch shop. So why not be open to it?”
While the US remains the brand’s strong market at the moment, Little is excited about the possibilities in London and around the UK area. He predicts the US, Japan and the UK will be particularly big for Zodiac.
Looking ahead the brand will continue to engage with consumers on social media, listening and responding to what people are fond of, don’t like and would rather change about the brand, in order to keep evolving and growing. Little describes this process as being like an ‘app’ update on the phone – keeping things in line with the brand, but continually progressing, revising and keepings things fresh.
There is little about the Baselworld show that doesn’t feel contrived, with giant temporary stands and shoehorned associations. In contrast to some of the watch brands on display during the show Zodiac feels as though it has developed organically, which is a tribute to Little’s work, because it most certainly has not. Zodiac has gone out of existence, been bought by the undisputedly master of licensed fashion watches and emerged unscathed. The brand is convincingly authentic with an easy cool; a genuine Swiss heritage brand reborn with its strengths brought to the fore.