#TBT Top Vintage Seiko Divers – They’re All Here!
List articles are a bit controversial – so you can start your concerns now on this Top Vintage Seiko Divers posting. First off, they’re seen as easy puff pieces to write and many complain that they show little creativity. Second, they naturally exclude some pieces that some feel strongly about while including others that may not be as popular when considering public opinion. But there are some positives for sure, list articles allow for a nice reference of watches in one place. Also, they make for easy reading (and, to a large degree, writing), which is a great thing for the summer holidays. I don’t know about you, but I like to keep things nice and light while I’m poolside sipping a beverage.
Top Vintage Seiko Divers
When talking about the Top Vintage Seiko Divers, it’s important to provide at least a little bit of a framework. With Seiko, there are many rabbit holes to go down and this is equally so when it comes to the brand’s dive watches. One could consider only the Professional pieces, which were created for – you guessed it – Professionals. Equipped with greater water resistance capabilities, screw down crowns, and other innovative features, these represent the top of the top when it comes to Seiko divers and the list would be relatively short. One could also focus solely on the ISO-rated, non-Professional divers, which are still stout and capable, but were marketed more towards the recreational set. These represent the “heart” of the Seiko diver batting order and it’s where we will spend a lot of our time. Then, we have the so-called Sport Divers and these were really light, albeit still good for 70M, sports watches meant more for water sports and skin diving. They’re amongst my favorites, but they’re so numerous that they’d all simply get in the way in this article. Still, you can read more about them here if you’d like. In the end, I think you’ll be left with a decent, and chronologically ordered, sampling of the seminal pieces from what has become a seriously hot sector from one of our favorite marques. I’ve cut things off at 1980 for this overview of the best vintage Seiko divers, so we’ll likely return with a look at what occurred in the 1980’s (hint: A LOT happened!).
The Seiko J12082 & 697990 SilverWaves
Some may beg to differ, but to me, no list of Top Vintage Seiko Divers would be complete without mentioning the Seiko SilverWaves. These were Seiko’s first attempt at making a water-ready watch with a rotating bezel. And while that bezel is internal – make sure the crown twists the bezel smoothly before agreeing to buy – it marked a real departure versus the rest of the brand’s offerings during the early 1960’s.
Whether in its earliest 50M guise – the J12082 – made from 1961 to 1964 or later 30M version – the 697990 – produced from 1964 to 1966, the watches make for great wears and are easily the most “Swiss” looking of any of the divers we’ll see here today.
At roughly 36mm in diameter, the watches aren’t big, but wear well due to the high dial to bezel ratio. Assume somewhere in the realm of $500-900 for a SilverWave depending on condition with 50M pieces bringing a premium. Oh, and for you tsunami case back lovers, this is where it all began.
Seiko 6217-8000/1 “62MAS”
There’s no doubt that the 62MAS belongs on a list of the Top Vintage Seiko Divers. Introduced in 1965, it marked the brand’s true entry into the dive watch segment. It contains what many consider as a “sport diver” or “Aquastar” style of case with its thick, slab-like lug design. Despite using somewhat of a “me too” case design, the 62MAS did usher in some design traits that are still with us today such as the dark bezel insert and strong font. Additionally, a dark greenish grey dial is at least somewhat similar to the dark dials most often used by the brand. At 37mm and with 150M of water resistance, the 62MAS brings decent specs to the table despite the lack of a screw down crown.
Be on the lookout for pieces with aftermarket bezel inserts, dials, and hands. Also, beware of watches that have seen water entry (common unfortunately with their acrylic crystals) or where the quick set date function no longer works. Once a watch that could be picked up for $1000-1200 for little effort, the 62MAS now commands $2500-3500 (if not more) if in nice condition. For an icon, I still consider this one to be well priced.
Seiko 300M 6215-7000/1 and 6159-7000/1 Professionals
In 1967, Seiko entered the “Professional” dive watch market and brought the goods with its 6215-7000 diver. Water resistant down to 300M, the watch featured a screw down crown, monobloc case, hardlex mineral crystal and quickset date. It was also the first true Seiko diver to place its crown at 4:00 – an absolute Seiko hallmark. These watches also brought in a style of indices and the famous “stoplight” sweep second hand that collectors of the brand adore.
The 6215 was only produced for a year before being replaced by the nearly identical 6159-7000 in 1968 (the Hi-Beat writing on the dial is a clear giveaway of a 6159). The 6159 differed from the 6215 as it featured a hi-beat 36,000 bph movement. As Seiko was fiddling and always improving things it brought out the 6159-7001 (slightly different crown setup, case and crystal) with the same movement. Due to some famous issues with the actual water resistance of these watches, Seiko abruptly ended production of these pieces in 1969 and did not return to the Professional game until 1974! The 6159 movement is something to behold as its sweep hand glides around the dial due to the rapid fire of the movement. These 300M pieces, whether in 6215 or 6159 form are rare and expensive. Good pieces now routinely sell for over $10,000 and they’re every bit as good looking as any of the divers from the big Swiss brands of the time. Yes, they’re tough to track down and the 6159 isn’t the easiest piece to service, but these watches are iconic and are certainly deserving of a place on the Top Vintage Seiko Divers list. Heck, they inspired one of the most revered modern day Seiko’s in the MM300 SBDX001/017.
