Time Spec: Seiko 7A28 RAF Gen 1 Chronograph

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A few months ago, we showed you the manually-wound mechanical chronographs issued by the British military pilots in the 1970s.  Today, we’ll take a look at what came next.

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In the early 1980s, the military forces of the UK went looking for a new pilot chronograph to replace the Valjoux 7733-powered chronographs they had been issuing for the previous decade.  By this time, quartz technology had advanced to a level of quality and affordability that made it the obvious choice for the new watch.  The company selected to manufacture the new watch was the Japanese company Seiko, marking a departure from the Swiss, American, and English brands the Ministry of Defence had previously used.

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It’s no surprise that the MoD decided to look east for their new watch.  Seiko had been producing excellent quartz watches for  years, and the watch they provided was a fantastic example of everything a quartz chronograph could be.  The 7A28-7120, now most often called the Gen 1 (Seiko later supplied a second generation in the 1990s), was first issued to British pilots in October 1984 and was not replaced until November 1990.  During that run, the MoD bought and issued a total of 11,307 Gen 1 chronographs, making it one of the more numerous chronographs issued to military forces.

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SEIKO_7A28_RAF_CASEBACK1During the time they were supplying these watches to the British military, Seiko was also producing a wide variety of 7A28 chronographs for the civilian market.  However, a few differences exist between the Gen 1 and civilian 7A28 variants.  The Gen 1’s case is simpler than all commercially available 7A28 models; it has a matte, blasted finish, an integrated, unmarked bezel, and fixed strap bars.  To comply with military guidelines, Seiko stamped a “circle P” on the dial, indicating that Promethium – a mildly radioactive man-made element – was used to illuminate portions of the dial and hands.  On the caseback are stamped the NATO stock numbers, as well as the watch’s individual issue number and year of issue.  The broadarrow symbol indicates that the watch was property of the Crown and did not belong to an individual soldier or sailor.

Like all Seiko 7A28 models, the Gen 1 has a well-designed, functional chronograph with the stopwatch indicators arranged efficiently around the dial.  The 3:00 o’clock register measures 1/10ths of a second, while the large center hand ticks incremental seconds.  The 9:00 o’clock register records chronograph minutes up to 30.  Time is displayed with standard center hour and minute hands and a continuous seconds hand in the bottom register.

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The 7A28 movement, officially introduced by Seiko in 1983, is notable for being the first quartz analog chronograph, meaning the stopwatch uses hands propelled by a battery-powered quartz movement.  Prior to its introduction in the early 1980s, all previous chronographs had either been analog (with hands) powered by a mechanical, spring-powered movement, or digital (with a screen) powered by a quartz movement.  The 7A28 paved the way for the affordable, reliable, and stylish quartz analog chronographs we see on the market today.  The use of metal gears throughout the movement made it robust and easily repaired, meaning the watches can last a very long time if well maintained.  Collectors have taken note, and a solid community exists for collecting and maintaining these watches and other 7A28 models.

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The Gen 1 was originally issued on a brown nylon 1-piece strap with a pigskin leather cuff.  Very few of these original brown bands still exist, but remakes are available from Phoenix straps, the original supplier of the straps for the British military.  Most pilots chose to wear the Gen 1 on a grey 1-piece strap, and it’s hard to argue with that classic combination.

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The Gen 1 falls in the middle of the collectable milwatch price range, usually selling between $500 and $1000, depending on condition.  Keep an eye on eBay, the Seiko Citizen Watch Forum, and the Military Watch Resource for good vintage examples of this watch.

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Brandon was raised in a military family, the son of an Army pilot and engineer. An early fascination with all things mechanical developed into a love of watches that remains today. Brandon holds a pair of degrees in experimental psychology and works as a human factors test engineer for Army aviation systems.
brandoncripps

12 thoughts on “Time Spec: Seiko 7A28 RAF Gen 1 Chronograph”

    1. The watch is 37mm across (excluding the crown and pushers), and is 44mm lug to lug.

      My wrists are about 7″, and the watch is comfortably wearable.

      /bc

  1. Yes, and what is the size of the watch? If I had to guess, looks like about 36mm in diameter?

  2. It’s worth noting that there’s a similar watch that was made by Pulsar. Their RAF quartz chronograph came in both military and civilian issues (with the latter being quite a bit easier to find and cheaper). I don’t think it’s as nice looking as the Seiko equivalent, though.

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