We love a chase don’t we? Watch enthusiasts I mean. The thrill of opening the next box or clicking the next link to see if it might be hiding something different. Something special. Something only we have discovered. Tales of $25 Rolex watches bought at the local thrift shop or found at the bottom of a battered box of worthless non-runners at an estate sale reverberate through our mind, urging just one more search, one more click’ deep into the early hours of the morning.
“Imagine if I could just find that Rolex Sub, you know? With that dial that I really dig but that was also made in the year or even the month of my birth. How cool would that be?”
How much easier would it be to justify the cost of a birth-year watch. Imagine the gravitas such a watch would have as a jewel in one’s collection. The search for birth year watches provides another reason – as if any was necessary – to search for more cool vintage watches.
Dating Vintage Seikos
Dating vintage watches is often complicated and sometimes requires significant deductive powers combined with a deep knowledge of the brand. There is one brand, however, that makes identifying birth year vintage watches simple. That brand is Seiko.
On the back of every Seiko watch is a serial number that can be used to date the year of production of the watch. The first digit of the serial number is the year of the decade in which the watch was built. So a watch made in 1971, will have a serial number that starts with 1. A watch made in 1983 will have a serial number that starts with 3. The serial number does not indicate the decade in which the watch was made, but a guide like the one you are reading can help with that by indicating the years in which various models were available.
Dating vintage watches is often complicated and sometimes requires significant deductive powers combined with a deep knowledge of the brand.
The second digit of a Seiko’s serial number specifies the month of manufacture, allowing the determined collector to find his or her birth month watch. The 12 months are denoted by 1-9 for January to September, ‘0’ for October, ‘N’ for November and ‘D’ for December. The remaining numbers of the serial number (4 or 5 depending on model) simply form an incremental counter that we don’t need to be concerned with.
So, what can we tell from a 60s Seiko dress watch with serial number 628970? We can infer that it was manufactured in February 1966. And what about a 1970s Seiko Sports diver with serial number 3N4823? We know that it was made in November 1973.
Seiko models were typically manufactured for 5 to 10 years after introduction, so if a watch is described herein for a year before your own birth year, the chances are that with a little searching you will find the same watch but for a later year. The following list is just a small sample of models introduced each year, noting along the way, the more important releases.
The 12 months are denoted by 1-9 for January to September, ‘0’ for October, ‘N’ for November and ‘D’ for December.
For those born in 1960, Seiko were still making a number of three-hand dress models carried over from the 1950s, for example, the Seiko Marvel, Seiko Crown, Seiko Chronos and Seiko Champion. These designs are all typified by round cases, simple lugs and brushed silver dials with silver or gold applied indices. Good examples of each can easily be found below $500. All are manually wound and easily serviced due to their relative simplicity and similarity with established, contemporary Swiss technology.
While Seiko would become associated predominantly with stainless steel cases, in 1960 many were still gold- or even chrome-plated, so check the plating is in good shape before buying – it often deteriorates and wears away. For something special, search out the rare Seiko Goldfeather made from 1960 to 1966. It has an extremely thin movement at 2.95mm which was not much thicker than Piaget’s 12P movement: also introduced in 1960, and at 2.3mm, was the worlds thinnest at the time.
Seiko introduced two model lines in 1960 and would go on to form a large part of their catalogue for the rest of the decade. They were the Seikomatic and Sportsmatic lines of watches. Both provided waterproof cases and automatic winding via Seiko’s innovative magic lever system. This was first seen in 1959 on the Seiko Gyro Marvel and has been a feature of automatic Seiko watches ever since. We will revisit both Seikomatic and Sportsmatic later in the decade.
No mention of 1960 would be complete without mentioning the first Grand Seiko, aka the 3180, derived from the earlier Seiko Crown and launched in December that year.
No mention of 1960 would be complete without mentioning the first Grand Seiko, aka the 3180, derived from the earlier Seiko Crown and launched in December that year. It contained Seiko’s caliber 57, variations of which powered a number watches during the 1960s. For someone looking for a birth year watch with significant horological history, locating the first Grand Seiko would be a worthy challenge. Finding a 1960 example might be hard due to the December launch, but 1961 should be more straightforward. Expect to pay around $3000 and up for a good, serviced example.
