THE UNDERRATED BRAND IS HAVING A MOMENT
Have you watched Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now? If you are a watch fan, you might have noticed that this crazy movie is about a…watch story – and a scary one. The film takes place in 1970 in Vietnam and features an epic fight between two stars. As of now, you think about Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen. That’s not what I’m talking about, dear watch fans. The stars are two world champions, Rolex and Seiko. Marlon wears a Rolex GMT—with no bezel; Martin is a Seiko lover. While Brando’s Rolex will soon be auctioned, Martin’s Seiko has vanished. Gone. What’s interesting is that Martin (well, his character) will eventually kill Marlon. In 1970.
“DON’T GET ME WRONG, ROLEX VS. SEIKO IS A HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT.”
QUARTZ When Astron was threatening a country. On December 25th, 1969, Seiko released its first Astron—THE quartz watch, which would almost kill an entire industry—in Switzerland. The watch hit the market in 1970 and wiped out many brands, forcing the survivors to hibernate or surrender to the new Quartz Queen. Even Omega and Rolex bent their knees, adopting quartz movements. As I told you, in the end, Martin kills Marlon. Late last year, Seiko announced the release of a Tribute to Astron, with the same shape as its vintage sister, but in gold and with a solar movement.
DIVERS “Never get out of the boat!” In Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard is wearing a Seiko 6105. It is a diving watch, famous among the special forces engaged in Vietnam. Interestingly, this watch was not issued to military personnel but bought by them in PX shops. It tells a lot about how good they were. The 6105 is part of a long history of diving watches, which started in the mid-60s with the now-hard-to-find Seiko 62 MAS, soon followed by the 1968 Seiko 6159, a 300M diving watch with high beat caliber, considered one of the best diving watches ever made (yes, sorry Sub lovers). From here, the Seiko Divers family kept growing, adding the weird Tuna Can Ref. 7549 (first titanium diver watches in 1975, and then first professional quartz diver in 1978), or even the first diving wrist computer. No need to say that with Seiko, Rolex’s diver Submariners and Sea Dwellers found a fierce competitor.
CHRONOGRAPH And the winner is…OK, now you get it. Seiko versus Rolex—an epic fight. But let’s go more in depth and talk about movements. For many, Seiko is about quartz. And that’s wrong. First, Seiko is—with Rolex—one of the very few fully integrated watch manufacturers in the world. And amazingly, Seiko has been producing its calibers since its beginning. While Rolex, Omega, and many others have used third- party movements in their watches, Seiko never did. Hmmm…. So, does it mean that Seiko has produced manual winding, automatic, and quartz movements? Yes. But more than that. In 2019, some Swiss brands (Zenith, Breitling, Heuer) celebrated the 40th anniversary of the first automatic calibers. And they are right. They all presented their prototypes during the first quarter of 1969. But which brand was the first on the market? Yes, you got it! It was Seiko, with its column wheel 6139 automatic chronograph movement, in May 1969.
SPACE “One small step…” This one is sure. Omega did bring the first watch on the moon. I can guess what some readers are thinking now. Seiko and space? Yes, but it’s even more than that. In 1973, astronaut William Pogue was about to go to Skylab. He had his issued Speedy but decided to take his watch on the trip—a Seiko 6139-6002 Chronograph with an unusual yellow gold dial. It became the first-ever automatic chronograph worn in space, now nicknamed the Pogue.
ARNOLD “I’ll be back…” No, Terminator didn’t wear a watch! But Arnold Schwarzenegger does. Lots of them. So, what’s the connection with Seiko? Do you remember the first divers I just mentioned? Seiko also released the first quartz alarm diver. This watch, introduced in 1982, had the reference 0558. It became very famous as the watch worn by the characters played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Predator, Commando, and Twins. And of course, it earned the nickname of Arnie! If you want a vintage one, be ready to go for an exciting hunt. These watches have been worn a lot and sometimes show many scars. Luckily, Seiko has reissued the Arnie this year, with a solar movement, a revolutionary technology invented by an American engineer but made widely available to the public by Casio and, yes, Seiko.
