Think of Japanese watches and you think of Seiko. It is one of the largest watch companies in the world, with a history dating back to 1881, a huge production and a staggeringly diverse range of products. However, amongst the general population, it is usually perceived to be an inexpensive, albeit reliable brand, not in the same league as its Swiss counterparts.
Watch fans know better, citing Grand Seiko and Springdrive as two prime examples of the excellence and innovation coming out of the Japanese marque. The other common refrain heard around Seiko is that their watches offer some of the best ‘bang for buck’ around.
And it’s the ‘bang for buck’ side of things that interests me. Specifically I’m interested in the value offered by the classic vintage chronographs of the 1970s. Seiko watches of this era have developed something of a cult following in the watch world, and for good reason. It was a golden period for Seiko, when their modern approach to production challenged the tradition bound Swiss, and before the onslaught of quartz technology (another Seiko first by the way), changed telling the time forever.
The story of the Seiko chronograph properly begins in 1969. A momentous year in watchmaking that finally saw the development of not just one, but three, automatic chronographs. The Calibre 11 movement developed in partnership by a number of brands, but made famous by Heuer. The El Primero was developed by Zenith and Movado, and is still in production today. Alongside these illustrious and famously storied movements, housed in some of the most desirable vintage watches around, the third automatic chronograph released in 1969 seems a little overshadowed, but the Seiko 6139 movement (and its successor, the 6138) are none the less historically significant, and a helluva lot more obtainable than the other two.
Of course that’s the other aspect to the appeal of vintage Seiko chronographs; they are excellent value. You can pick up a serviceable example in nice condition for around the $150-200 mark. That’s ridiculously cheap for an automatic column wheel chronograph. Heck, that’s cheap for a vintage watch. I’m going to give you a quick rundown of some of the more significant references from the two major movements, the 6139 and the 6138.
Col. William Pogue’s Seiko