The Seagull 1963 is one of the more intriguing watches to come out, or rather be re-released, in a little while. It got a lot of attention from watch forums and fashion blogs because, simply, it’s a great looking and affordable watch with authentic vintage styling that refers to non-Swiss watch-making history. Sure, if you are a watch-nerd, you are probably aware of the Seagull brand as a major manufacturer of movements and watches (including tourbillons), but you also most likely don’t own one. The movement in your watch probably comes from ETA, Ronda, Miyota or Seiko (yes, making big generalizations, but wait for the point). Yet, Seagull, or Tianjin Seagull, is one of the 4 (sometimes said 3) largest watch manufacturers currently in business. But, in the US at least, you wont find Seagull brand at your local jewelry shop, in big department stores or at most on-line retailers; at least, not in the open.
Case: Polished Stainless
Movement: Seagull ST19 19 Jewel chronograph
Dial: Antique silver with black indexes and gold markers
Lens: Domed Acrylic
Case Back: screwdown display
Water Res.: NA
Crown: 7mm x 2mm Push/pull
Lug Width: 18mm
There are bargain brands, like Android, Stuhrling and Aeromatic 1912, as well as “homage” brands that use Seagull mechanical movements, because they are more affordable and accessible than their Swiss counterparts, but rarely will you see true Seagull brand watches around. Whether this is due to the stigma of Chinese manufacturing being cheap and unreliable, traditionalism in watch manufacturing that says “if it ain’t Swiss, it ain’t good”, a lack of brand awareness or poor product positioning (or a combination therein) is hard to say without a lot of market research…We all know how valuable “Swiss Made” is for a watch brand and that “made is China” doesn’t always inspire confidence. But, I also think that they have made some very weird choices with the watch selections they put forth on their US and EU sites. For watches that are comparatively inexpensive, they seem to be largely styled to compete in the luxury market. So, the fact that the Seagull 1963, as an affordable and sexy watch, has made waves, should serve as lesson to the brand about how the bring a watch to the US market.
Anyway, what makes the 1963 so interesting and worth owning? Well, to start, the 19 or 21 jewel hand wound column-wheel chronograph movement, the ST19, is the resurrection of the movement developed in 1961 under project 304. To paraphrase the Chinese Watch Wiki, project 304 was a government-mandated development of chronographs for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force that was based on the Venus Watch calibre 175 (which you can see in this Minerva), which were sold off by the Swiss brand. The 304 can be seen here and as you can tell, little has changed aesthetically for the Seagull 1963.
The face of the 1963 is pure, purposeful and surprisingly elegant for a military watch. The outer index of black markings and numbers indicates both the minutes and elapsed seconds down to a fifth of a second. Moving in, there are large golden hour markers, comprised of a mix of numerals and triangular markers. The use of surface applied golden markers, rather than printed markers, both create a more legible index and a welcome aesthetic detail. The 1, 5, 7 and 11 triangle markers point in towards the center of the watch, guiding the eyes to the Chinese characters above 6 and the golden-bordered red star under 12, as well as the printed “19 ZUAN”. At 9 there is the seconds sub-dial and at 3 is a 30-minute counter for the chronograph. Both have delicately styled blued hands, but the seconds hand is more decorative than the minute counter. I really enjoy that slight lack of symmetry as it breaks up the otherwise very even face. The main hour and minute hands are long and thin blued rectangles that are punctuated by the striking red of the chronograph seconds-counter.
The face itself is a sort of pearlescent khaki/silver. It has a slightly antique feeling to it that suits the 60’s vintage well. One thing I must say is that this watch is extremely fun to photograph (which you might be able to tell from the gallery). Everything shimmers and shines in a unique way; there are flecks of gold, blue, silver and red in every angle. There is also the decorated ST19 movement, which is visible through the screen-printed display case back. The glass of the case back has, all in red, four Chinese characters, a star in the center of column shape and the number 1963. The movement itself is an elaborate lattice of golden gears, jewels, blued screws and “Seagull striped” bridges. It is the sort of movement that is hypnotic to look at: reminding you of the brilliant intricacies that go into every mechanical watch.
The watch measures a mid-small 38mm with an 18mm lug width, but is approaching 14.5mm tall. The overall sensation is not that of a small watch. Between the weight from the mechanical movement and generally bulbous shape of the acrylic crystal and case-back, the watch has a definite arm presence, one that is increased by a NATO strap. And as Z. D. Smith, the owner of this 1963, demonstrated in his Pairs Well With, the watch’s styling compliments contemporary fashions very well.
The 1963 is now available in a couple of varieties. The one featured in this article is the 19 jewel, acrylic crystal model with display case back that was purchased about 6 months ago directly from the Hong Kong factory, which is a way to save a bit on the purchase, running around $180. The Seagull 1963 site now lists these as unavailable. Currently, through the 1963 website, the available model is a 21 jewel, sapphire crystal model that will run $389 or more with the multitude of strap options. Frankly, having played with the watch myself for sometime, I think $389 is a still a great price, and I am sure that with some hunting one can find it for less. I would not buy this watch without the display case back, however. Part of what makes this watch so cool is that it is a faithful recreation of a vintage watch, down to the movement. As such, the movement, which is truly mesmerizing, should be viewable.
So, as far as the Seagull brand goes. I hope that they continue to pursue the avenue suggested by the 1963. Taking the rich but relatively obscure history of their own brand and bringing it to light via recreations, while establishing themselves as a quality and competitive watch manufacturer. For example, given the current lust for vintage Rolexes and Omegas going on, I am surprised that they haven’t brought back the “Dongfeng”, which was the first original Chinese movement (where as the ST19 was based on Swiss designs). Its thoroughly late 60’s styling is very of the current moment, and once again, its history makes it fascinating… I mean, as a watch-nerd, how can one turn down a fashionable conversation piece?