Seiko “Bruce Lee” – rare chocolate dial

Watch collectors give names to particular products in a way that the makers would never have expected – usually association with a person or possibly a character. Normally, the producers don’t formally acknowledge such crowd-sourced content, though Omega has done a good job of embracing the #speedytuesday movement through some nice limited edition Speedmasters.

Famously, the Rolex “Paul Newman Daytona” was a particular variant of the Rolex Daytona as worn by Paul Newman, and to date, the one which gave it the name is the most expensive wristwatch ever sold. There’s even another nicknamed Newman watch about to hit the blocks.

Seiko has its fair share of characterised watches – the 6105-8110 dive watch now known as the “Captain Willard” as worn by the eponymous character in Apocalypse Now (a watch which is incidentally on fire; a supposedly “New Old Stock” example sold on eBay for $10K in November 2020).

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And of course, the 6139-600x Colonel Pogue, named after the astronaut who took one into space. There’s another 6139 which is gaining in popularity now – the “Bruce Lee”.

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So-called because of it being worn by the martial arts legend, the “Bruce Lee” aka Seiko 6139-6010 is significant for another reason – that model was the very first automatic chronograph to reach the market, with examples showing up dating from January and February 1969, earlier than the 6139-6000 “Pogue” family, even though the –6010 model number is later.

Seiko model numbering often doesn’t make sense – the 6139 movement with one subdial pre-dated the two-subdial 6138 by a couple of years – why was the latter not 6140?

Anyway, back to Bruce Lee – his was a black-dial watch, sometimes on a funky metal bracelet with large holes.

Here’s an example of a “Bruce Lee” that doesn’t crop up very often – it’s a rare brown dial from late 1969.

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I think that almost all of these variants were produced for the Hong Kong market, and they all date from August 1969 to January 1970, mostly (like this one) from October 69.

There’s no catalogue shots of a brown dial watch anywhere; it seems that this might have been a special order (like the rare Silver 70M PROOF 6139-6000s) in the same way that Luigi Chinetti used to order special models of Ferrari from old man Enzo.

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They have English / Chinese day displays, and they’re all “WATER 70m PROOF” marked, with a 6139A movement. There are some outliers too – the same distributor who’s thought to have made the custom orders from the factory also looks to have sold them in Thailand, with English / Thai date displays.

Most of the time when you see watches with a chocolate dial, it’s because the originally black dial has aged brown – like the Heuer Camaro featured previously. In some cases, an even brown dial makes a vintage watch much more valuable – see Speedmater101 for a discussion of “tropical” dials on Omega Speedmasters.

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But not, it seems, this one. The brown dial 6139-6010 was intended to have that colour from the start, and we know how groovy the colour brown was in the 1970s?

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Other watches of the same era have common “patina” that happens to the dial, especially visible on silver or yellow Pogues, it seems. It’s pretty common to see discoloration around the rim of the sub-dial, where the lacquer was thought to be a little thinner than elsewhere. Over time, the lacquer has started to craze, and maybe the dial discolours at that point.

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This one has a slight “halo” around the sub-dial, in a reddish colour. Apart from that, it’s in really good shape, especially having been to see my favourite Seiko watchmaker…

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It came to me as part of a job lot in an auction, with no bracelet – I’ve since located an unworn example to complete the look.

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More Ceverts to the grid

Someone pointed out that if you Google “International Pogue Day” then the top hit is on this site – in one of the many posts about Seiko’s “Pogue” family and in particular the one from 2019 which talked about International Pogue Day. This is a community-led attempt to get Pogue fans the world over wearing their watches on 16th November and celebrating the anniversary of the blast-off mission to Skylab, on which a certain Col. William Pogue was aboard.

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Since last writing about Pogues, I’ve acquired a few more, this time adding a couple of Americans to the mix. The first was a 6139-6005 from July 1971.

The –6005 variants sold in the Americas have a slightly different dial layout than those that went everywhere else – the text below SEIKO says simply “AUTOMATIC” rather than “CHRONOGRAPH | AUTOMATIC” as –6000 and –6002 versions do; it also has the mark of “17J” below the centre, and the dial code on the lower right is 6009T, unlike the –6000 which would be 6030T.

