To Better Know a Movement: The Seiko Classics

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There is no better way to jump into classic watch collecting than with the Seiko classics. These movements – and watches – come in multiple forms and flavors with different complications and cases. Based on Seiko’s workhorse base movement, these watches have been running consistently and constantly since the the 1960s and are still available online for a pittance.

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The first movement we’ll discuss is the 6309 line. This is a basic movement and was launched in 1976 and discontinued in 1988. It was designed to fit inside the cushion case of the 6309 line of divers but also appeared in the Seiko Sport 5 line that was less water resistant. The movement has 17 jewels and is completely automatic with a half rotor taking up most of the visible surface and a non-hacking day/date movement.

Whoa, you’re saying. What the hell are you talking about? Here’s a quick explanation. The 6309 movement is a base movement with a rotor, the little thing that spins when the watch is in motion. It drives the mainspring which in turn drives the balance wheel. This drives the hands and the day/date mechanism. This movement has 17 jewels, tiny rubies that reduce friction within the system. Because this is a mass-market movement, Seiko focused on durability and not on aesthetics. This movement is so plain as to be boring, but up close, if you dare open the case, it’s quite striking. I won’t open the cases on these because you’re essentially seeing what’s going on via the face and I’m definitely not qualified to dig into these guys any further.

6309side.jpgIn short, the 6309 is the Honda Civic or old Volvo of the watch world – no matter when you buy it, it will always work. The 6309 you see here is my father’s and it stopped a bit when I first pulled it out of the drawer and then I tried to “repair” it myself, leading to quite a bit of heartache. Actually, what you see here is a frankenSeiko with new movement, face, and hands that I purchased on eBay. The case and movement themselves are fairly thin. The 6309 is a direct ancestor of the the modern Orange Monster

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The next movement is the ubiquitous 6139 chrono movement with day/date and a single thirty minute register at 6 o’clock. This is probably the second most popular Seiko model in existence, after the 6309 and her newer successors. Unfortunately, Seiko completely stopped making automatic chrono movements – except for a few rare exceptions – and this series is now fairly collectable if kind of silly.

6139side.jpgThe 6139 is essentially a single register chrono that lets you measure increments of a half-hour with any accuracy. They came in multiple casings, from the waterproof Seiko Sport 5 and Speed-Timer series to that plain old “Automatic” series that came out at the end of its run. The 6139 is one of the first automatic chronograph movements ever created and ranks up there with the El Primero movement by Zentith/Movado. Like Swatch, Seiko stuffed their movements into multiple oddly-colored case and face permutations, leading to a plethora of odd shapes and sizes including models with an internal rotating bezel. It does not have an independent constant seconds hand and the only time the face is ever moving – aside from the hour and minute hands – is when the chrono is engaged.

The model you see here is a 6139-8029 from about 1975. The chrono movement is integrated into the main power train so it is about as thick as the 6309. The top button starts and pauses the chrono and the bottom button resets it. This particular movement had a catch in the minutes register which would stop the movement completely when it tried to advance one minute. I had to send it into the Seiko service shop where they cleaned it up considerably.

One strange aspect of this movement is the quickset date. To set the day, you push the crown in all the way until it flips. Then, to set the day, you press it a bit more gently. The best way to set this movement is to advance to the day before the current date and then swing the hands around once to have the entire movement advance by one day. This particular model has a miniscule crown that is actually quite a pain to handle, but since you rarely need to reset the date or the time, it’s acceptable.

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The 6139 is a historical movement and available almost everywhere. The 6138 is its rare younger brother, an oddly named chrono movement – the 6139 came out before the 6138, right? – that also features an hours register and an improved quick-set day date.

