When you are talking about vintage divers there are certain names that regularly come up. Rolex, Panerai, Omega, to name just a few of the common Swiss brands in regards to these vintage watches. There is another name, one that has a cult-like following in regards to these older divers, and it’s not Swiss but rather Japanese: Seiko. Here is a brief look at the first dozen years of Seiko diver development.
The development of Seiko’s diver line of watches began in the 1960’s. At that time the company felt it was vital for them to develop a wristwatch that could withstand the pressures of the deep to help them compete with the Swiss brands and attempt to beat them in terms of quality and performance. There was also a large sense of pride in Japan in the mid 1960’s following the Tokyo Olympics. The country had felt it was entering a new era after its defeat in the second World War. As a company Seiko shared in this pride and put those efforts into their competition with the Swiss. Seiko wanted to make sure their watch was truly best-in-class which is an important factor given in the 1960’s divers truly relied on their watches to ensure their dive was safe. To this end Seiko knew their watches had to be waterproof, shockproof and easily legible.
Seiko 6127 (62MAS)
In 1965 they felt they met these goals and released the Seiko 150M automatic diver (6217 “62MAS”), Seiko’s (and Japan’s) first dive watch. The 6217 contains elements that one would expect from a dive watch: large, luminous hour markers, luminous hands and a bi-directional rotating bezel. The crown of the watch is at 3 o’clock and is absent of crown guards at this stage. The watch measures 39mm which places it as a larger sized watch by 1965 standards. The movement, cal. 6127, is a 17 jewel automatic movement running at 18,000 pbh. Seiko was very proud of this initial effort and felt it was a good competitor in the dive watch market. When released the diver was available for 13,000 Yen, roughly around $150 USD. In today’s money that would come out to just over $1,000. Now, being over 40 years discontinued, the 6217 series fetch well into the thousands of dollars.
Seiko’s designers were not done, however satisfied with their first effort they were, and two years later released a 300M diver, the 6215. Here Seiko doubled the water resistance of the watch and used a monobloc case as part of that process along with a screw down crown. The design of the watch changed to move the crown to 4 o’clock; the markers and hands are also different on this model as well. the hands are thicker and contain more luminous material over its predecessor and the dial used a combination of square and round markers. In 1968 Seiko released the 6159, a variation on the 6215 with the same hi-beat caliber used in the Grand Seiko of the time. This was a big step up and earned the watch the Professional moniker. The look of these two watches will be familiar to many as it was resurrected in the currently available Seiko Marine Master. As with the 6217, the 6215 and 6159 are highly collectible and very much sought after by collectors of Seiko and dive watches and again can run several thousand dollars.
One of the more popular Seiko dive watches, probably due to it’s more accessible price range as well as length of availability, is the Seiko 6105. The 6105 was produced from 1968-1977 in either a cushion-case style (6105-8000 & 8009) or the more traditional style of case (6105-8110 & 8119). This 150M water resistant watch was available on US military bases and as such it became quite popular with US soldiers during the Vietnam war; there are many examples of G.I.’s wearing a 6105 in combat. A 6105-8110 is famously worn by Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” which is perfectly fitting for the character. Finding one in good condition can be tricky, but they are out there for a price.
Seiko’s next achievement in the dive watch realm came about as a result of the experiences of a real diver. Seiko had received a letter from a from a saturation diver with some very serious concerns about Seiko’s dive watches. He explained that the crystal of the watch would frequently break as the diver ascended due to helium gas encountered in diving. In addition there were concerns of the shock resistance of the watches as they would frequently stop when bumped against rocks encountered during dives. Seiko’s engineers took these concerns very seriously and were tasked with creating a new dive watch that was geared towards professionals such as the one who wrote the letter. Seven years later, in 1975, Seiko introduced the Seiko Professional 600M diver’s watch.
The Professional 600M consisted of several firsts, many of which are standard on today’s dive watches. It was the first watch with a titanium case, used for its light weight and high corrosion resistance; the strap had ribbed sections on each side to allow for shrinking and expanding of the diver’s wet suit; and the case itself was constructed as such to prevent helium gas from entering the case during saturation dives. This last innovation eliminated the need for a helium escape valve that many Swiss brands had begun putting into their watch cases to bleed out the gas. In addition the watch looks like a big, beefy tool watch. It has a shrouded case, large arrow pointed hands and large luminous markers. The watch addressed all the concerns put forth by the professional diver who wrote to Seiko years earlier. The watch was extremely successful and was the launch of the Seiko Professional Diver series, which continues today.