HIGHTECH A different “tic-tac.” Now, let’s get to a more controversial question: what is the best watch movement in the world? Many will mention vintage calibers such as Omega 321, Valjoux 72, Calibre 11, or Zenith Primero. But what about today? Let’s talk about the infamous Spring Drive, invented in 1977 and commercialized for the first time in 1999. What’s unique with the Seiko Spring Drive? It is the combination of the best of both worlds: mechanical and electronic. This unique movement is built as a mechanical one but uses a speed control mechanism/regulator incorporating some electronic components. In summary, it combines mechanical power, electrical power, and electromagnetic power. The main benefit? Accuracy and reliability. For many, this unique setup that no one else has been able to replicate puts this caliber at the pinnacle of watchmaking. And if you have a chance, look at the smooth second hand on a Spring Drive Seiko—you’ll be amazed.
SPY “My name is Bond. James Bond.” Yes, that’s his name. And we all know that James wore Rolex and now Omega. In the saga, they were many James Bonds: Sean, Roger, David, George, Timothy, Pierce, and now Daniel. Each of us has grown up with one of these guys. Mine was Roger Moore. What’s interesting with Roger Moore’s Bond is that the hero had many different watches on his wrist—and a lot of Seiko. From the cool and fancy digital marvels (Moonraker’s M354, For Your Eyes Only H357, Octopussy G757 Sport 100) to the “Arnie,” Roger Moore made extensive use of Seiko watches. You can watch him fighting the villains with a Seiko 7549 in For Your Eyes Only or wearing his famous white dial analog quartz Seiko 6923-8080, equipped with the now-sought-after 7A28 caliber in A View to a Kill.
WOMEN When sci-fi and feminism finally met, she was wearing … 1979 – a famous movie put a badass space traveler named Ellen Ripley in some challenging situations. For the first time, a woman hero was at the front line of this epic battle. Its title: Alien. And what was Ripley wearing? Seiko—what else? This one was designed for the movie by G. Giugaro. This futuristic quartz watch was equipped with THE 7A28, the most collectible vintage quartz movement. A few months after the film was released, Seiko finally sold the Ripley—ref 7A28-7000, and another star, the ref 7A28-6000 Bishop (the one worn by the android and science officer Bishop). If you find one, let me know—they are among the most difficult Seiko vintage to source. One detail worth noting: James Cameron was Alien’s director, and he also directed Arnold in Terminator II. Even if James Cameron is now a Rolex fan, most of his heroes were wearing Seiko, including Virgil Brigman (Ed Harris) in The Abyss (which Cameron also directed), with his Seiko 6309.
“BUT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT—AS ALWAYS—IS THE PEOPLE BEYOND THESE WATCHES. TH SEIKO WATCH COMMUNITY IS A GREAT ONE, WITH PASSIONATE AND GENUINE WATCH LOVERS.”
CONCLUSION Movie star, war hero, technical marvel, genuine watch manufacturer, inventor, and more. If Seiko were a person, he would probably be a funky genius or Ironman. Most likely, he would be more of a Manga hero. Today, Seiko keeps its legend alive with three major brands: Credor, Grand Seiko, and Seiko. But what is most important—as always— is the people beyond these watches. The Seiko watch community is a great one, with passionate and genuine watch lovers. They do not compete for the “most expensive” or blingy timepieces. Their posts on IG are not about fake money, supercars, or gold chains. They love the craftsmanship; they enjoy low profile, fun, and desirable timepieces. But there’s more. Let me tell you a secret. While most look at Swiss brands reaching insane prices, they have found a unique niche, which combines affordability and collectability. I hope this will last. Now you know. Enjoy!
WORDS BY SERGE PANCZUK
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL SHARP