As the follow up to the 62MAS, the Seiko 6105-8000/9 brought stylish c-cased looks to the game when it was introduced in 1968 and definitely belongs on the list of Top Vintage Seiko Divers. Meant for the recreational diver set, the watch contains a Hardlex crystal and, oddly, a push in signed crown. Held next to the aforementioned 6215/6159 Professionals, it’s easy to spot the family resemblances as well. The indices are similar along with that famous stoplight seconds hand. At 41mm, the watch wears really well too: something that cannot be said of everything we’ll mention today. The 6105-8000/9 was only made for a few short years as its production ended during 1970. It’s a well known fact that Seiko transitioned its watches from water “proof” to water “resist” during mid-1970 due primarily to US laws and, because of this, rare resist/resist (meaning dial and case back) versions of this watch exist.
Whatever version you’re looking for, be prepared to pony up decent money as the 6105-8000/9 has caught fire over the last year or so with really good pieces now beginning to challenge the $2,000 mark. Decent examples were in the $800 range not so long ago but now easily eclipse $1,000. Be aware of aftermarket bezels, hands, dials and the like. Ensure things like the hands are the correct thickness and length and unless you’re getting into some sort of exotic piece, the dial should match the case back in wording (i.e. Proof and Proof).
Seiko 6106-8100/9 Sport Diver
In 1968, Seiko brought us the first of its wide-ranging Sports Divers, a lineup comprised of lower priced water sports-friendly pieces with a 70M-depth rating. Often, but not always, smaller, slimmer and more colorful than their more deeply rated counterparts, these watches represent a fun and typically less expensive way to get into the vintage Seiko diving theme. Some could argue that none of these pieces deserves mention on a Top Vintage Seiko Divers list, but I disagree. I’d say that the initial offering belongs due to its conservative nature and because it’s a starting point for so many collectors of these cool pieces.
The 6106-8100/9 is a classic-looking diver and was made from 1968 until roughly 1970 and came in an array of colors – grey, yellow, green, silver, blue and even a funky blue piece with chevron markers. At roughly 38mm, with a grey rotating bezel, and 19mm lugs, the watches are slim enough to wear under a sleeve. The 6106-8100/9 has become an appreciated gem and prices have been on the rise for several years. What was once a $200 watch all day long can now command $500 if in nice condition. As always, check for correct hands and ensure that water has stayed out of the movement.
Seiko 6105-8110/9 “Captain Willard”
If there’s a popular candidate for favorite of the Top Vintage Seiko Divers, the Seiko 6105-8110/9 would likely rank at or near the top. Made famous by one Martin Sheen, playing “Captain Willard” in Apocalypse Now, this distinctive diver brought an amoebic, Turtle-esque shape to the game that’s seen on most Seiko divers still today. Dial-wise, the 6105-8110/9 is almost identical to its c-cased 6105 predecessor, but the case takes a big step upwards at a rather large 44mm. With short lugs, though, it’s a decent fit. With a relatively long production run from 1970 through 1976, finding a “Willard” isn’t terribly difficult, but finding a decent one at a decent price can take time.
The watches come with a unique “push down and twist to lock” crown that was a good example of overthinking things, so it’s a good idea to ensure that this is in working order. Here again, bezels, dials and hands are often faked or modded, so do your homework. Expect to pay $1,500 and up for a nice example, but this is really an iconic and desirable piece to add.
Seiko 6159-7010/9 “Grandfather Tuna”
After Seiko pulled the plug on the aforementioned 6159 Hi-Beat Professional, it took them a whopping five years to come back with something they felt could handle the needs of true professional saturation divers. What they debuted was a truly different and innovative concept in the form of the 6159-7010/9. Known as the Grandfather Tuna for its distinctive shape, the watch brought 600M of water resistance along with becoming the first series production watch in titanium.
Its distinctive shroud, front loader case, and L-shaped gaskets help make it a true milestone in dive watch history. It’s easily Seiko’s most significant contribution to the genre and, therefore, no surprise on our Top Vintage Seiko Divers list. We’re big fans of these at Fratello Watches as a couple of us own these. Grandfather Tunas sat in the $1200-1500 realm for a long time, but now command anywhere from $3,500 – 4,500. At nearly 50mm all the way around and tall, they’re not daily wears, but they’re ridiculously distinctive and worthy of adding.
Most 6159’s for sale are in decent condition, but look out for chipped ceramic shrouds and non-working movements. Aside from that, they’re stout runners and bring that lovely hi-beat movement to the game. Early models lacked an “m” next to the depth rating on the dial, but this found its way to the dial after a couple years. Production lasted until roughly 1980.
