Affordable Vintage: Seiko 6138-0030 “Kakume”

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Of all the incredible chronographs produced by Seiko in the 1970’s, in my opinion there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest: The 6138-0030 aka “Kakume”. During this era there were two main chronograph calibers used, the single register 6139 and the dual register 6138. The fiercely popular 6139-600X (aka “Pogue”) chronographs get the lions share of attention due to their status as arguably the first automatic chronograph in space, having been worn by William Pogue during space flight. By comparison the 6138 series is under appreciated, but it definitely stands tall in its own right.

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The 21 jewel 6138A released in 1970 was the first fully integrated automatic chronograph with a column wheel and vertical clutch coupling mechanism. Some time later, they switched to the 23 jewel 6138B. They are both automatic (rotor winds in both directions like most Seiko calibers) and hand windable, which is uncommon in vintage Seikos, and the day and date feature a true quickset mechanism. Add to this the fact that Seiko is a true in-house manufacture, right down to the lubricating oils, and the Seiko 6138 is one that can hold its own against any brand.

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“Kakume” apparently means “square eyes”; one look at the dial and you can see where this nickname comes from. The 0030 came in two color designs, a blue dial with square silver subdials and blue tachymeter bezel, and champagne dial with square black subdials and black tachymeter bezel. There are two further variants of each of the color schemes. One is badged “5 Sports, Speed-Timer” on the 9 o’clock side of the dial and has steel dauphine-esque hands. The second variation is badged “Chronograph Automatic” at 9 o’clock and has lume filled black baton hands that have a cool arrow shaped lume tip at the ends.

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These combinations of dial and hands are the most commonly seen, however I have seen either set of hands on both dials. Not sure if they left the factory that way, or if they were swapped or what. Like most Seiko models, there are seldom any rules for which there is no exception! The examples reviewed and pictured here today are the Speed-Timer variety, which is my favorite of the two. The dials are a sandwich style, meaning the inset subdials and day/date window are made of a separate sheet of metal attached under the dial rather than simply stamped into the main dial. The blue dial has a brilliant radial brushed satin finish, while the subdials have a vertical brushed finish, and the hands have a nice white (not lume) stripe.

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The champagne dial has a radial brushed satin finish with an orange outer track and black subdials and black line stripe on the hands. I’ve seen some evidence that there is a variant of the champagne dial where the outer minute track is yellow rather than orange, but not sure if this has been confirmed as definite. There is a day/date window at 3 o’clock, with the day having both Kanji and English.

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The case is a big ol’ chunk of solid stainless steel, measuring 43mm wide, 44mm long and a hefty 14mm thick with smallish 18m lugs. The flat top has a circular brushed finish with sharp edges joining polished sides. These cases are a brilliant blend of brushed and polished finishes and flats and curves, typical of the complicated case designs that Seiko is famous for. While these make for a beautiful look, they are definitely susceptible to polishing and even a light polish will ruin the delicate lines. A polished 0030 case really stands out like a sore thumb if you ask me.

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With the narrow hooded style lugs, this watch most definitely looks best with its OEM bracelet. I’ve seen two bracelet variations, the angled oyster-like type that are pictured on my examples here, and also a fishbone style. I’m not sure why some came with one type or the other, perhaps it depended on the dial badging and/or the market they were delivered to. The endpieces are specifically designed to fit the unusual lugs, and they do so with a perfect flush fit. The bracelets that I have are stamped with the “5 Sports Speed-Timer” logo on the deployant buckle, which is a nice touch.

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The buckles also feature a spring-loaded extension that makes them an easy fit on just about any wrist. Sadly, like many vintage bracelet designs, these are folded steel links and are not of the stoutest nature. As a result, not all examples of the 0030 have survived with their bracelet intact. I’ve seen many of these on different types of aftermarket straps and bracelets, and some may look ok, but really this is a watch that cries out for its intended bracelet. These bracelets are nearly impossible to find by themselves, so if you’re looking for this watch, be sure it comes with one.

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The crystal on this model is made of the proprietary Seiko hardened mineral glass Hardlex. Like most of the Hardlex crystals, it has a flat top with a nice sharp edge that is a chip magnet. NOS crystals can be found though, so don’t pass on a nice example of the 0030 just because of a scratched or chipped crystal. The crystal sits on an “L” shaped gasket seated in the case, and is held on with a snap-on retaining ring with the snap-on bezel over top. The beauty of this design is that the crystal gasket can be replaced (NOS ones can be found and there are quality repros out there), as well as caseback, crown stem and pusher gaskets, making it a fairly straightforward job to insure a solid water resistance. That said, you wouldn’t catch me swimming with mine despite have changed out all the gaskets. It just provides some peace of mind when wearing them out and about.

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The Seiko 6138-0030 is the epitome of a vintage Seiko. Funky 1970’s style yet timeless at the same time, quality made and beautifully designed and detailed dial, hands and bezel, perfectly integrated bracelet, easily serviceable and replaceable crystal and gaskets. Couple this with the technically innovative and robust in-house manufacture movement and you get a simply stunning and incredible watch that will stand the test of time. Now, if this were a Swiss brand, you would expect to pay in the $2500+ range. However, since it’s “only” a Seiko, these can be had for a ridiculously low price, ranging from a couple hundred dollars for a polished example sans bracelet, to maybe $1000 for a primo example. For everything you get with this watch, that’s a straight up steal.

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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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