6138side.jpgThe first thing you’ll notice is the thickness of this movement, even in a non-waterproof case. This guy is a monster. It has two registers, hours and minutes, and is almost a half-inch thick. This particular model is a 6138-8030 and has a handwind feature which means you can wind it independently of the automatic movement as well as an improved day/date setting mechanism. The crown does not push in on this model. Instead, you pull it out halfway and turn it up to set the date and down to set the day. This method is considerably more common in today’s watches but was quite a departure when this movement first hit the market in the 1970s. Size aside, I prefer this movement over the 6139, but it is quite rare and quite hefty. Finding a piece in good working condition is fairly hard, but not impossible.

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The last classic we’ll discuss is the odd 6117-6410. This is a similar movement to the 6309 except that it has a date register and a third 24-hour hand calibrated to the main hour hand and an inner bezel. The inner bezel is if or setting the time zone and is turnable when the crown is closed. At halfway, the crown controls the date register and at full extension it controls the time.

6117side.jpgClearly, this is a one-off movement of some import. Seiko has not been big on GMT pieces until recently and most of those have been quartz. This is an automatic GMT, called the Navigator Timer, that can show two timezones simultaneously. This is an extremely rare bird and the model I found is just barely running. It is an oddity in this cavalcade of classics and comes from the 1970s.

Clearly this is a just a brief overview on the majesty of Seiko classics, but I felt it was important enough to share with you all. I collected all of these auto movements over the past year or so and wanted to really get in depth with each one, but that’s for another day when I’m not swamped. Until then, happy watch hunting.

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  • Cruel but Fair

    Idea for a WWR series of articles (with examples): What makes a great dive watch? What makes a great aviator watch? How do you define these ‘types’ and what are the hallmarks of perfection in such models?

  • Great post! Always nice to see attention being drawn to the Seiko classics. Another vintage model to consider is Seiko’s alarm-clock for the wrist, the Bell-Matic, a great addition to any vintage collection.

  • Cruel but Fair

    WWR, I have a heart-rending story here.

    I have never owned a quality watch. Ever. here on WWR, I have been turned on to the world of fine watches. I’ve looked over each style with intense scrutiny. But most of them are out of my price range. Out of all I have seen, there are just one or two I would really go out of my way to obtain if I could.

    So, an amazing coincidence occured. I had a chance to pick up my one of my ‘dream watches’ this week on ebay. A Mondaine Swiss Railways watch. Something I could never pay full price for. It was damaged– scratched face–so I placed a beginning bid of just twenty dollars–! And remarkably, that bid held at that price for four days! I felt I had it in the bag.

    But then, at the last minute on the last day of the auction, some guy comes along and half-heartedly nabs it away from me with a bid of $22.50. Without blinking an eye. unfortunately, I had fallen asleep! Egad. He probably didn’t even think twice about it. probably wanted it for parts.

    So I emailed the seller. Mind you, I just wanted to share with him, my story of woe–I was curious as well, to see if he had any more deals like that. He had commented that he was “just trying to reduce his collection”, after all.

    So I wrote him, at length, explaining how much owning a Mondaine would mean to me.

    His reply?
    “Sorry, auction’s over. The item went to the highest bidder. Better luck next time.”

    GrrrrrrrooooOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUWWwwwwwwwl!

    Yeah I KNOW that is the facts, mister! I just wanted some sympathy! How about it? Sheeesh!

  • mike

    CATS! This explains the bidding wars on ebay for these watches now…thanks for nothing, guys 😉

    Actually, very informative post, but badly timed for me…

  • Peter Rogers

    Hi.
    I have a Seiko Navigator 6117-6410 which I purchased brand new in mid 1970 on board a Union Castle mail ship, the “Pendennis Castle” whilst travelling to Cape Town from the UK. The watch still runs perfectly and still has it’s original Seiko bracelet. It has a few slight scratches on the glass but otherwise is in great shape. I do not have the box or paperwork anymore but wondered how much it would be worth ?
    Thanks

  • Bruce

    My September 1971 17-jewel, stainless-steel, date-only, black-dial, water resistant, automatic has the 6309 movement.
    This watch was given to me for Xmas, 1972 and over the past 36 years has only visited a watchmaker twice – each time for a clean and once for a crystal replacement also.
    The watch is in pretty good condition considering its age, with only light burnishing and wear of the stainless steel case and back.