1961 saw the Daini factory launch King Seiko as its own high end watch model line in response to Grand Seiko. Derived from the Seiko Chronos, Daini intended the luanch model (Ref. J14102) to compete with contemporary Swiss watches in quality as well as rivaling neighboring Suwa’s own Grand Seiko line. As with many early sixties Seikos, the serial number is on the inside of the case back rather than the outside, but the method of dating the watch remains the same as described earlier. Examples can be routinely found for both late 1961 and all of 1962. You can expect to pay between $500 and $800 for a good example, but prices of King Seiko are starting to rise across the board.
While the first King Seiko is a solid choice for 1961, this was also the first year Seiko released dedicated waterproof sports watches. I refrain from calling them dive watches since they were not meant to go particularly deep, nor had they any sort of dive rating. The 50m Seikomatic SilverWave J12082 released in 1961 was the first step on the long road to the modern day SKX 200 m dive watch every Seiko enthusiast knows today. The SilverWave does little to hide its dress watch lineage with its glitzy brushed dial and elegantly polished markers.
A black inner rotating bezel (a first for Seiko with this watch) takes care of recording elapsed time, while still looking as smart as a finely tailored tuxedo at dinner. A large crown without guards is positioned at 4 o’clock conceiving the design DNA for the next 50 years of Seiko divers. Despite its size, the crown does not screw down. The J12082 contains one more design feature that would also continue to project forwards through the decades: the tsunami case back engraving that debuted with this watch and features on every Seiko dive watch made since. Expect to pay around $1200 for a good example in 2020.
1962 saw the introduction of the Seiko Alpinist, model number J13049, based on the existing Seiko Champion 850. This is another early sports watch that simply cannot disguise its dressy roots. Like the 50m SilverWave before it, the 850 Alpinist sports a formal black outer border to its to dial that lends it a very classy look.
This watch would definitely not look out of place at a black-tie dinner at the Explorers Club in New York City where it would slip discretely under the cuff. The dial is scribed with fine hourly radial lines reminiscent of the points of a compass dial, evoking a further sense of adventure.
The Alpinist was created by Seiko to appeal to the amateur mountaineers who were increasingly exploring Japan’s mountainous interior countryside and needed a robust watch with some water resistance. The caseback featured for the first time the familiar Alpinist triple peak engraving and the stylized logo still used today. The dials of these early Alpinists are particularly prone to changing from their original white, through a light tan to almost an ochre color. Expect to pay around $800 for a good example.
If you were born in 1963 then you share your birth year with the Seiko 5 line of watches. The 5 was a reference to the number of design principles Seiko felt important enough to embody within a dedicated brand: water resistance, shock resistance, automatic winding, day-date display and a crown at 4 o’clock. The now-familiar shielded 5 branding was first applied to watches from the existing Sportsmatic line modified to include the new qualities necessary for a Seiko 5. Good examples are not difficult to find below $200.
1963 also saw the introduction of a second generation Grand Seiko, the manually wound, 35 jewel 43999 self-certified Chronometer. This short-lived caliber 430-powered watch was produced for two years only and was the last use of a low beat 18,000bph movement by the Suwa factory for a Grand Seiko. Featuring bold slab-sided lugs, it was the first Grand Seiko to incorporate some of Taro Tanaka’s “Grammar of Design” principles. The 1963 model is sometimes called the 57GS since it looks identical to its more common successor but technically, its movement was not given that designation in 1963. Examples are priced at around $1500.
1964 was a very important year for Seiko both at home and abroad. The Tokyo Olympics took place with Seiko as the official timekeeper raising brand exposure around the world. It was at these games that photo-finish technology made its first appearance. The Tokyo Olympics were also the first time that a quartz digital timer was used in competition, again supplied by Seiko and developed the previous year. Due to these advances in timing technology, 1964 was the first year the IAAF recognised and judged athletic performance results measured to 1/100th of a second rather than 1/10.
In honor of this prestigious event, Seiko launched its first chronograph, the 45899 Crown Chronograph, in 1964. The design still had some semblance of dressy formality with its black and white appearance just like the earlier dive watches and Alpinists. Dials came in silver and black. The chronograph function provided only elapsed seconds, so an externally rotated, black bakelite bezel was used for recording elapsed minutes. A single start-stop-reset pusher is provided at 2 o’clock. The caseback is engraved with the Olympic torch. A similar looking 5717-8990 chronograph was produced with silver dial and bezel without the Olympic connection and can be found at a lower price than the $2000-$3000 the Olympic version currently commands.
