As I write this, it’s almost midnight on Wednesday, and I am a bit behind on my #TBT submission for this week. This morning, I woke up in Bucharest and pitched hard at a conference, only to rush to the airport to get home. I am tired, yes, but I feel like a champion. I made some fantastic business contacts, got home in time for my evening routine with my kids, and even uncovered the fascinating military background of one of the watches I scored recently (stay tuned; that’s coming soon). But the watch on my wrist right now also makes me feel like a champion. It’s my Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899. There’s just something so special about this little ray of sunshine, how its case looks, and how it feels on the wrist…

Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899

The poor destiny of my Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899

Unfortunately, with too many watches in my collection, some of them end up sitting in a safe untouched for months, even years. Such is the case with my little Seiko “Sunshine” that I scored about three years ago. But let’s take it slowly.

When Mike shared a story about his magnificent Seiko Champion Alpinist J13043 about three years ago, I had to get one urgently. I was fascinated by the sector dial that looked like it was just torn from some technical documentation manual. It was on my hunting list already, but every example I’d come across had either slipped through my fingers or been so eaten by time that I decided to pass.

Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899 lug

Is it a poor man’s Grand Seiko?

While I was researching and tracking down a Seiko Champion Alpinist J13043, I bumped into another gold version of the Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899 that I was not aware of. The stamping dates it to the same era — December 1963, to be precise. But the case with beefy lugs reminded me of some Grand Seiko models.

Seiko Champion Alpinist models

The same but different

If you look at them sitting side by side, you will struggle to believe that both of these watches bear the Seiko Champion Alpinist name. While the steel one is characterized by subtle and strict industrial geometry, the other one strikes with shiny, warm tones, either from the gold case or the almost pearl-like dial. Notice that my steel Alpinist has the same case style as the gold one.

Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899 on wrist

Despite that, the gold one — or, to be more precise, the EGP (electro-gold-plated) one — seems to be a hair bigger. How come? Compare the rehauts. On the gold-plated model, it’s about 1mm thinner, which allows the dial to be about 2mm bigger in diameter. If you consider the wide black border holding the hour markers on the steel version, you can understand why it feels much smaller than the gold-plated one.

Perfect indexes

Do you remember Jean-Claude Van Damme’s commercial for Volvo Trucks? It came to my mind when I studied the indexes. “What you see is a body crafted to perfection,” says Van Damme in one of my all-time favorite modern TV ads. As a former advertising creative, some headlines and slogans come to my mind randomly. That was one of them, and it’s what said half-aloud when I was crouching over my desk, studying these indexes under a magnifying glass. They are simply perfect. Eleven match-like indexes with slightly angled heads are ruled by a slightly wider index at 12 o’clock that is shaped like a jewel. Yet it doesn’t look overdone. Rather, it’s quite decent and serves to trigger interest and curiosity.

The “Seiko Champion” font

That’s in a league of its own. Each time I see it, I want to break into RJ’s house, “borrow” some of his fancy fountain pens, and start learning how to write like that. Tell me what it is if it’s not poetry. And you have to admit that this clean, pearly dial is a much more natural habitat for it than the industrial steel Alpinist.

The ultimate dresser

This Seiko Champion Alpinist 85899 is dress-watch perfection. It sits close to your wrist like it wants to hug you. The lugs’ shapes and angles are crucial for this feeling. Also, the original Plexi is pleasantly flat, so it easily slides under a cuff. Mainly, though, it provides an undisturbed view of the dial. At times, it almost seems like the watch has no crystal at all.

Last thoughts

The 17-jewel movement inside is relatively simple, so sourcing parts if necessary should not be a problem. If you are looking for a low-budget watch with a lot of potential, I highly recommend putting this clean little ray of sunshine on your shortlist. Oh, did I say “clean” again? Check out the lume in the macro shot above. I bet you see that typical Seiko wabi-sabi and wonder as much as I do why it doesn’t ruin the visual pleasure. Far from doing so, the aging lume gradient that developed in the longer minute hand underlines the watch’s charm. Happy hunting!