    I wear it at least a couple of days per week – it continues to run for about 30 hours after being removed.

    This old watch is a much-loved favourite and will probably be with me when I die. I hope so, then my son can inherit it. 🙂

    BK

  • Bruce

    Correction to the above post: The movement is even more classical 🙂

    It is the 7005-8032 of the late 1960’s – mid 1970’s and is an all-metal movement. (By the 1980’s, during the 7009 era, Seiko used more plastic gears and date discs to save costs).

    Sorry for the mistake.

  • Mine is a Seiko Pilot Chronograph SNAB69P1… beautiful piece, tough as nails! Just a plug for CountSpin — they have yummy deals on Seiko every Tuesday and Saturday.

  • My dad passed (80 yrs old) and I inherited his Seiko Automatic DX 17 jewels water resistant no. 6106-7589 stainless steal green face with hidden stem w/day and date on face. No numbers on face with a swipe hand. I also inherited my dad’s Bulova Accutron, 18 kt gold case that I believe he got when he retired in 1976. I would like to know if these watches are worth anything if I should take them to get cleaned/inspected. They both run, except the Seiko the month and day are off.

  • Barrie Northorp

    @Jan Mora
    Hi ! just googling watches and came across you. i also own the above described Seiko serial # 6106-8209. Purchased at a jewelers in Topanga Plaza Canoga Park CA about 1962. But heres the kicker!! I also have a Bulova Accutron purchased 1968 at a watchmakers in Reseda CA The very first battery powered watch I believe! Stainless Steel though! Both are still working! Best Regards!!!! Barrie

  • Hugh

    I bought this seiko DX automatic 17 jewels 6106-7539 watch in 1972 and it is still in working condition wil like to find out the value.

  • ronald gilson

    Hi. I just got a DX 17 Jewel Seiko auto 6106-8579 from my Father and he dose not remeber when Ma got it for him. I would like to know what I have and what year it is. How long it should run on the shelf after wearing it for a day. It has not been used since about the early 1980s when the crystal was broke. I got it replaced 11-18 2010 it seems to keep good time but when put on the dresser for overnight it stops after a few hours.
    Thank You for any info.
    Ron

  • Rob

    Ron,

    I’m not a watchmaker, but I’ve had a lot of watches overhauled for my site and collection.
    The fact that it keeps good time is a good sign of good mechanical condition. The short power reserve is like an mainspring issue in that it stores the energy for the watch. A routine cleaning, oiling and regulation should restore the power reserve.

    Good luck.

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  • ronald gilson

    @Rob
    Rob,

    Thank you for the reply .I have been wearing it around the house and it seems to be better at running longer.It last for at least 12 hrs on the shelf. The more I use it the better. I will take your advise and get it cleaned and oiled. What a great watch!

    THANKS AGAIN

    Ron

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  • Carhjc

    I have a Seiko ladiess 14k gold collection watch I bought yesterday. The tag with the model number is missing, and the dealer doesn’t have it. Can you help me find the model number? The numbers on the back of the watch read: 1noo-L 866-A.

  • RAymon holton

    I HAVE A SEIKO AUTOMATIC DX 17 JEWELS 6106-5439 160495 HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH

  • Rex-williams1

    I have a Seiko 6117-6410 that i purchased in Japan in 1967. I have since misplaced the manual and would like to know if the small red hand is setable. I recently sent it to Hong Kong and had it gone through and cleaned, runs as good as the day I bought it 45 years ago. I would like to get an owners manual for it, any information would be appreciated. My e-mail address is: [email protected] thank you.

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  • astrolote

    Hi, I’ve had a Seikp M422A Sports 150, for 25 years.
    One of the four waterproof push buttons is leaking water.
    Does anyone have spare parts for this? .