Grand Seiko introduced a third generation watch in 1964 in the form of the Self-Dater. Visually identical to the previous 43999, Seiko fitted an improved 57GS caliber beating at 19800bph. Expect to pay around $1200 for a good stainless steel 57GS. As with most vintage Grand Seikos, solid gold was a rarer, but available, option for those with additional budget. Platinum versions are significantly rarer. The 57GS would remain in production until 1969.
One cannot consider Seiko watches from 1965 without mentioning the 62MAS. The model name was derived from the caliber 62 that powers it combined with a contraction of seikoMAtic Selfdater. The 62MAS was Seiko’s first professionally rated dive watch with large lume plots, 150m water resistance and a case shape clearly influenced by skin diver watches from other manufacturers. The model was extremely popular and laid the path for a continuous line of Seiko professional specification dive watches from then on. Recently, prices have gone up sharply for this model. Good examples are close to $5000 and even bad ones are over $2000.
Another interesting watch from 1965 is the Seikomatic 6245-9000. This watch is the only non-King Seiko, non-Grand Seiko to carry the Chronometer designation on its dial indicating that it met COSC standards for precision. While not labelled as a Grand Seiko, this Seikomatic was built to Grand Seiko standards and was even endowed with the gold lion medallion on the caseback, minus the Grand Seiko lettering.
The Seikomatic models were stalwarts of the Seiko lineup from 1960 to 1967. They do not grab the headlines like a Grand Seiko or 62MAS but their size and affordability makes them a great choice for a birth-year watch. The 6206 Seikomatic Weekdater, for example, blends a gorgeous, clean mid-century modern design with a contemporary 37mm size all enhanced by the minimal bezel. To add a little spice and quirkiness, search out a JDM version with Kanji date-wheel. The 1965 version also has the gyroscope on the dial carried over from the original 1959 Gyro Marvel and the script Seikomatic branding. In 1966 these two dial features would be dropped and replaced by the modern Seiko logotype, which today is still unchanged since its 1966 introduction.
In July 1966, the Seikomatic Chronometer was renamed the 62GS and finally became the automatic Grand Seiko it had been masquerading as the year before. From a style perspective, the 62GS really represents a halfway house between the traditional watches of the early 60s and the watches that would come later in the decade. Smooth curves and an emphasis on all things round would slowly be replaced with straight lines, facets and edges as prescribed in Taro Tanaka’s Grammar of Design. As a temporal combination of the two styles, the timeless 62GS looks particularly modern today.
1966 was also the last year for the Sportsmatic line of affordable automatic watches. Since 1961, the Sportsmatic line had stood for affordable timekeeping with reliability and toughness that elevated them above the dress watches that came before. Almost all vintage Seiko watches have day and date complications, but if you are particularly drawn to the symmetric purity of a no date, 3-hander, search out a Seiko Sportsmatic 6601, since with neither day nor date windows, it presents a clean dial with perfect balance and symmetry.
1967 was the year Seiko launched the 5740-8000 Lord Marvel which was as much a technical wonder as its name suggests. Slotting in under the Grand Seiko and King Seiko lines, it provided something that neither of those ranges did at the time: a hi-beat movement. The Lord Marvel was only the second watch in the world to beat at 36000 beats per hour, the first coming from the house of Girard Perregaux a year earlier.
The movement is not only technically advanced, it is also positively gorgeous to look at with brushing and finishing atypical of Seiko movements at this price point.
A watch with 36000bph or 10 beats per second results in an mesmerizingly smooth second hand. Mechanical Grand Seiko watches today use a 36000bph movement so to find an affordable, vintage watch with the same smooth sweep really is a horological miracle. The movement is not only technically advanced, it is also positively gorgeous to look at with brushing and finishing atypical of Seiko movements at this price point. There is no day or date complication here, nor even automatic winding; the focus of this watch is solely the sweep of its second hand. Do not be deterred by the seemingly small case diameter of 36mm. While that might seem too small for some, the lugs are quite long so it tends to wear larger. The Lord Marvel 36000 was produced, unchanged from 1967 to 1975. Good examples are $400 or less.
Grand Seiko also launched the manual wind 44GS in 1967 based on the earlier 1964 King Seiko 4420-9990 Chronometer. The 44GS has what we now associate as the archetypal styling for a Grand Seiko. The case is shaped strictly according to the rules of Tanaka’s Grammar of Design and exhibits the Zaratzu polished, faceted sides that Grand Seiko are so proud of today. It was also the first Grand Seiko from the Daini factory, which until then had produced King Seiko watches. One cannot understate the importance of the 44GS. When Seiko wanted to re-issue a vintage model to mark their 100th birthday in 2013, they chose the 44GS. Prices have risen steadily since the 2013 reissue. Expect to pay around $3000 for a good 44GS. Expensive yes, but a very important Grand Seiko historically.
