Veterans Day: A Vietnam Era Seiko 6105-8110
Today we take a look at a Seiko 6105-8110 “Captain Willard”, but this one has a story that’s quite fitting for today. Happy Veterans Day!
I think we can all agree that conversing electronically is a fairly cold and impersonal method. Plus, in its worst form, it emboldens people who are probably otherwise quite polite to act like jerks on social media. But for all the grief our most popular methods of communication receive, it’s nice to know that you can “meet” some really interesting and sincere people without ever truly meeting them in person. Such is today’s case of a vintage Seiko 6105-8110 that has a nice story behind it.
If you follow our serial article, Wrist Game or Crying Shame, you may recall an article on the Seiko Marinemaster 300. As I do in all of these articles, I recap the prior week’s voting results. In the Seiko article, I spoke about the previous week’s Rolex GMT-Master 16700 and I mentioned that I had received some great correspondence and photos from Captain Dean Baker. Dean is currently a Delta captain and wears a fantastic 1995 Rolex 16713 GMT-Master II in black and gold that you see above. We kept chatting, though, and he has a pretty cool collection of different watches. He mentioned that he owns a vintage Seiko 6105-8110 (amongst some other vintage Seiko pieces) with some military history from its first owner and that the watch’s history also ties into his own time as a US Naval aviator. I was intrigued and asked if he’d mind sharing the story along with some pictures. Dean graciously did so and I’ll do my best to recap the salient points. But first, let’s spend some time refreshing your memory on the watch that Martin Sheen wore in Apocalypse Now as “Captain Willard”.
The Seiko 6105-8110 was introduced in roughly 1970 and was made for a relatively long time until 1976 (some say even until 1977). With what I like to describe as an “amoebic” form, the watch introduced a case protrusion as crown protection at 4:00. That asymmetric characteristic is one of the most notable traits on this version of the 6105 and, in my opinion, set a design standard that Seiko often chooses to follow to this today. In addition to what must have been a very unique case at the time, Seiko chose to equip the 150 meter water-resistant diver with a bespoke style of crown. In lieu of a standard screw-down, the crown functions more like a bayonet with a “push down and twist” locking it into place. It wasn’t overly effective at keeping things dry, but it is one of the more charming aspects of the watches. Regarding the dial, these 6105’s kept the legible, primarily black/white/silver look that Seiko introduced some 5 years earlier with the 62MAS. The same can be said with the bi-directional external bezel as it kept a design in terms of font and layout. Inside sits a 17 jewel automatic that features a quick set date, but does without hand winding due to Seiko’s “magic lever” system. We took a look at the circa 1976 model above that I own in one of our #TBT articles.
The Seiko 6105-8110 (and its identical -8119) were popular watches in their day and offered a lot of initial capability at a relatively reasonable price. They were popular amongst recreational divers and soldiers during the Vietnam era alike. In talking to former owners, though, many of them did leak during use at some point. Still, finding a “Captain Willard” is not incredibly difficult, but finding a nice one has become increasingly tough. And, naturally, prices have risen from the sub-$1,000 level to well over double that for beautiful examples. Unlike my honest, but well-worn example above, the watch we’ll see from Dean is in stunning shape. Oh, and before I forget, Seiko reissued this watch as a limited edition this year as the SLA033 to celebrate the model’s 50th birthday. Now, let’s get to the story part…
Dean started the story and mentioned that while in high school in California, he bought a Seiko 6105-8119 for use during SCUBA diving lessons. It, along with so many divers of the time, ultimately bit the dust due to water entry and Dean moved on to another watch that he can’t currently recall. However, he never forgot his first dive watch. Years later, as a collector, he actually picked up a vintage 6015-8000 (pictured above on the right), the Captain Willard’s more traditionally shaped predecessor. He had it serviced by well known Seiko watch repair guru Spencer Klein of Klein Vintage Watch and apparently told him that if an -8110/8119 ever came in, he’d possibly be interested in buying it. Well, as we know, if you ask, sometimes you receive!
In late 2015, a gentleman in Indiana was rummaging through his drawers looking for something when he stumbled upon his old dive watch that he bought new back in 1972. That dive watch happened to be a 1972 Seiko 6105-8110. The person hadn’t come across it in years and decided to go online to look up info on his watch and one of the first things he came across was a YouTube video by, you guessed it, Spencer Klein. It seemed that Spencer remembered Dean’s request for a nice -8110/8119 like he had used in high school during dive lessons and this seemed to fit the bill. Soon, though, Dean would find out that the watch had an even closer connection to his own past.
I mentioned that Dean had spent time in US Navy as an aviator. Well, it turns out that in 1986, just before he left the Navy for a job as a commercial pilot, he made his last aircraft carrier landing on the famed USS ConstellationCVA 64. The Constellation (seen above) was a Kitty Hawk class carrier built in 1956 that served until 2003. It saw several tours in Vietnam and was actually there until the very end and was active until even after the Paris Peace Accords took hold in January 1973. The gentleman from Indiana with the Seiko 6105-8110 was actually stationed on the USS Constellation during its final tours in Vietnam and purchased this Seiko while serving and in the US carrier’s shop. Needless to say, the connection left Dean with no choice but to buy the watch.
Now, the Seiko 6105-8110 was bought on a US Naval carrier, but a quick look will tell you that it was worn sparingly. The original owner didn’t go into a ton of detail on whether the watch actually saw action (he was on land in Hanoi during some very difficult periods), but made reference to the fact that the Navy issued them 34mm Benrus watches and he preferred to use these free watches in potentially harmful situations. Still, it’s a great story, but what about the watch itself?
As you can see on this YouTube video from Mr. Klein, the Seiko 6105-8110 is in stunning condition. The case is nearly perfect along and shows the original radial finishing. I’d say that the case back also looks new. The dial shows this watch almost as if it were made yesterday and that means crisp white lume, bright chrome index surrounds and Seiko logo, and a beautiful red “stoplight” pip on the sweep hand.
It even features its original rubber “waffle strap” that looks almost unworn. Mechanically, the watch needed a common repair that’s also explained in the video, but that’s not bad for a watch that hadn’t been touched for nearly 45 years!
No, this Seiko 6105-8110 isn’t Sheen’s original watch and it didn’t accompany anyone on any single momentous occasion, but there’s no denying the serendipity that took place. Dean tells me that he doesn’t wear the Seiko that often and he definitely uses a different strap in order to preserve the old rubber, but I think that one would agree that the watch has ended up in a really good place. And finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t thank both Dean and the watch’s original owner for their service. Happy Veterans Day!