Seiko 6306-7000/1, 6309-7040/9 “Turtle”
When the 6105 “Captain Willard” was discontinued, Seiko replaced it with a lower cost model in the 6306/6309 series. The funny thing is that the watches became massive sellers and is probably seen as the most common “gateway drug” into vintage Seiko. First introduced in 1976, the “Turtles” were produced until 1988. Numerous variants and changes exist. For example, the 6306 is a slightly different movement with a higher jewel count and hacking feature. These were made only for the Japanese market and the -7000 variant was only around for a year or so before being replaced by the -7001, which was around until 1981. Aside from hacking, the 6306’s include a date wheel with Kanji lettering. The 6306’s carry a real premium price-wise and can easily cross into $1,000 territory.
A true grail resides within the 6306-7001 called the “Scubapro 450” and it features the Scubapro name on the dial. Made in extremely limited quantities, bona fide examples now sell for thousands.
Normal 6309’s were made in Japan until 1981 and the Suwa symbol is shown on the dial at 6:00. This was removed after ’81 when Seiko took advantage of low cost manufacturing in other Asian countries. It’s these types of details along with the truly astounding number of fake dials and components on these watches that make a long hard study necessary before putting down the $400- 700 required to pick up a decent 6309. Ah, and as I always mention, ensure that the crown screws in a good three and a half rotations before committing to buy. If the threads on the crown tube or stripped, the watch is nothing more than a donor as the tube is part of the case. In my book, owning a 6306 or 6309 is simply a necessity if you’re a watch collector. They’re legendary and classic. At 45mm, they’re not little, but they’re great everyday watches. Seiko obviously realized this when they decided to reissue the Turtles a few years ago – they continue to sell like crazy.
Seiko 7549-7000/9 “Golden Tuna”
How did Quartz make its way into consideration for the Top Vintage Seiko Divers? That’s an easy one because in 1978, Seiko introduced a 600M battery-powered Tuna alongside the mechanical 6159, making it the world’s first so-called Professional Quartz diver. Even more distinctively, the watch boasted gold titanium nitride as a coating on its main case, bezel and crown and it became known as the “Golden Tuna”. The 7549 is a fantastically robust movement that shares its mainplate with the 6309 and a battery lasts for up to three years within.
Other Golden Tunas have followed, but this was the first and it was groundbreaking when released – and expensive! In fact, it retailed for double the price of the mechanical 6159! In this case, the -7000 differs from the -7009 (non-Japan market version) by eschewing the “SQ” Seiko Quartz logo so typically seen in the 80’s. By the way, if you’re a James Bond fanatic, Roger Moore rocked a -7009 in 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only”. Love or hate the movement, know that Seiko collectors hold the first Golden Tuna in very high regard. The watch was produced until 1985. Assume $1,200 – 1,800 for a decent version.
Seiko 7549-7010 “Tuna Can”
1978 was clearly a big year for Seiko. With Quartz clearly in scope, the brand threw its 7549 movement into more than just the Golden Tuna. This was the year that a lighter, 300M Professional version of the Tuna debuted.
Some will argue that with its screw-down case back that the 7549-7010 isn’t a real tuna, but the result is a far more wearable watch that, depending on the strap chosen, can actually slide under a sleeve. At 47.3mm in diameter and 15mm in height, no one would confuse it for being small, but it’s a deceiving piece on the wrist. Plus, with its stainless shroud, black and white looks, curved Hardlex crystal, and Suwa symbol by the date window, it ticks (literally) loads of boxes that Seiko collectors desire.
By the way, due to the stainless shroud, this model gained the actual “Tuna Can” nickname if you like keeping track of Seiko nomenclature. Produced until 1985, these pieces can be found with or without the “SQ” symbol on the dial and run anywhere from $500 – 800 depending on condition and location. If you want to try a Tuna but are a bit afraid, this is a no-risk way to put your toe into the pool.
The last piece on our Top Vintage Seiko Divers list came in late 1978 in the form of the 7548. As a 150M diver, this was the quartz corollary to the 6309, but it was more significant than that for one very key reason. The 7548 brought a case design that is still essentially here with us today in the form of the automatic 7S26-powered SKX007/9 that can still be found today. At 42mm, these are great everyday wears and were available in a number of dial colors. On the negative side, a truly astounding number of variants were produced until the model was replaced in 1985, but head here for some ideas on how things changed over time. Figure on $250 – >$1,000 depending on the variant.
Hopefully, this reference of Top Vintage Seiko Divers is a useful way to at least capture a look at the primary pieces made by the brand during the 60’s, 70’s and into the 80’s. I think you’d agree that Seiko made some real gems and that many are still on the more affordable side. Make no mistake; even on the low end of the pricing scale, you’re still getting a great watch stacked with engineering and innovation prowess. Plus, with the market as hot as it is for vintage Seiko, selling one if it’s not to your liking is easy. As mentioned, we’ll be back with a look at the 80’s. Enjoy your summer!