Affordable Vintage: My Journey to a Seiko Navigator Timer ref. 6117-8000

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The Seiko 6117-8000 came into my collection as a fallback of sorts—a stand in watch for another piece that had been traded away (a Seiko 6105-8000 as it happens). I’d swapped the 6105 in pursuit of a modern dive watch that I could wear more actively day-to-day without worry. I’d loved wearing the watch, and the tonneau-style case was among the most comfortable I’d ever worn. My intent was always to pick up another 6105 in the future, but when it came time that I started poking around for a 6105 I was shocked to see that the market price had nearly tripled from what I’d paid for mine. I wanted to get a Seiko back in my stable, but I didn’t want to shell out the new premium. And so the search began.

Tonneau-cased divers, specifically those from Seiko, were my target. Seiko produced “professional” 150-meter rated dive watches like the 6105-8000 and 6105-8009. Alongside those, Seiko also produced very similar looking 70-meter  rated watches that were for the more casual enthusiast. The latter are often far more accessibly priced, even today. That’s where I focused my efforts.

Vintage Seiko is an exercise in variance; there are often numerous options when it comes to colors, fonts, bezels, case finishes, and so on. Within the same movement and case families, Seiko often offered a prolific number of iterations not to be matched by any other brand. As a result, trying to narrow in on a reference of the “70m” designs that I liked was challenging, and it led to a number of deep dives on eBay. On one of those scrolling searches, I found the Navigator Timer 6117-8000.

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The 6117-8000 was Seiko’s second GMT watch after their World Timer. The World Timer, as its name suggests, featured an internal rotating bezel displaying 24 time zones. The 6117-8000 Navigator Timer is a decidedly less busy design that instead ops for a standard GMT layout built around the same 6117 movement.

The design is clean and well executed, featuring everything that I like about Seiko’s watches of the era. The reference features a gunmetal grey dial (there’s also a rarer silver sunburst variant), a bright-red GMT hand, lumed hour and minute hands, and a lightly lumed chapter ring that makes for a highly functional GMT watch that was apparently a favorite of Vietnam War pilots. I decided that this watch would be my globetrotting wrist companion—that is, if I could find one in good condition.

Buying vintage watches on eBay is a dice roll. Service histories are often unknown, and more often than not watches have never been serviced at all (and sometimes those that have fall victim to shoddy work). The semi-mutually-assured-destruction barrier of keeping a good trading history that exists on forums is absent as well. You’re left to do a lot of research first and it’s up to you to ask the right questions. I hunted for a 6117 for months, getting a feel for a fair price on them and what condition I wanted to acquire. I threw out a few lines, but no one bit. Finally, one cold Saturday afternoon, I stumbled on a new listing from a pawn shop in California. It was an estate piece that was listed the night before. Two things caught my eye. The first was that the watch head was in excellent condition with an unpolished case and a clean dial with minimal deterioration.  And the second was that it came on a signed bracelet that appeared to be original to the reference. In months of searching, I hadn’t seen one with a bracelet that was original, so this was quite the find. I scooped it up without hesitation.

Upon arrival, I was somewhat surprised at how much smaller and thinner the 6117-8000 was when compared to a 6105. It was by no means a knock on the watch. In fact, the proportions are actually nearly perfect for a travel watch. It’s large enough to be easily legible, but slim enough to stay out of the way or hidden under a cuff when needed. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and that’s something that is often overlooked in a travel watch.

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My example was in great shape for a nearly 50-year-old piece. The lume pip was still intact, the bezel had ghosted, and the luminous paint on the dial and chapter ring remained in good condition and had aged to a dark beige. The dial was without any major flaws and Seiko’s brilliance at creating beautiful sunburst finishes was more than evident in the deep grey dial.

The 6117 movement (17 jewels, 21,600 bph, date, and no hack feature) functions much like the way early Rolex GMTs do with a second time zone hand that is slaved to the primary time hands. When I went to set my watch, however, I noticed an issue with the complication. The GMT hand wouldn’t sync properly and it would jump nearly an hour back when the crown was pushed in. Clearly the downside of buying on eBay had reared its ugly head; the watch would, at best, need a service.

After some frantic texts to a watchmaker friend, I confirmed he had worked on that caliber before and had a few of the parts it might need to get it in proper working order, including a new crystal. I sent it right out. Knowing that I might need parts to fix my 6117, I kept haunting the boards and eBay for a suitable “runner.”

I found one less than a month later. A lunchtime check of Watchrecon revealed a newly posted 6117-8000 (along with a couple of other Seikos the seller was trying to move to make room for a new addition). But this one was much more than a runner. Serviced this year with paperwork to prove it, it was a truly flawless sock drawer find. It came with the original bracelet (with spare links!), the crystal was clean, the bezel appeared to be nearly new, and overall the case and dial were immaculate. And as an added bonus, the lume had aged perfectly. It was the cleanest example I’d seen in nearly a year of tracking the reference. I couldn’t pass on it, and I quickly came to an agreement with the seller who just wanted to move the watch and a trouble-free sale. A few days later it was on my wrist.Everything I’d liked about my first 6117 was a little brighter, better, and sharper on this one. It was ready to be worn from the moment I opened the package. It’s insanely comfortable and light on the wrist, and the bracelet, while certainly not the highest-end in build, conforms perfectly to the wrist. Within short order, the 6117-8000 Navigator Timer has become one of my favorite pieces in my collection, and it’s doubtful this watch will ever leave the stable. It just checks so many of my boxes. I’ve since taken it abroad and across the country on numerous occasions.

I’m still waiting to get my original 6117 back from service, but I’m not yet sure if I’ll keep it or if I’ll flip it. Regardless, it will be satisfying to bring such a fantastic piece back to working order. Perhaps I’ll sell it in pursuit of that recently discovered and rarer silver-dialed version of the Navigator Timer. But that’s half the fun—the hunt, the pursuit, and the stewardship that comes along with playing in the vintage sandbox. For those of you interested in getting one, I see them popping up for anywhere between $350 and $600, with prices largely dependent on the condition of the watch, service history, and of course the seller. Happy hunting!

Photography by Jon Gaffney.

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Jon is a native New Englander who enjoys traveling as much as returning home. He has a passion for watches that his significant other kindly tolerates whilst shaking her head in consternation. A tendency to plow through life with little finesse has led him to appreciate and pursue the utility of a good tool watch.
jongaffney
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