Dear Seiko, Please Bring Back The Champion Alpinist J13043
Recently, Balazs and I recorded a podcast about Seiko. We were forced to come up with two of our favorite models from the brand. This was no small feat, but we persevered. One of my choices was Champion Alpinist J13043, a bit of an “if you know, you know” watch that clocks in at roughly 60 years old. I thought this watch would be the perfect addition to our ongoing series of “Dear xxx” articles.
The Alpinist is a seriously popular line within the Seiko Prospex series, even if the Alpinist nomenclature no longer officially exists. Yes, that’s right, aside from the “meh” 1959 Alpinist recreation, Seiko chooses not to use the name. No one pays attention, though, and fans along with store salespeople still use the moniker. Several models qualify as an Alpinist today. The true 1959 Laurel Alpinist inspired the limited edition model along with a modern lineup of re-interpretations in 2021. These are nice-enough watches, but a little fussy if I’m being honest. The year 2020 gave us the nicest Alpinist models in my view, pieces such as the SPB155 and SPB157. These are clean watches with cathedral hands and a nice 38mm diameter. Seiko festooned these with a date window, which is unfortunate, but the watches are nice overall.
Loads of Alpinist models for sale, but not my favorite
Rounding things out are the long-running modern Alpinist models (refreshed in early 2020) with their dual crowns. These are lovely watches on the wrist and are a whole lot more attractive in person. These watches contain an internal rotating compass bezel that is inspired by the exploring intent of the line. So, yes, we have three distinct “Alpinist” models for sale today, and that should make almost anyone happy, right? Not so fast because, from my perspective, the most attractive piece from the brand’s back catalog deserves a comeback. The Champion Alpinist J13043 is that watch.
A touch of history
The original 1959 Laurel Alpinist as seen above was apparently made for the Japanese mountain men. It featured a screw-down case back to aid water resistance and loads of lume for visibility. Think of it as Seiko’s version of the Rolex Explorer, and you’re probably on the right track. As you can see, this watch (and its white-dialed relative) were relatively austere, and they fell within the Laurel line of watches. The 35mm pieces were not made for very long and were soon replaced by the Champion Alpinist models. Interestingly, Seiko batched all of the vintage Alpinist pieces within a more basic, dressy line of watches.
A nice article on The Spring Bar helps paint a picture of all the different variants that came within the Champion Alpinist series. Sadly, figuring out exactly which model came first is nearly impossible because this was right before serial numbers were added. Regardless, there were a number of models with a very unique sector dial. These are unequivocally my favorite, but the J13043 reference owns my heart. Simply gaze into this watch and take in all the lovely details on the dial. There’s so much going on here, yet the watch comes off as clean and composed.
Why the Seiko Champion Alpinist J13043?
There are two main reasons that I chose the Seiko Champion Alpinist J13043 as the subject for this article. Firstly, and as mentioned, I am in love with the looks. It’s technical-looking, yet the dial sits within a highly wearable 36mm steel case. Due to the lume on the dagger hands and hour markers, it is (well, was) easy to read. Then, look at all the fantastic little details. The sweep-seconds hand is magic with its taper ending at a small half-moon tip. Then, there’s the font. No fewer than five styles exist on the watch’s visage, and somehow it all comes together harmoniously. Finally, the case is purposeful with strong, flowing lugs, a useful crown, and the Alpinist logo on its case back (a first for the series).
The second reason I love this watch is related to the first. Critics who have taken a cursory glance at Seiko’s back catalog will unfairly state that the company was copying a lot of designs from the Swiss. Sure, Seiko’s basic silver-dialed dress watches looked like everything else, but I don’t think that any brand owned the patent on “blah”. The Champion Alpinist, on the other hand, was a truly unique watch and deserves to be seen as such. This watch, as much as any from Seiko, shows that the brand’s designers were allowed to run free and could create some seriously cool designs.
Making the Champion Alpinist today
These days, Seiko seems just as content to add a new case design as in the past. Therefore, making a modern version of the Champion Alpinist should be a breeze. I’m not silly enough to think that we’d get a 36mm version, so I’d settle for 38mm. Additionally, I’d probably be forced to accept a watch with an automatic movement because Seiko seems unwilling to produce a manual winder these days outside of Grand Seiko. That’s a shame because the 17-jewel Seikosha is a real part of the charm of the original. There is one area where I’d be unwilling to make any adjustments, and this relates to the date window.
For whatever reason, every modern Alpinist has a date window. If the Champion Alpinist were to return, I’d demand that Seiko exclude this “feature”. Thankfully, Seiko now makes the dateless 6R31, and we’ve seen it put to good use on the recent King Seiko pieces. This movement has at least 70 hours of power reserve and can be hand-wound. With this movement inside, I think that the new edition would qualify as a rather compelling offering.
The Champion Alpinist should be a relative breeze for Seiko to begin producing. The difficulty would likely enter when and if Seiko is forced to choose between a date and no date. Furthermore, in keeping with the current convention, I guess we would have to go without all that lovely font on the dial and see the Prospex logo instead. This would be such a shame on such a fine and elegant watch as the J13043. Still, there’s always hope! What do you think? Would you like to see a modern version of this Alpinist? Let me know in the comments.