#TBT: The Vintage Seiko Laurel Alpinist
We take a look at the Seiko Laurel Alpinist — the first watch made for the mountain men of Japan.
When we think of classic mountaineering watches, the Rolex Explorer climbs to the top of the list when someone yells, “survey says!” After all, the “Explorer” — or, at least, it’s immediate forerunner — made it to the top of Everest. But in 1959, the Seiko Laurel Alpinist debuted in order to serve the Japanese mountain men also known as yama-otoko. I’m no scaler of the alps, but I am pleased to bring you one of these early pieces today.
Our First Look at a Vintage Alpinist
This needs to be said up front: If you’re looking for good historical information on the Seiko Laurel Alpinist — or any Alpinist for that matter — you should head to this fantastic article on The Spring Bar. It’s incredibly comprehensive and I think it’s very well-researched. Before we go into the watches you see here, let’s discuss one thing. If you head to the search function on the Fratello page and check for “Alpinist” you’ll actually find very little. We’re huge Seiko fans here but none of us own a modern Alpinist and I’m the only loon who obsesses over vintage models from the brand. So consider today’s article the first of several that will look at some of these older pieces.
The Seiko Laurel Alpinist – Reference 14041
The Seiko Laurel Alpinist is not only the first Alpinist but the only within the line to ever carry the Laurel name. Seiko must have considered this as a trial because the watch sat within the dressier Laurel line. Known as reference 14041, the watch featured a three-piece stainless steel case with a 17 jewel Seikosha manual movement. Offered with either a black or white dial, these are now amongst the rarest and most desirable of the Alpinist watches. They’re also very different than the watches that would succeed them.
A Black Glossy Dial with Loads of Lume
Taking a look at the 14041, one can see a black glossy dial that’s adorned with massive triangular and rectangular lume plots. On the inside of these lume plots is a white minute track that uses the same ink printing as the watch name and model. You’ll see the Alpinist name here above 6 o’clock point in the same form that’s still being used today (well, until the debut of the most recent Alpinist lineup). A largeish crown for winding the Seikosha 17 jewel manual adds some bulk to the smallish 35mm stainless case. A relatively thick and high-domed acrylic crystal sits atop the case and a rather beefy screw-down case back does its best to keep things tight and dry.
And a Dial We’d Never See Again
The Seiko Laurel Alpinist qualifies as a watch that was never to be repeated again in future styles. I find that to be a real shame as this watch is genuinely striking with its simple dial design and abundance of lume. During this golden age period, Seiko actually made very few black-dialed watches laden with the glowing stuff. Furthermore, this Seiko actually looks more like Citizen’s watches from the period — we covered one here that’s resemblant — and that’s not a bad thing.
Some Lovely Details
Photographing the vintage Seiko Laurel Alpinist is a royal pain due to the aforementioned crystal. It also makes it tough to get a good shot of the fantastic lume texture that’s found on those large dagger hands. And take a closer look at the tip of the sweep seconds hand because there’s some reddish color. But if it’s still tough today, it’s a heck of a lot better than when I first found it.
A Gamble That Paid Off
I found this Seiko Laurel Alpinist in Japan and the auction pictures were questionable at best. Plus, the watch was advertised as a non-runner. Still, I decided to battle it out for a potentially reasonable $600 win. The watch arrived and the case condition was, as you see here, stupendous. The watch looks unpolished and the original chamfers on the lugs still remain. Plus, the crown is correct and original along with the crystal. The dial condition, however, was questionable. It was very hard for me to tell whether there was a collection of dust under the crystal or if the typically spotted dial was in fact spotty.
Well, as you can see from some of the gorgeous macros that watchmaker James Marien of Ikigai sent during the service, this dial is a stunner.
I also went in thinking that the Seikosha movement would require a donor to scavenge parts but the non-working issue turned out to be minor (for once!!).
One Dicey Moment
There was one dicey moment at the beginning with the Seiko Laurel Alpinist, though. James mentioned that the watch looked like it had taken a fall at some point. When he went to remove the dial from the movement, he noticed it was well off-center. He was concerned that the feet were bent and that they’d snap off upon removal. Thankfully this did not occur but you can see how bad it was! He was able to do a great job!
A 14041 qualifies as a grail for hardcore Seiko collectors. I think that’s fair for the watch that kicked off a well-known series of watches. Some will harbor concern about its more petite size, but I find 35mm to work well. The dials on these Seiko Laurel Alpinist pieces dominate and look good on the wrist. Plus, a nice bold 18mm strap like you see here helps modernize things a bit. As I said, these are desirable and prices are reflective of this. Figure on $1,000 to $2,000 depending on condition. So, while the original Alpinist isn’t inexpensive, it’s a more than worthy addition to the collection.