Many years ago, when I was still working in the retail side of watches, I struck up a conversation with a client who said he collected Seiko watches. The exact words I said are thankfully forgotten, but I’m unfortunately confident I dismissed the Japanese brand and their quality. The last 4 years have been an education for me when it comes to Seiko and I wish I could go back in time, slap myself in the face for dismissing the brand. Vintage Seiko watches offer a wide variety of styles, sizes and shapes for a watch geek to choose from, so here’s WristReview’s Top 5 Vintage Seikos.
I don’t think it’s possible to write a list of vintage Seikos and not include one diver, which is quite the challenge considering how many quality diving watch that Seiko have made over the years. For this list, I went with one of more niche watches, the 6159. Wrapped in a protective ceramic shell that protects the titanium case, the 6159 is an odd looking watch and has since been dubbed the ‘Tuna’ by collectors because of its resemblance to a Tuna can. It’s large, unwieldy and frankly a bit ugly, but the 6159 is a watch that you know will have some stories to tell if given the chance. Wear it under the waves or at your local fish restaurant, it’ll serve you well!
The world timer complication might have limited use in today’s hi-tech world where your phone can tell you the time anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice, but it’s still a charming complication in vintage watches. The Seiko 6117-6400 might not have the same level of finishing as world timers from Patek Philippe or Jaeger-LeCoultre, but you’ll be much less distressed to find a scratch on it during a world tour! Whether you get the white or black dial, the 6117 looks amazing on the wrist and is bound to get compliments wherever you are in the world.
3. Seiko Ref. 7A28-7000, aka the ‘Ripley’
If you’re anything like me, you love trying to spot what watches actors are wearing in TV shows and films, and for any watch geek who loves vintage chronographs and classic sci-fi action, the Seiko Ref. 7A28-7000 is one of the best ‘movie famous’ watches. Worn by Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, in the 1986 classic Aliens, the Ref. 7A28 is a masterpiece of modernist design.
Designed by Italian artist Giorgetto Giugiaro, the ‘Ripley’ watch is so unique that it looked perfectly at home on the wrist of Ripley from the year 2179, even though it was designed nearly a century beforehand. Much like the ‘Grammar of Design’ rules that Seiko used to design their Grand and King Seiko ranges, Giugiaro’s motifs became known as ‘folded paper’, as they emphasized flat surfaces and crisp edges.
Inside the ‘Ripley’ was the high-tech quartz movement, the 7A28, an all metal, 15 jeweled movement capable of measuring 1/20ths of a second. Whilst I will always love mechanical movements more than anything quartz, it is hard to look down upon a quartz movement that did its job so damn well.
Not everyone will love the retro 1980s/ futuristic 2170s designs, but it’s one of the most unique chronograph designs that Seiko ever made.
The Omega Speedmaster is the officially sanctioned watch for all space-flights run by NASA, but this hasn’t stopped astronauts from bringing aboard their own watches. One such watch is the Seiko Speedtimer Ref. 6139-6002, known today as the ‘Pogue’. Named after Colonel William Pogue, a certified bad-ass who flew bombers in the Korean War, jets as part of the Thunderbirds aeronautical display team and was one of the pilots aboard the Skylab 4 Mission. Skylab was a long-term research mission dedicated to researching the effects of zero gravity on the human body, as well as observing solar activity.
The Speedtimer proved more than worthy of the challenge of being a space timekeeper, with Pogue choosing to bring it aboard the mission in secret alongside his NASA issued Speedmaster. Over 34,000,000 miles, the Speedtimer also disproved the myth that self-winding watches can’t work in zero gravity. The movement inside the 6139 was the Caliber 6130, the world’s first self-winding chronograph movement.
The Ref. 6139 stopped production in 1979, the same year that the Skylab space station fell from the sky after years of orbiting the earth with no crew aboard. Available in a number of dial colors and bracelets (the style of which depends on the original market for that watch), the Pogue is a testament to Seiko’s ability to make a high quality chronograph that is practical anywhere on Earth, or several hundred miles above it!
In my eyes, the Grand and King Seikos are the very best of what vintage Seiko can offer a modern customer. Built by competing factories within Seiko (Grand Seiko was built by Suwa Seikosha and King Seiko by Daini Seikosha), these watches are the pinnacle of Japanese watch design and manufacturer with every Grand & King Seiko offered with an in-house movement. These exceptional calibers were made to standards exceeding the very best of COSC chronometers. Many later Grand and King Seikos ran at higher frequencies, a rarity for time-only watches, that allowed them to be amazingly accurate.
The designs of the Grand and King Seikos are charming and elegant, especially if they have survived the last 45 years with minimal polishing. Long, crisp lines ran down the side of the case with every facet angled to best reflect light, allowing the watch to shine. These design cues were the brainchild of Taro Tanaka, the head designer at Seiko who came up with the ‘grammar of design’ for all Seiko watches. These rules changed the hum-drum designs of the brand into a shining beacon of mid-century minimalist style that look just as stylish today as they did in the 1960s.