Hands-On : New Limited Edition Seiko Chronographs
We go hands-on with a pair of new limited edition Seiko chronographs.
Seiko is clearly no stranger to celebrating its heritage and with a company that has been in existence as long as the powerful Japanese brand, there’s a topic every year to commemorate. 2019 is an important year for chronographs as it marks the 50th anniversary of the automatic chronograph, a well-worn tale of competition between brands such as Zenith, Breitling/Hamilton/Heuer/Buren, and Seiko. We definitely felt that Seiko would do something related to this milestone, but they happened to mark the birthdate of another achievement, the 55th anniversary of the brand’s first wristwatch chronograph. Let’s take a hands-on look at two new limited edition Seiko chronographs and provide a bit of opinion.
Before we break down each of the limited edition Seiko chronographs, let’s at least share what’s common amongst the two. In order celebrate both the 50th anniversary of the automatic chronograph and the 55th anniversary of the Seiko chronograph, the brand’s top-end automatic movement was chosen. If you’re not familiar with this movement, it’s the calibre 8R48, which is a vertical clutch column wheel movement that was first introduced in 2014. The 34-jewel movement has a 12-hour counter, 30-minute counter, running seconds and a date function at 4:30. Power reserve is 45 hours, the watch can be handwound and it runs at 28,800 bph. No matter which model is chosen, water resistance is 100 meters and each feature a box-shaped sapphire crystal with anti-reflective coating. With the housekeeping finished, let’s get into the watches themselves.
The Seiko SRQ029 – 50 Years of Automatic Chronographs
The first of the limited edition Seiko chronographs is reference SRQ029 and it is officially known as the Seiko Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition. Yes, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of the well-known caliber 6139 movement that debuted in 1969: some say as early as February that year. The 6139 movement featured a column wheel, a single register that measures up to 30 minutes and features both a day and date. To be honest, we were expecting to see something at Baselworld 2019 related to this incredibly important date in Seiko’s history, but I can understand that the brand wished to spread its releases over the calendar year.
In terms of inspiration, this is where things get a tad bit odd. Seiko actually chose a model that debuted in 1970 with a different movement (the 6138 and the model you see above) that added a second register to count up to 12 hours. While the 6138 comes numerically before the 6139, Seiko didn’t have the 6138 quite ready for release in 1969. So yes, Seiko chose to honor the 1969 model that had a 6139 movement by basing this new limited edition on a model that launched in 1970 that had a 6138 movement. If we want to cut Seiko some slack, at least the 6138 was based on the 6139.
Inspiration from the 6138-8020 “Panda”
The original model, known as the 6138-8020 “Panda” is one of the most beloved and collectible vintage Seiko models in existence. It also happened to contain a relatively timeless case shape (read: not c-case 70’s weird) and that allows it to translate well to the modern reinterpretation that is the SRQ029. Stylistically, the new model has a similar shape that now features Zaratsu polishing on its 41mm steel case with super hard coating. Dial-wise, things are panda-like aside from the lighter rightmost sub dial.
The dial, by the way, has the same vertical brushing as seen on the original 6138. The model also contains a steel bracelet with tri-fold clasp and push-button closure. Positioned within the Prospex collection, 1,000 pieces will be made and pricing will be 3,700 Euros.
Thoughts on the SRQ029
You’ll note a relatively consistent theme in my opinion when it comes to the limited edition Seiko chronographs in this article and essentially, I like them, but I don’t love them. On their own, they’re fine watches, but when Seiko draws on its history, it’s a dicey game that can bring the vintage nuts out of the woodwork. I just so happen to be one of those vintage nuts. Firstly, I think almost all of us were expecting to see something this year in yellow because the most well-known vintage automatic Seiko chronograph is undoubtedly the brightly colored 6139 “Pogue” named after the famous American astronaut. With Seiko, it’s always possible that something additional could come as soon as next week, but I have my doubts. Second, Seiko produced a watch that was almost identical back in 2014 with reference SDGZ013 (yes, that was in titanium and more of a JDM offering, but still). So, that’s honestly a bit concerning that a new dial and hand design weren’t created.
I feel like a bit more homage should have been paid to the originals with something like a square date window, but perhaps that would have looked off. Oh, and that 2014 release was meant to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Seiko’s first chronograph which means that the next watch we will review is its successor 5 years later. A tangled web? You bet. And finally, today’s piece also comes in at a towering 16mm in height and despite the fact that it is a cleanly designed watch, that height will make long sleeve shirt duty difficult. I actually don’t find so much fault with the pricing as I am sure this watch is beautifully crafted and it definitely has the technical horsepower of Swiss watches that cost more than double. Let’s move on…
The Seiko SRQ031 – 55 Years of Seiko Chronographs
The next of the limited edition Seiko chronographs is the reference SRQ031 known as the Seiko Chronograph 55th Anniversary Limited Edition. This watch is also a 1,000 piece offering, but will come in slightly lower at 3,400 Euros. The stainless chrono sizes at 42.3mm in diameter, has a thickness of 15.3mm and comes on a cordovan strap. As you can see from the dial, the watch is part of the Presage collection, so it’s meant to be a bit more elegant and dressy.
The watch that serves as the new watch’s inspiration is the 1964 “Crown” Chronongraph otherwise known as the 5719-8992 (above). This was a manual wind column wheel movement single button 38mm chronograph without sub registers. Essentially, the 5719 could time events up to 1 minute unless the bezel was used to mark the starting time. Intriguingly, the vintage model’s bezel was made of a plastic that became very brittle over time. These watches are prized by collectors, but due to their relative mechanical simplicity, they’ve remained somewhat affordable.
Thoughts on the SRQ031
Of the two limited edition Seiko chronographs, I like the SRQ031 best. I like the overall shape of the watch (Zaratsu makes an entrance here as well) and the play on the original model’s bezel. The dial is classy and the color and handset are also done well. The main hands in particular are a great nod to the original model’s. Pertaining to things I could do without, I’d once again mention that the date function feels a bit out of place for a retro-inspired model. And then there’s the large “Presage” text on the dial; it just feels a bit domineering on what is otherwise a clean design.
Yes, it’s a pretty big watch and it’s also quite thick, but the larger diameter helps keep that height a tad more in proportion. But honestly, this watch looks pretty good to my eyes.
In summary, the limited edition Seiko chronographs we have here today are nicely made watches, but they represent a rare occasion where the brand misses an opportunity to create sure-fire winners. As mentioned, I like the 55th Anniversary piece more, but a 55 year celebration is a tad less special than a 50th. And a 50th becomes even more special when it is celebrating something as momentous as the first automatic chronograph. Perhaps, mechanically, it was too difficult or costly to make a highly unique watch and doing something with an overly late 60’s/early 70’s tone was deemed to be too risky. Whatever the case, us geeks are a touch underwhelmed by what could’ve been… All that being said, with either of these pieces, prospective owners will receive a wonderfully made chronograph that, despite some internet whining, is still priced well below the competition. So, if you like what you see here, I’d advise heading to your local Seiko boutique because the brand’s limited editions are known to move quickly.
For more information on these new limited edition Seiko chronographs, visit the official Seiko site.