Seiko’s rate of development increased towards the end of the decade. New models and technical innovations came thick and fast. For 1968, the Suwa factory developed the 56XX automatic hi-beat movement for the King Seiko model line beating at 28800 vibrations per hour. These King Seiko watches arguably represent the most extreme interpretation of Tanaka’s design philosophy. The 5625-7000 King Seiko, in particular, features a central cylinder seemingly held under tension between two long Zaratsu-polished flanks that continue on to form the lugs but which simultaneously cut back under themselves at an acute angle to provide a very comfortable fit. For those who appreciate a daringly-styled dress watch, a 5625-7000 in good condition will not disappoint. Dials are susceptable to damage around the edge and the date quickset can be problematic so check both are satisfactory before buying.
The 5625-7000 King Seiko, in particular, features a central cylinder seemingly held under tension between two long Zaratsu-polished flanks that continue on to form the lugs but which simultaneously cut back under themselves at an acute angle to provide a very comfortable fit.
Meanwhile, the Daini factory was busy building 45GS Grand Seiko models in 1968. This model replaced the short-lived 44GS launched a year earlier and while visually similar externally, was very different internally. The 18000 bph movement of the 44GS was replaced with the much higher grade 56xx 36000 hi-beat movement that would eventually gain near-mythical status amongst Seiko enthusiasts and historians. Seiko submitted 103 watches with 56xx movements to the *Concourse de Geneve* in 1968 where they placed 4th through 10th with the top 3 positions taken by prototype Swiss quartz movements. This achievement cannot be overstated. This was a Seiko production watch that beat every other Swiss mechanical watch for accuracy in a Swiss chronometry test. The 45GS would last in production until 1973 and so represents a great birth year watch choice for those 5 years.
This achievement cannot be overstated. This was a Seiko production watch that beat every other Swiss mechanical watch for accuracy in a Swiss chronometry test.
1969 was a momentous year for Seiko and this fact is reflected in the birth year watches suggested here. At the turn of 1969, the world’s watch manufacturers were in a race to develop the first automatic chronograph. While Zenith were first to present their ‘El Primero’ prototype to the world on January 10th, it was Seiko that was the first to sell such a watch with the the 6139-6000 chronograph model. Domestic Japanese 6139s have been seen with February build dates, indicating that serial production of a mechanical chonograph had started soon after Zenith’s announcement. Seiko never announced their prototype but one can imagine it may easily have been in ready in 1968.
If your birth year is 1969, I cannot think of a more momentous watch to track down than a 1969 Japanese 6139 chronograph. Production of the 6139 series lasted until late in 1978, so they are ideal for many birth year watches. Prices vary with quality, but budget for $1200 for a good early example that has been serviced and will be reliable and $800 for a later version. Avoid any rough 6139 below $500 and beware frankenwatches at all price points.
If your birthday was in December 1969, then we will finish this decade’s birth year watch roundup with one last, very special suggestion. At the end of the 1960s a force was coming from the east that would decimate the mechanical watch industry and go on to dominate for decades to come. Quartz technology was upon the world and on Christmas day, December 1969, the world’s first quartz watch, the Seiko Quartz Astron, was unveiled. Cases were solid gold and the hammered cushion-case styling is perhaps best described as an acquired taste. Officially called the 35SQ, it was expensive then and examples are still expensive now. For the committed collector, there is possibly no more influential watch produced in the 20th century to track down. 100 examples were sold before the end of 1969, at the equivalent of around $10,000 in today’s money. Accuracy was a world-changing 5 seconds per month.
1960s Birth-Year Seikos Abound
While we have focussed on some of the more prominent Seiko watches from the 1960s, there were many more that I passed over for no reason other than to keep the length of this guide manageable. There were many more Seikomatics and Weekdaters produced than were mentioned here. There is the LordMatic range of watches that we did not mention, that started in 1967 and continued into the 1970s. These will feature in the next installment of this guide for that decade. There we more King Seikos and even a few Grand Seikos that I did not have the space to describe. Regardless, the caseback serial number is the key to dating any Seiko watch from the 1960s and to finding your birth year watch.