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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Heuer Carrera 1153N

The Chrono-matic story continues.

I saw this watch on a watch trading forum which has its software rooted in the 1990s and despite having supposed rules about what is and isn’t allowed, is not officially policed – so scammers and thieves abound.

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After a good deal of due diligence, I bought it because I’d intended to switch the bracelet from the dark-faced (“N”) to the silver (“S”) 1153 Carrera, as discussed previously. The bracelet is a “Gay Frères BoR”, aka Beads-of-Rice, and is valuable in its own right – in good condition and with the end-links, it’s worth north of £1000.

IMG_8537Gay Frères made bracelets for all sorts – Heuer, Zenith, Patek Philippe etc, before being acquired by Rolex in 1998, in a move to hoover up former suppliers so they could do everything in-house.

The bracelet dates to February 1969, so fits with the expected age of the watch and is supposedly original to it.

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But after I got the watch, I couldn’t separate it from the bracelet – and quickly decided that I preferred the dark dial. It supposedly started life as a charcoal/black colour (hence the “N” for “Noir” in the reference number):

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… but in some light, it is definitely a beautiful blue, and the white subdials and bezel have taken on a creamy colour. The hands look to have been re-lumed in the past, and don’t quite match (they’re a bit too green).

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As expected with an early watch, it’s got the first-execution Cal11 movement.

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The serial number is in the range 1477nn, so it’s only a couple of hundred later than the 1153N which sold for nearly £30K at the “Heuer Parade” auction in November 2017. That one is in spectacular condition and is probably unique, though…(Heuer put Chronomatic on the dial for a few months, before selling the name to Breitling – and they had a long association with Abercrombie and Fitch, so this is thought to be the only one with both marks on the dial…)

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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 i – as worn by Francois Cevert & Nick Mason

50 years ago, Seiko was quietly producing what could arguably be the world’s first automatic chronograph. Other manufacturers were trying to do the same – Zenith produced their goadingly-named “El Primero” (a fabulous watch movement that was comparatively small but also beat at a higher rate than its competition – it went into other manufacturers’ products including the Rolex Daytona), while a consortium of others, loosely known as the Chronomatic Group was formed by Heuer, Breitling, and Hamilton, together with movement maker Buren and the company who could make the bolt-on chronograph module, Dubois-Depraz.

There are many articles online [here’s a good one, and a later one by the same author focusing on the Chronomatics] detailing just how one of the three contenders was actually the first but in truth, it doesn’t really matter. We could split hairs about what is important – being the first to announce, the earliest prototype, the first to sell in-market? Certainly, at the launch in New York of the Heuer Caliber 11 watches, March 3rd 1969, one lucky winner of a new watch found that it was less reliable than expected so maybe Heuer were jumping the gun a little.

Anyway, back to Seiko. It seems that it had quietly been selling watches in Japan with the 6139A movement dated from February 1969. Typical of Seiko, they produced a whole variety of case and dial styles with the 6139A from 1969-71, and then the 6139B until 1977-78.

I’m going to look at a couple of early bearing the 6139A, and belong to the 6000-family made famous by the association with NASA Astronaut Col. William Pogue, more of which later, when I’ll cover a couple of 6139Bs.

OK, enough preamble – let’s talk about a watch.

Blue 6139-6000 from June 1970, aka “Cevert”

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This was bought from its first owner, who got it as an 18th-birthday present from his brother, who himself was serving in the Royal Navy in Singapore, in December 1970. On arrival with me, the watch was pretty tired-looking – and the bracelet had lost one of the correct end-links, so the previous owner had installed a different one that didn’t quite fit.

It has since been serviced and a replacement end-link from the bracelet was sourced from a collector in Australia. The chronograph hand has a crack, and the watchmaker who serviced it was worried that it might break when he was trying to re-install… and the correct, 2-piece chronograph hands for these are like hen’s teeth. After well over a year of looking, I’ve found another – but fortunately, this one went back together just about OK. Other than the Aussie end-link and a replacement crystal, it’s as original as they come.

An eagle-eyed enthusiast spotted photos of F1 legend Francois Cevert (whose untimely death was the catalyst for his mentor, Jackie Stewart, to launch his crusade on driver safety in motorsport) wearing a Blue 6139 in 1971… so this particular variant is being nicknamed “Cevert” (pr. seh-verr).

Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason had one too:

And eagle-eyed space fans might spot a blue 6139-600x on the wrist of actor Ed Harris, playing Gene Kranz in Apollo 13 (a detail that the props team on the film got a bit wrong, as Gene famously wore a Seiko 6119-8460… other actors in the film were seen with Omega Speedmasters, many with 1171 bracelets that didn’t appear until 1970 and only on the later Speedmasters that were not issued to NASA… still, let’s not get bogged down…)

Ed Harris as Gene Kranz 2

The Ed Harris watch in question looks to have minimal text under the SEIKO logo, so it’s probably a –6005, which would only say AUTOMATIC beneath the larger logo, rather than CHRONOGRAPH | AUTOMATIC. It also didn’t appear to have WATER 70m RESIST at 9 o’clock, which would date the watch to 1972 or later.

Ed Harris as Gene Kranz 3

You can identify the early 6139–6000s as they have a notch above the recessed crown, and were marked on the dial as being water proof to 70M. Later in 1970, Seiko changed to saying “WATER 70m RESIST” and after 1972, dropped that text altogether. There’s a very good Collectors Guide to the 6139-600x series which goes into more detail.

This particular 6139-6000 is in well-worn condition; the lume plots on the dial are starting to go a bit degraded, which on some watches lends them a pleasing yellow tinge but on these vintage Seikos, just goes mouldy-looking. It’s not too far gone to be ugly, though.