Nobody seems to know why SEIKO felt it necessary to leave out the word CHRONOGRAPH from American watches. Also, even in earliest form, no American watch was marked WATER 70M PROOF – they’re all “RESIST”.

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The –6005 was thought to have been produced from 1971-73, and is in fact the version that Pogue himself wore (though it was a yellow dial one). Some collectors happily refer to any Seiko 6139-600x as a “Pogue” while others insist that only a yellow –6005 can be called that, or at least refer to them as “True Pogues”. Oh and the nearer the serial number is to 190945 (indicating Sept 1971 manufacture) then the closer your watch is to the “Pogue” Pogue (this is getting silly – like Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona).

When Seiko started advertising the 6139 in the late 1960s, it’s quite possible they expected the blue-dial watch to be more popular and the very first ads featured the blue watches. Only blue and yellow variants were officially available; the silver version has never appeared in a Seiko catalogue so was thought to have been a special order. They were aimed at action men…

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This –6005 came to me in pretty good shape on its original bracelet, though it’s not running too well, so is currently in the queue for sending to my favoured watchmaker. He only wants 2 watches at a time from me, so I need to batch them up…

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Long-term readers may recall the association with the blue-dial 6139-600x and another famous and sadly deceased racing driver – Francois Cevert – so rather than saying this is a “Blue Pogue”, let’s call it a Cevert. That’ll keep the pedants at bay.

The blue watch in the advert above, and the 1970 “PROOF” –6000 that I had already, both have a distinctive notch above the crown and a 2-piece chronograph hand denoted by the steel centre; both are indicators of the watch having a 6139A movement, which is marginally thinner than the 6139B that replaced it.

You’ll never see a 6139B watch in a notched case (unless the notch was made by some unscrupulous sort, with a Dremel, as the genuine notched case is too small to take a 6139B movement), though you often see 6139A watches in non-notched cases and with single-piece (all red) chrono hands.

… like this corker.

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It’s a pretty unusual American market watch, a 6139-6007.

These were only ever made with a blue dial, and only for a few months it seems. This one came from January 1971, and has a 6139A movement and RESIST dial.

Nobody seems to know where or why the 6007 was sold; the –6000 range was never available in the US, but the –6009 was sold in 1970 with a 6139A movement, 2-piece chrono hand, a notched case and a RESIST dial. Ultimately, the –6005 replaced the –6009, and completed the transition to 6139B movement, so the –6007 is some kind of half-way house. The same dial and movement as the –6009, but the slightly larger case of the  –6005 and (probably) a 1-piece chronograph hand (though it’s hard to know as the 2-piece hands would often have been replaced during a previous service). All 6139-6007s seem to have an English/Spanish day wheel, so it’s possible it was intended for the Latin American market.

 

The lineage of the 600x appears to be:

6139-6000 – available in Japan (as a Speed Timer) with 6030TAD and 6030T dials, and in export markets with 6030T dials and 70M PROOF dial text. 6139A movement, notched case, 2-piece chrono hand. Early 1969 – mid 1970 (exactly when seems to vary depending on the dial colour).
Available only in blue & yellow in JDM and for export markets, and for Hong Kong market only, the rare 70M PROOF silver dial, with Chinese/English day wheels.

6139-6009 – effectively the American version of the –6000 – Seiko seem to use the last digit in the reference number to denote regional versions, such as the 6105-8119 in the US but –8110 elsewhere, ie the “Captain Willard”. Probably available late 69/early 70 until early 71. 6009T dial, RESIST, no-notch, 6139A movement and 2-piece chrono hand. Definitely only ever blue or yellow; there has never been a silver “2-line” (ie no “CHRONOGRAPH” text) 6139-600x.

