Affordable Vintage: Seiko Champion Alpinist

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When most vintage enthusiasts think of Seiko, divers and chronographs are what usually come to mind, and rightfully so. Seiko’s place in the pantheon of vintage divers and chronographs is safely etched in horological history. If you want high-end vintage dress watches, Seiko has that too with their Grand Seiko and King Seiko lines. But vintage Seiko has far more to offer than just sport and dress watches. There are innumerable models out in the wild, a little something for every taste, and some are more obscure than others. One of the more outstanding, yet little-known models is the Champion Alpinist.

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1962 Champion Alpinist with case reference J13049.

Seiko introduced the Alpinist line in 1961 with the extremely rare Laurel Alpinist. The Alpinist was inspired by the Japanese concept of “yama-otoko,” or “mountain man.” The Japanese countryside is mountainous, and amateur mountain climbing was a popular hobby. These watches were ostensibly marketed toward these adventurers.

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Seiko Laurel Alpinist; photo credit: seikoandcitizen.blogspot

The 1961 Laurel Alpinist has a distinctive dial with large, lume-filled triangle markers at 12, three, six and nine, and they came in black or white variants. In 1962, Seiko changed the moniker to Champion Alpinist, and then later again to Champion 850 Alpinist in reference to the movement number. The Alpinist line continued until about 1965 when the line was discontinued, though models under the Champion name continued to be produced.

The Alpinist line was later resurrected in 1995 under the Prospex line (sometimes called the “Red Alpinist”), but there was very little in common between the original Alpinist watches and the newer ones, name excluding. The Prospex Alpinist series was actually very popular, though I have to admit I find them to be quite unattractive. I’m not a fan of the hour hand shaped like a warped Mercedes-tipped hand, among other not-so-brilliant styling cues. There were many iterations of the Champion Alpinist and later Prospex Alpinist, but I’ll keep the focus on the watch pictured here, a 1962 Champion Alpinist with case reference J13049.

seiko-champion-alpinist-8The case is stainless steel measuring 35mm wide by 43mm long with 18mm lugs. It’s a classic style with clean, slim lugs typical of early 1960s Seiko watches. The snap on case back features a distinctive engraved Alpinist mountain logo, seen only on these models. The glass is a simple domed acrylic crystal.

The crown measures approximately 5mm wide and features reasonably prominent teeth to make it easier to wind the manual movement. It is signed with an “S” over a “W,” which stands for “Seiko Waterproof.” I just love little quirky details like these.

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The case reference is J13049 and predates Seiko’s later and more commonly known eight-digit reference numbering system.

What really makes this watch stand out from the pack is the dial. The Alpinist collection went through several different dial designs, but this model in particular is quite stunning and unique with its two-tone sector design. It is champagne/silver toned with a brown outer ring and a radial brushed finish. There are thin, printed radial lines coming from the center of the dial to each of the small, lumed  hour dots. The brown outer ring is broken by a series of small rectangles, champagne silver in color, at each of the hour markers. The only exception is at twelve, where there’s a large triangle. The base end of the triangle is champagne, while the pointed end is brown and extends toward the center section of the dial.

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This model is time-only, so there is no date window to disrupt the epic symmetry of the design.

The dial is signed “Seiko Champion” in script below the twelve, and “Diashock 17J” in blocky, italicized letters just below that. Above the six, it is signed “Alpinist” in the distinctive logo font, and “Water Proof” below that in yet another typeface. The hour and minute hands are a dauphine style with large lume-filled centers. The second hand is unique in that it has a lumed half-moon shaped tip that tracks through the brown outer ring for contrast and easy viewing.

seiko-champion-alpinist-10The plain and robust manual wind movement is signed “Seikosha” and “17 jewels.” It does not have a model number associated with it, which was common with these early models. While it is largely undecorated, there is a beauty to its simple, utilitarian look.

The Champion Alpinist originally came supplied on a leather strap and there was no bracelet option. I have seen some images of the original Laurel Alpinist watches on a bund-style strap with the “Alpinist” script logo printed on the underside of the leather. I’m not sure if this style was offered on the later Champion Alpinist models, but it’s certainly a cool look.

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If you’re in the market for a great looking and unique vintage Seiko, the Champion Alpinist is a great choice. They definitely fall in the “affordable vintage” category as the prices they realize aren’t all that high; they typically come in under $750.

However, the trick is finding one in the first place. Pretty much any of the Alpinist models are fairly difficult to acquire. In fact, I’ve never seen a Laurel Alpinist for sale anywhere and it took me about five years of searching before I nabbed this one.

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A rare find–a NOS case!

While the dial and hands are superb, the case is sadly over-polished (of course, any polishing is over-polished in this writer’s humble opinion). But when this one popped up, I couldn’t pass on it despite the overworked case.

As luck would have it, I recently found a new old stock case, with the original hang tag, no less. Talk about rare as hen’s teeth! You can really see the difference in the subtle bevels on the lugs and the not-so-subtle difference in the look of the case back between the polished case and the NOS one. At some point I will probably put the guts from my watch into the NOS case, but for now I’m just enjoying the novelty of having a new Champion Alpinist case on reserve.

Images from this post:

Christoph (Instagram’s @vintagediver) is a long time collector and lover of all things vintage, starting with comic books when he was a kid (he still collects them). His passion for watches began in 1997 when he was gifted a family heirloom vintage Omega Genève by his step-father. That started him on the watch collecting path—buying and selling vintage watches of all sorts, with a special appreciation for vintage dive watches and Seiko.

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