Joe Exotic’s Watch Reviewed

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Joe Exotic's watch in his famous photo

Joseph Allen Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage has an undeniable magnetism. Though the eponymous star of the Netflix docu-series Tiger King has fallen on hard times, the self-styled “Joe Exotic” was once a gun-slinging, tiger-breeding, limousine-riding Midwestern mogul. With his own unique style. So, before his incarceration, what was Joe Exotic’s watch? As we revealed earlier this month, it’s the Le Vian Vanilla Diamonds ZAG 258. Let’s take a closer look . . .

Le Vian describes the ZAG 258 as “Watch with Vanilla Diamonds, 1/4 carats.” That’s their entire product description. We can do better.

Joe Exotic's watch - Le Vian ZAG 258

Joe Exotic’s watch was a 38mm timepiece with a polished metal case and a unidirectional rotating bezel with segments alternating between trios of tiny, off-color diamonds and white enamel paint. The Oyster-style bracelet is made of what feels like some kind of ceramic material, and includes a butterfly-style polished metal clasp. So now you know.

My first impressions of the ZAG 258: shock not awe.

The timepiece doesn’t look or feel like a watch fit for a king, Tiger or otherwise. The metal case has no contouring or beveling of any kind. The polishing is not done to a high standard. The 258 has a dull shine and is non-ferrous. That means it’s made of an alloy of zinc and low melting point scrap known as pot metal or, more appropriately given Joe’s primate enclosures, “monkey metal.”

If Joe was expecting the ZAG 258 to hold up to the rigors of the zookeeper and exotic animal breeder’s lifestyle, this easily corroded watch was bound to let him down sooner rather than later.

Inside of the ZAG 258’s crappy case beats . . . something. The text at six o’clock proudly proclaims the movement as Swiss Made. The dial layout and hand motion give it away as some sort of very small, very cheap quartz movement.

Hardly the heart of a lion, then! If we’re lucky the 258’s engine is something from Ronda’s catalog. As explained here, “Swiss made” doesn’t mean what Switzerland wants you to think it means. I wouldn’t bet my right arm that anything in this watch has enjoyed the fresh air of Switzerland.

Joe Exotic's watch is a star!

The ZAG 258’s dial itself is more varied than Mr. Exotic’s wardrobe. Tiny, off-color “vanilla” diamonds serve as hour markers, sharing space with Roman numerals. The hands are very modern-looking skeletons with (non-functional) lume plots on the ends. There’s a screen-printed seconds track on the silver dial, but the chronograph’s seconds hand doesn’t line up with the indices.

The ZAG 258’s subdials are recessed in a form called a Reuleaux triangle, adorned here with a machined effect. I’m not doubting Joe Exotic’s intelligence, but I don’t think his buying decision was influenced by the presence of a polygon with curves of a constant width. Rather, he was probably captivated by subdials that look like a bit like a cat’s head viewed straight on.

Joe Exotic's watch close up

Feline appeal aside, the 258’s classic 9-6-3 chronograph layout disappoints. Joe Exotic’s watch only offers one true complication: a 30-minute totalizer. The other two subdials track running seconds and days of the week. Just in case that’s not enough clutter, there’s a date window at the four o’clock.

The net result? It’s hard to read the correct time, even when you’re not being dragged around by a tiger that’s sick of eating Walmart sausages.

At least it’s comfortable. Though the ZAG 258 is a full 11mm thick, it’s 38-39mm diameter delivers perfectly wearability. The butterfly clasp keeps the bracelet’s profile low. The maybe-it’s-ceramic bracelet warms up quickly and lacks the burdensome heft of cold steel.

It takes confidence to wear Joe Exotic’s watch. The ZAG 258 is attention-grabbing and extroverted in all the wrong ways. As a friend of mine said, “that thing looks hood rich!” I am a steadfast horological writer dedicated to the demands of my craft. But every time I wear this watch I can’t wait to get it off of my wrist.

I’m not bothered about people thinking that I like the ZAG 258. At first [distant] glance, it could be mistaken for a TAG Heuer F1 Calibre 5. My fear: what people who like a watch styled like the 258 would do to acquire one. In that, Tiger King was both most instructive and deeply worrying.

Le Vian’s website would like you to know they sell their products “at reputed fine jewelry retailers like Jared Jewelers, Kay Jewelers, Zale’s, Macys, Ernest Jones, Charm Diamond Centers and a host of boutiques across the world.”

Excellent, those are everywhere! But when the world opens up and you venture out to the mall to find a ZAG 258 of your own you may be shocked at the retail price. It’s $1781.

You read that right. Le Vian has the balls to ask nearly $1800 for a poorly finished quartz watch with some tiny brownish diamonds set into the bezel. If Joe paid anything near that we may have some insight into his notoriously precarious financial situation.

Like the TV series that made it famous, the Le Vian ZAG 258 raises a lot of questions about the state of things in this country. How does a man from rural Oklahoma find his way into breeding jungle cats, owning a private zoo and running for political office all while maintaining an all-consuming revenge campaign against a similarly damaged woman who disagrees with him? And how sustainable is a business that cons men like Joe out of $1800 for bottom shelf parts slathered in industrial-grade diamonds?
I’m not really looking for the answers. The coronavirus, Tiger King and the ZAG 258 have all helped me embrace one singularity: the truth is stranger than fiction.
MODEL: Le Vian Watch with Vanilla Diamonds ZAG 258

LIST PRICE: $1781

SPECIFICATIONS:

Case: 38 mm metal case with polished finish
Dial: Silver and white with recessed subdials
Crown: Non-screwdown
Crystal: Unknown material with no AR coating
Bracelet: Oyster style of unknown ceramic-like material, riveted links, metal butterfly clasp
Movement: Unknown “Swiss made” quartz chronograph
Functions: Hour, minute, date, running seconds, 30 minute totalizer, days of the week
Water Resistance: Not rated

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * 
Thrown together rather than designed, much like a trash barrel full of expired meat.

Legibility * 
Not ideal. A lot of dials and numbers stuffed into a very small space.

Comfort * * *
Not bad! Just don’t wear it in the wrong neighborhood.

Overall * *
Joe Exotic had one. Need we say more?

3 COMMENTS

  1. At last. The world can rest easy now that we know. Most fun watch review I’ve read in a long time! Thanks!!

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