6139-6001 – replaced the –6000 in overseas markets, 6030T dial, 6139A movement with 2-piece chrono hands, but non-notched case. It’s possible that the transition to 6139B movement and 1-piece chrono hand happened while still being marked as –6001. Available from mid 1970 until (possibly) early 1971; available in all 3 colours. All marked 70m RESIST (notice the transition from 70M to 70m when moving PROOF->RESIST)

6139-6007 – could be seen as the American equivalent of the 6001, but for some reason was only ever blue, and probably only from November 1970 to January 1971. All were marked 70m RESIST, the majority had 6139A movements though at least one 6139B exists and almost all have Spanish/English day wheels. It’s always possible that a day wheel has been transplanted during a service, and it’s also possible that a movement swap could have occurred at some point. I’m sticking to the rule that these are all for the Latin American market.

6139-6002 – replaced the transitional 6001 in early 1971; still marked 70m RESIST until mid/late 1972, then had no text at 9 o’clock. Both 6030T and 6030R dial variants were available in all 3 colours, RESIST and no-text, overlapping for a good portion of the time from 1972 – 1976 or so. Generally speaking, earlier watches are more likely to have 6030T dials and later ones 6030R, but there’s no hard rule. The very latest -6002 is 1977.

6139-6005 – the equivalent of the 6002 for the American market. Only says AUTOMATIC under the Seiko logo and was RESIST until mid 1972 then no text. Most if not all had 6009T dial codes; I’m dubious about 6009R as there are definitely fakes of that combination around, but have little experience with the 6005 variants as they don’t crop up in Europe very often. It’s reckoned that the -6005 was only made until 1973 at which point, maybe the -6002 took over for American sales.

The Seiko museum has no information to hand about the –6007, but I was hoping to solve the “where did the –6007 go on sale” conundrum with this watch, as it came with box and papers…

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… but sadly, the purchase details were never filled out. Argh!

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Seiko 6139-600x–part iii – The Pogue

(see earlier missives on the 6139-600x, here and here)

No mention of the Seiko 6139-6000 and its variants would be complete without talking about the moment it became known as something other than maybe just the first automatic chronograph – it was the first automatic chronograph to be worn in space.

Colonel William R. Pogue was a USAF fighter and test pilot, who went into the astronaut program and would probably have gone to the moon on Apollo 19, if that program hadn’t been shuttered early. Bill Pogue still managed to spend 84 days in space on board Skylab from Nov ‘73 to Feb ‘74, and it was many years later that someone spotted in photos of the time, that he was wearing not only his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster, but some other yellow-faced thing on his other wrist. So they wrote to him, asking what it was, and since then this watch has been referred to as the “Seiko Pogue”. Read more on the Pogue here, Fratello, W&W and the collectors guide, here.

6139-xxxx Numbers

Back to numbering – the first refers to the movement, and the second is the case style… so there are 6139-70xx watches that look similar (in the layout of the dial) but have very different dial and case features here’s a 6139-7002 (from Dec ‘72) for example:

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and a very 1970s Japanese Domestic Market-only 6139-7060 from Feb ‘74:20180129_121239 - Copy (2)

The –6000 series was first released in early 1969, featuring the fixed “Pepsi” bezel and available in Yellow, Blue and Silver. Variants came along later, with –6001, –6002, –6005 etc being essentially regional numbers for what was more-or-less the same watch.

As mentioned in the previous coverage of the 6139s, early models had WATER 70m PROOF at 9 o’clock, and the case back said WATERPROOF. This later changed to WATER 70m RESIST on the dial (until ‘72, after which it said nothing) and WATER RESISTANT on the case back.

The True Pogue

Bill Pogue’s Pogue was a US-model from Sept 1971, with reference 6139-6005 which he bought in Sept 72.

Pogue Watch[1]

Some people would call this variant, the –6005, the “True Pogue”; in other words saying any other watch referred to as a Seiko Pogue would be wrong. You could split hairs and say that anything other than Bill’s own watch shouldn’t be named Pogue…

Others would say that any yellow-faced 6139-600x could be called a Pogue, but the blue and silver variants definitely can’t. Finally, you’ll see lots of ads on eBay and on watch forums offering “Blue Pogues” or “Silver Pogues” – YMMV.

