Posted on January 10 2018
Japanese giants Seiko are among the biggest watch manufacturers on the planet. Founded in the late 1800's the company has progressed from its initial production of clocks to the forefront of wristwatch design and manufacturing. Along the way the company released the world's first quartz watch, the first quartz chronograph and introduced the innovative Kinetic models – a marriage of mechanical automatic watch features with quartz accuracy.
As expected, during this time they've released a number of watches widely regarded as design classics. Their influence has been particualrly strong with their divers watches, from the very affordable SKX series to the highly regarded Sumo Prospex.
As well as the classics there's been a number of watches that have caught the public's attention due to their association with a celebrity, movie or event.
Here we guide you through six of the best examples
Seiko Pogue 6139
Rolex will forever be regarded as the Everest watch, due to their supply of Edmund Hillary's timepiece on his successful 1953 ascent. The claim to having the first watch on top of the world will always go to the Swiss manufacturer. Similarly, Omega are the suppliers of 'The Moon watch'. When NASA tested a range of competing manufacturers Omega won the race and have subsequently boasted as having been on the wrist of the first man on the moon.
However, the Russian's actually had the first wristwatch in Space, with Yuri Gagarin wearing a specially commissioned Sturmanski handwound model.
So for many, the question of which space watch to buy comes down to the expensive Swiss Omega Speedmaster or the much more affordable Sturmanskie Gagarin. Swiss luxury or Russian utilitarianism.
For those willing to dig a little deeper there's also the story of Seiko's space watch. The 6139-6002 model – a bold 1970's automatic chronograph.
What makes this watch so interesting?
Well firstly, this watch wasn't meant to go into space. Remember, Omega were the official suppliers to the NASA space program. As expected on the 1973 Skylab 4 mission Colonel William Pogue wore his Omega Speedmaster. However, on his left wrist he took the unauthorised Seiko with him. Thus another watch legend was born.
With a barrel style case, gold dial and pepsi style bezel this watches oozes vintage charm. Whilst the case is angular and harsh in appearance, the bright colours are almost playful. With two crowns and a subdial it's quite a busy looking watch, but that just adds to the impression that you're wearing a functional tool.
Apocalypse Now Seiko 6105
While the space race represented American ambition and success, Vietnam was a more difficult period for the superpower. We've looked here at some of the US made watches worn during that conflict - many still produced today.
Again, at first glance Japanese companies involvement is a little less obvious than those American manufacturers. However, Seiko watches were quite popular with American soldiers at the time. For example, US troops could buy these Seiko 6105-8000/8009’s at the PXs (Post Exchanges) on bases in Southeast Asia.
Many were worn in combat and some of those also made their way back to the US bolstering the brands reputation for a rugged functionality. Therefore it was plausible for Martin Sheen's character Captain Willard to wear one in Apocalypse Now, widely considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.
The watch has a distinctive 41mm cushion-case design and is powered by an automatic movement. The crown is set at 4 o'clock and as one of Seiko's earliest divers it has water resistance of 150M.
Eiffel Tower Seiko - 7A28-7020
Ian Fleming, writing about Bond in Casino Royale, said “He could not just wear a watch. It had to be a Rolex”. Initially the Bond films producers were true to this. Many of you will remember Sean Connery's Bond wearing his Rolex Submariner in Dr No. As Ursula Andress emerges from the sea watch nerds everywhere try to get a peek at Bond's watch.
That watch was an essential part of the character.
Yet this association wasn't to last. The Omega Seamaster became more widely known to the public when in 1995 Lindy Hemming, an Oscar-winning costume designer, selected the watch for James Bond's GoldenEye. Where Fleming had been clear that Bond wore a Rolex, Hemming had felt differently. In her view Rolex's longtime competitor produced a watch that was more authentic for Bond's military/spy role. By 2012, Daniel Craig's character wore the Omega Aqua Terra, giving this dressier Seamaster an additional boost from it's Bond association.
Like Space exploration before it, the story here isn't simply of two competing super powers. Again, the Japanese were represented. Not only represented in the Bond franchise, but regularly on display.
Between Connery's Rolex and Craig's Omega there was Roger Moore and his slightly less glamorous, but more affordable, Seiko's. At a time when watches were being used as gadgets Bond opted for more modern Japanese technology. Moving away from Swiss luxury Moore's Bond wore his watches as tools. Watches that were functional.
