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A Look at Seiko’s Early Divers

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Articles | Guides | Vintage | 02.04.2013

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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)
Available: 1965-1968
WR: 150M

Photo by Chris Moy

 

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 6215
Available: 1967-1969
WR: 150M

Seiko 6215 by tungholam

Seiko 6159-7001
Available: 1968-1969
WR: 300M

Seiko 6159-7001 Chris Moy

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.

Seiko 6105
Production: 1968-1977
WR: 150M

Seiko 6105 Chris Moy

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 6159-022
Available: 1975-1978
WR: 600M

Seiko 6159-022 Chris Moy

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.

Seiko 6309
Available: 1976-1988
WR: 150M

Seiko 6309 Kevin Chan

Outside of the Professional line a year later Seiko released the popular successor to the 6105, the Seiko 6309. The 6309 is also a 150M rated dive watch and was produced from 1976 to 1988. Like the previous model it replaces, the 6309 is also a cushion case watch although not as dramatic as the 6105. This was was also popular with the military like the 6105 before it and is very popular with collectors as well as it can be had for a few hundred dollars.

Seiko did not end there by adding quartz models in the line-up through the 1970′s and 1980s. As is well known they continue to produce dive watches in the Seiko 5 line, standard Seiko line and the Professional series as well; they have dive watches for every price range. The vintage models remain as popular and as in demand as the current line and It can be a challenge for the collector as many modern after-market parts have been made to drop into these vintage models. You may find an original case with a new dial, hands, crown and bezel insert, for example. If it is important to you to have your model be all original be sure to do your homework and verify details with the seller before you commit. Additionally there are several buying guides available to assist prospective buyers in the process of obtaining one of these highly desired pieces. Start looking in places that specialize in Seiko watches; there are several forums available for those interested in these watches and you’ll find a number of people who can provide a wealth of information.

Seiko divers are near and dear to many a heart. Divers all over the world have used and relied upon their Seikos for years and collectors of Seiko divers covet these older models as if gold. These early models are a great example of Seiko’s design and engineering skills which make it no wonder they are so valued.

  • http://zeitimer.com ZEITIMER

    Great article, wornandwound! Been looking for a comprehensive history of Seiko dive watches and you guys delivered. Superb read!

  • http://URL Alex C

    Been looking at seikos all day because of this read!

  • http://URL Alex
  • http://watchlords.com koimaster

    Great write up. Posted a link at my forum for all to read. Thanks for the hard work and effort.

  • http://URL Russ

    Nice article. I like Seiko divers but had never read a good overview like this. One comment, bezels on diving watches are unidirectional, not bidirectional. That would be a safety issue as you bump the bezel and incorrectly show you have more time (air) remaining than you actually do.

    • http://wearinteractive.com Li Wang

      I love this article. I am anxiously awaiting the release of Jake B’s Typhoon watch, a modernized homage to the 6105. I have a skx023 modded to look like the 62 Mas and have Dave Murphy’s coin-edged bezels to mimic to look of earlier divers on my modern Seikos.

      Great value and distinct R&D/design progression.

      Actually,Russ, modern divers do incorporate a bezels that only rotate counterclockwise. However, many early divers were bi-direction and either clicked or were simple friction fit.

      Great article.

    • http://URL NameGlen

      Good point, but the unidirectional bevel is not to avoid running out of air – you would use your contents gage rather than relying on time – but to avoid exceeding the allowed bottom time to prevent decompression sickness.

  • http://URL Paul

    Hi, Great article, I am trying to find more information on a watch I bought in Singapore in 1976? It is a Seiko Professional Divers 600 but has no “m” after the 600. I wore it a couple of times and it has since sat in a drawer. It has 6159 – 7010 and a number 631109 on the back.Any information appreciated.

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  • http://URL sam

    I have the skx171 ,tuff as nails my best beater ,stays in the minute range over a week period good enough for me .Cant fault it ,large size but it is a tool divers watch.

  • http://hotmail Ausar Vandross

    I thuroughly enjoyed your article. It was totally unbiased, and concise. As an avid collector of all things vintage; I searched the world over before purchasing my Vintage (original) 6309-7040. I have worn it almost daily with my WJeans shark mesh bracelot. It gets more compliments than any of my more expensive wattches.
    On top of all that it keeps accurate time for a 30 year old automatic. can’t beat that. all at the price of $500.00 !

  • http://URL jack

    Great information but I want to point out the 6215 is WR with 300m.

    thank you

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  • http://kylewasinger.com/ Kyle

    Do these watches really have bi-directional bezels or was that a typo?