Anyway, as you can see from the photo of the Colonel’s own watch above, it has WATER 70m RESIST so that checks out as correct for a late 1971 watch. The fact that it’s a US-model –6005 and not the commonly available internationally-released –6002, also shows a couple of differences on the dial – it only says AUTOMATIC under the Seiko logo and it mentions 17 Jewels under the hands, whereas the –6002 had CHRONOGRAPH AUTOMATIC under the logo and no jewel count on the dial.

The reference number on the bottom right is the dial code too – and there are numerous variants of that as well. And all of this within one family – Seiko’s production systems must have run into millions of different SKUs.

A showcase of Pogues

OK, here are 3 “Pogues” in hand, all of them 6139-6002s – the first is a March 1971 watch with an English/French day wheel, so presumably aimed at a European market, and is pictured below, on the right. The one to its left is a February 1972 watch, also with English/French day wheel but with a different variation of dial.

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Both have the the correct RESIST dial markings, but the one on the left is a 6030R dial variant whereas the earlier model on the right is 6030T. You can see a sunburst finish on both, but the R dial is slightly darker, more of a gold colour than yellow. Also, the subdial on the R has barely-visible concentric rings, which give it a more pronounced appearance.

There’s little or no knowledge as to why Seiko produced T and R variants, and they did them in blues and silvers too, as there was no clear cut over, it seems – it’s possible to find a T dial that is much later than the RESIST R-dial above.

The R dial watch was picked up at a watch fair and serviced to bring it back to life, then I set about finding a suitable bracelet – in the end, sourcing a very smart period Seiko “President” style bracelet by Stelux …

20190324_125218… and deciding to put that on the 1971 T-dial watch instead.

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Frankenpogue

Finally, a word of warning. Below, was the first Pogue I ever had, now known to be a put-together watch by an eBay seller whose description neatly avoided mentioning that he’d had it tarted up, and presented as a pristine example:

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On the face of it, a nice and smart 1974 6139-6002 but there are a couple of giveaways; the dial is aftermarket, as is the bezel and who knows what else.

The tell-tales are usually found in the subdial – much more pronounced concentric rings, and the markers don’t go to the edge of the bevelled recess:

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… contrast with a genuine 6030R dial:

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Note as well, the position of the marker above 140 on the bezel – on the real one (which is authentically beaten-up looking), the marker finishes between the 1 and 4 whereas on the aftermarket/fake bezel above, it sits above only the 4.

In many hobbies or industries, it’s perfectly acceptable to substitute genuine OEM parts for aftermarket – the originals might not be available any more, or the aftermarket bits are better. But when buying a watch like this, if you can spot signs of fakery that have not been disclosed by the seller, then walk away, right away.

Seiko 6139-600x–part ii – elusive silver PROOF/PROOF

Following on from the previous tale of the 6139 as produced by Seiko in 1969, here’s a rare and interesting piece, or rather a brace of them. According to the Collectors Guide on The Spring Bar, one of the rarest variants in the –600x series is the early silver-dial version, which says “WATER 70m PROOF” on the dial. In fact, the guide reckons:

The silver dialed variation is by far the rarest dial and is even more seldomly seen with a “proof” variation. There are only a few instances of photographed silver “proof” dials.

Well, having already found one via another collector, I happened across this in an auction:

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So it pays to know what you’re looking for, or at least what you’re looking at. As it happens, the watch arrived and not in great shape – the chronograph was bust, the bracelet was actually broken too, and not a great match for the watch either. The crystal was pretty scratched up too.

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Still, here it is, on the right, next to the other one. The LH watch is in all-round better shape despite being from July 1969, and the RH one from October 69. Both suffered a bit from having darkened lume plots.

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Most vintage enthusiasts would advise against doing anything irreversible to an old watch, but Seiko collectors seem to be more forgiving when doing something that will improve the watch – so I had both re-lumed  as well as serviced.
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(Oct 69 is on the left…)

Both of these are wearing Uncle Seiko bracelets and, again, you can spot the early nature by the PROOF dial, the chrono hand is a 2-part affair when compared to later 6139s, and the front of the case has a notch above the crown.