Moore wore a number of Seikos in his Bond films, mostly digital watches. This included the Seiko 0674 LC in The Spy Who Loved Me, Seiko M354 in Moonraker, Seiko G757 5020 and Seiko TV Watch in Octopussy, and the Analogue/Digital Seiko H357 5040 in For Your Eyes Only.
Here however we're interested in the one most associated with his Bond character – the watch dubbed The Eiffel Tower Seiko after it's appearance in his final film A View to a Kill.
The watch is interesting in it's own right as an analogue Quartz Chronograph. The watch is famous, not just for the Bond appearance, but also because up until that point all quartz chronographs had been digital. This new model, produced to make a point, was a quartz chronograph designed with the aesthetics of the pricey mechanical versions.
It's a clean design, still very popular with watch enthusiasts as it has a classic chronograph style. The dial is a nice white, and although quite busy, the number of subdials and pushers isn't overwhelming.
Seiko Arnie H558
Another favourite with watch collectors is the Seiko Arnie. The bodybuilding legend wore this watch in no less than five of his films during the 1980's including such classics as Predator and Commando.
Like the Bond watch above, the watch is an interesting piece in its own right.
The first thing you'll notice is that although it has a stainless steel case – the watch is held in a plastic shroud. Importantly, it was also the first dive watch to combine a digital stop watch and alarm with an analogue display.
With the shroud taking the size up to 46mm it's a reasonably large watch, although it looks mid-sized on Arnie's super-sized forearm. As you'd expect it's a substantial watch - neither subtle nor graceful. The kind of watch you'd need to wear when rescuing your daughter from killers. Unlike many of Seiko's other divers it has the crown at the traditional 3 o'clock.
Seiko Ripley 7A28-7000 and Bishop 7A28-6000
The mid-1980's were a prolific period for Seiko watches and influential films.
During that time Arnie and Roger Moore were regularly on screen with their Japanese quartz watches. Then 1986 saw the release of James Cameron's cult classic Alien's, a movie that actually gives us a link to two Seiko watches.
Both are strange looking watches with an asymmetrical design – perfectly in keeping with the films dystopian imagery. Much of the design in the movie came from the twisted mind of swiss artist H. R. Giger who helped create the fictional world inhabited by alien predators.
Yet, not all of the technology on display was created for the film.
The watches worn by both Ripley and Bishop were already in production by Seiko, having been designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Giugiaro is an Italian automotive designer who created many iconic cars, such as various Alfa Romeos, the 1977 BMW M1 and, perhaps most famously, the DeLorean.
With hindsight we can see that these watches were perfectly matched to the film. Chunky utilitarian pieces ideally suited to the needs of space miners and soldiers. There's a touch of colour to the watches, just enough to catch your eye, but not overly dramatic like the Pogue – a watch that really did go into space.
Both models are powered by Seiko's analogue quartz movement, caliber 7A28. Ripley's model is the silver version and Bishop's is the black and red design. Both watches have that futuristic edge that Cameron was attempting to create and appear more at home in a space ship than a 1980's street. If it wasn't for the movie association I'd be tempted to believe that the watches would have stood the test of time as well as Sinclair's C5 that was released a year earlier. As it is, Seiko have produced modern limited edition remakes.
Apollo 13 – Gene Kranz Seiko 6119-8460
From fictional space exploration we're back again to a Seiko watch involved in the NASA space program, although not actually in space this time.
Kranz is best known for his role as lead flight director during NASA's troubled Apollo 13 manned Moon landing mission. Kranz's team was on duty when part of the Apollo 13 Service Module exploded and they dealt with the first hours of the unfolding accident.
Eagle eyed watch geeks have noted the Seiko worn by Kranz in contemporary photographs and have added it to the brands mythology.
The watch is a pleasingly retro looking Seiko '5'. The 5 refers to the 5 elements present in all of the watches in that range. The five attributes being:
- 1. Automatic winding
- 2. Day/date displayed in a single window
- 3. Water resistance
- 4. Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position
- 5. Durable case and bracelet
Although not as distinctive as the Aliens watches this is still a handsome vintage watch that is surprisingly difficult to get a hold of with the silver dial as worn by Kranz.
So, there's six iconic, and for the most part, affordable Seiko watches. Be sure to scour ebay if you're after the exact watch. But remember, many of the designs have remained pretty consistent so you may be able to find a current model with very similar styling. The Apocalypse Now model with it's cushion case design is very similar to the new 'Turtle' Seiko and as noted above, the Alien's models were re-released around 2013 as a limited edition.