My Watch: Seiko 6138-8039 “John Player Special”

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For those who know me and my work, that I’ve chosen to spotlight this watch from my collection should be no surprise at all. I’ve written about the Seiko 6138-8039 “John Player Special” before here on worn&wound, and the 6138/9 lines certainly have a lot of fans around these parts. My particular 6138 means a lot more than that, however. It’s not just an under-appreciated vintage chronograph with a unique aesthetic; it’s really part of who I am. If I could point to any object and say, “that’s me,” it would be this watch.

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A pristine example of the Seiko 6138-8039 “John Player Special.”

I’m a man rooted in two passions—timepieces and cars—and I’ve always been fascinated by the history of both. It’s that love for the classics that got me into watches in the first place. I wasn’t raised in a watch-conscious family at all. In fact, the only watch my father ever wore was a black G-Shock that he gave up on after the strap broke. But I am from a car family, so you can already see how the seeds of my horological obsession might have been planted.

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I recall sitting with my dad and looking at images from the 60’s and 70’s of Formula 1 and Le Mans. Everything about the look of racing in that era captivated me, from the cars to the drivers, the colors, the clothing of the fans and of the teams, and of course, the watches. It was the complete package.

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“Jo Siffert” Autavia; photo credit: Analog Shift

Then there was a moment I remember quite well—seeing a photo of Ferrari driver Jo Siffert, and sitting prominently on his wrist a stunning Heuer Autavia. Man, that one really clicked with me. From that point forward, my intrigue in watches just sort of snowballed. Once I started noticing them—Autavias, Monacos, Carreras, Rolex Daytonas, Speedmaster Mark IIs, and so many others—it was as if these watches were everywhere, except on my wrist, of course. So I began looking for one.

Naturally, the first thing I did was look up the Siffert Autavia, my first love. That was a hard dose of reality. At the time, spending $1,000 on a watch would have been completely foreign to me, let alone well over $10,000.

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Note the offbeat design and layout of the sub-register at six.

Still, the need for an F1-worthy vintage chronograph spurred me on. At the same time, I was starting to familiarize myself with the world of vintage Seiko as a cost-effective way to get into watch collecting, which I’m sure is something many of you find relatable. The John Player Special wasn’t the first watch I bought (that honor goes to a funky Poljot 17J I ended up gifting to a friend), nor was it my first Seiko chronograph (I had found an all-original 6139-6005 on eBay for $70 that I couldn’t pass up). But nothing I’d gotten up to that point scratched that all-important itch.

When the John Player Special finally came to my attention, it was completely by chance. While looking up Seiko 6138s online, I stumbled on an image of the 6138-8039 and instantly fell in love. Like most vintage Seikos, the design was a little offbeat. It stood out from the crowd with a 12-6 sub-dial arrangement and its thick, sloping barrel case. What was most eye-catching, however, was the of-its-time use of color. The black dial was paired with gold-toned sub-registers and a glistening chapter ring—it was simply a stunning design.

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Our Model 2 Premium Natural Derby strap accents the gold of the dial brilliantly.

And to bring things back to racing, they were also the colors of one of the greatest F1 teams of all time—Team Lotus. This was the team that thrust Ayrton Senna to stardom. It was the team that pioneered aerodynamic wings, sidepod radiators, the ground effect, and delivered the last American Formula 1 World Champion—the legendary Mario Andretti. If the design and movement weren’t enough already, the F1 legacy made the John Player Special irresistible. And what makes things even more special with the one I have now is that it was a gift from my father commemorating my 21st birthday. It’s been a mainstay of my collection ever since.

That said, it’s been far from perfect in that time. If anything, it’s been the problem child of my small vintage collection. It lost nearly two minutes a day, and the chronograph wouldn’t run accurately. The case was also horribly overpolished and the pushers had a tendency to stick. I had it serviced twice by two different watchmakers, and after both repairs it would begin losing time again within a couple of months. Through it all, however, I couldn’t bring myself to let it go, and finally a few months ago I gave it one last Hail Mary attempt to set it right.

seiko_6138-8039-5I sent the team at Vilicich Watch and Clock in San Pedro, California a basket case of a 6138, and they returned what is now, without a doubt, the finest watch in my collection. Ever since its spa day, it has been accurate to within 10 seconds a day, the automatic column-wheel chronograph runs perfectly and snaps with a satisfying click, and the complex barrel case has been restored to its original mix of brushed and polished surfaces. It’s still not perfect, with some wear on the hands and a chip in the crystal (souvenir of a dog attack last year), but a little bit of patina adds character. At 40mm, it hits the perfect sweet spot on the wrist, and the 14mm height gives it some wrist presence without being overwhelming.

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In a way, the Seiko 6138-8039 John Player Special is a perfect expression of myself. A unique, vintage, but supremely balanced design that speaks to my passions in life without shouting them. It’s not only attractive on its own, but meaningful on multiple levels to those in the know. It gets the most attention of any of my watches by far, and it’s one that I’m not sure I could ever part with. I’d be losing part of myself if I did.

To read the first entry from the My Watch series, click here.

Images from this post:
Hailing from Redondo Beach, California, Sean’s passion for design and all things mechanical started at birth. Having grown up at race tracks, hot rod shops and car shows, he brings old-school motoring style and a lifestyle bent to his mostly vintage watch collection.
seanpaullorentzen
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  • Svetoslav Popov

    absolutely beautiful

  • Spaceguitar

    YOU got me started down this rabbit hole with your original article about this watch! After reading it, I found a used one in Australia, and had Klein Vintage Watch service it. Here’s the consult video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDbBVMmxRJY

    • Spaceguitar

      I then put it on a Strapcode super oyster. This is definitely the jewel of my (also small) vintage collection, and I have you to thank sir! I can’t get the picture with this strap to load right now, but I will keep trying.

      Now off to find a Pogue…

      • Sean Paul Lorentzen

        Dude that’s awesome!!! It’s a really cool feeling knowing that I inspired somebody out there… wear it in good health!

  • JFPisa

    Great read. THIS is what collecting watches is all about. Not the $500,000+ offering from Richard Mille, not the 48mm behemoth from Breitling, not the contrived homage piece from Bremont. It’ll all about what speaks to you, what it says and how you feel about it.

  • Svetoslav Popov

    could someone explain what is the difference between 8039 and 8030, which I see is entirely gold plated. Is it true John Player Special edition too?

  • Ethan Anderson

    Awesome article! How does the 8039 differ from the 8030?

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