Seiko Speedtimer 6139

Curating the Collection – A Vintage Seiko Speedtimer 6139 Pogue Chronograph Ousts a Ceramic Daytona From a Rolex Collection

I almost exclusively collect Rolexes. I’m pretty well obsessed with them, especially iconic models in perfect condition. Having focused so intensely on Rolex, I can’t stop comparing every other sports watch to the corresponding Rolex model. It’s a habit so deeply engrained that our editor-in-chief, Allen, has started editing the tendency out of my reviews. “Dude, you don’t have to compare every watch to a Rolex.” But this is exactly what we Rolex people do.

Recent price dips and social media-induced FOMO had me considering adding a ceramic Daytona to my collection of chronographs. But I struggled with why I would buy a Daytona. I already have three chronographs in my collection. Shouldn’t I feel fulfilled? Did I even really like the ceramic Daytona? Or want to become the proverbial Daytona Guy?

Manhattan Dad Vibes – Image: Bob’s Watches

Full of doubts, I got clear-headed at Eataly, the upscale Manhattan grocery store started by the now disgraced Mario Batali.

Three men my age with kids in tow were also there. I noticed each dad had on a ceramic Rolex, and one was a Daytona. They’d rolled up their left sleeves, and the trio of uber-dads proceeded to loudly broadcast the arrogance their Rolexes suggested they might possess. I heard one say: “If that douche tries to bring that 19 Crimes shit again, he’s not coming to another dinner party.” It’s painful when stereotypes play themselves out so precisely.

By the time I’d paid for my overpriced groceries, the ceramic Rolex Daytona seemed blingy and over-refined to me. In the space of a few minutes, the Daytona had fallen from an exalted place in my mind and straight out of the running as a potential addition to my collection.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

The Chronograph Complication

Today’s chronographs are for nostalgia. The complication is almost useless in the modern electrically connected world. My BMW’s Laptimer app connects to my iPhone via BlueTooth and deploys GPS satellites to make unthinkably precise time measurements. I’ve never used it once. There’s no appeal.

Seiko Speedtimer 6139

The nostalgia of chronographs should illicit the smell of petrol, cigarettes, and burnt rubber. None of my watches bring that fine nasal bouquet to life except for my Seiko Speedtimer 6139. My Omega Speedmaster doesn’t even do it, nor my Rolex Sub, my Explorer II, my GMT Master II, and certainly not my G-Shock.

Where I once thought of my Seiko Speedtimer 6139 as the anomaly in my Rolex-centric collection – one to be replaced by a Daytona, ultimately – I’ve since started to see that my Seiko actually plays an important role somewhere near center stage. The 6139 has somehow managed to work its way through my tangle of collecting rules and straight onto my wrist with nearly the frequency of any other watch I own.

It wasn’t just the Manhattan Rolex dads that elevated the 6139, but they helped clarify for me what I really want in a chronograph: petrol, cigarettes and hot tires – not noisy prestige.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue
Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue
Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

The Pogue Legacy

The most regurgitated portion of the Seiko Speedtimer 6139 space story is along the lines of, “NASA Astronaut Colonel William Pogue took the Seiko 6139 to Skylab in 1974.” While the story of Col. Pogue’s rogue move to opt for his Speedimter and forgo his Speedmaster is the crux of the 6139’s watch nerd legacy, I find the end of the story more interesting.

In 2008, William Pogue, by then retired, put his space-flown Seiko Speedtimer 6139-6005 up for auction with a signed letter of provenance. The $5,975 in proceeds from the auction were donated to an Astronaut Scholarship. I can’t imagine what that watch might sell for in today’s bubble of a market for vintage watches, especially those which have been to space: 10x doesn’t’ seem at all unlikely; maybe 100x is a stretch, but maybe not.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

Today, there is enough lore surrounding vintage Seiko Speedtimer 6139s that all variations are affectionately called Pogue. Seiko mass-produced the model from 1969-1978. The ten-year 6139-600X run produced enough inventory to make the Speedtimers accessible to the average enthusiast today. Though, to be fair, prices are going up for clean examples.

Threading the Needle

Blue and Red “Pepsi” bezel inserts have been a favorite of mine since I started collecting. I worked my way up the Pepsi aesthetic ladder from the Seiko SKX009 to the Rolex GMT Master 2. This red and blue journey included too many Seikos to list, a few homage watches, and a Tudor Black Bay GMT before I finally arrived at my Rolex GMT Master. What I’ve learned along the way is that red & blue can’t be forced or it just looks inauthentic. Modern Seiko (1996-present) is guilty of this, and I needed to look further back to find my favorite colorway looking natural and unforced.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue
Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

Seiko has rebooted many popular vintage models with modern enhancements, but never the Speedtimer 6139. I do not count the 2022 Prosepx “Speedtimers”. From the case shape to the chronograph layout, the 2022 Seiko Prospex (ref SSC81X) Speedtimers are currently related by name only. And I found it a lame release for those reasons.

Selecting and Servicing

The first thing to consider when selecting a Seiko 6139 Speedtimer is the dial color. There are three: blue (“Cevert”), silver (“Silver Surfer”), and yellow “True Pogue”. The silver dials are rarest and command the highest price. Yellow dial variants are more faithful to the model that William Pogue wore on Skylab. I selected the blue dial variant simply because I prefer a cooler color palette. Many of the blue dials, such as mine, have faded toward grey.

The next decision was the dial variant. Variants to the reference may have text adjacent to the nine o’clock hour marker: 5 Sports (JDM), Water 70M Resist, Proof, etc…. The text balances the dial with the day-date windows opposite at three o’clock. Usually, my taste leads toward symmetry. In this case, I felt that the negative space on the “no markings” dial was more important to the overall design than the symmetry. It’s cleaner; less cluttered.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

After zeroing in on what I wanted, David Flett agreed to assist in procuring and servicing the Speedtimer I desired. Having an expert that could assess photos as well to know what additional pictures and questions to ask the seller was critical. With vintage Seiko, which can be quite cryptic, it’s important to get expertise from someone with hands-on experience at the watchmaker’s bench.

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

Working with David during the procurement process taught me how to spot aftermarket bezel inserts and hands. Another key piece of learning was that replacement internal indicator bezels are unavailable. They are often flaked, faded, or replaced with aftermarket parts. Patina needs to be taken into consideration, too, as ill-matched discoloration can spoil the look.

Plan on servicing a vintage Seiko Speedtimer with an unknown history. Luckily David is also a watchmaker so we discussed service in advance of the purchase knowing that my 6139 would be on his bench. Sticky pumpers are expected due to the degradation of the rubber seals. David suggested confirming that the chronograph seconds hand resets to zero, as this can be one of the more complicated service issues.

One of the 6139 movement’s design faults is the lack of a jeweled bearings for the barrel arbors. This leads to uneven wear in the main plate and barrel bridge. While servicing my Speedtimer, David inserted additional jewels into the main plate and barrel bridge, which is a significant upgrade to this movement. My 6139 ownership experience would have been much much worse without David’s involvement. 

Quirks, Irks, and Smirks 

Setting the day of the week and date is a game in itself. One depresses the crown slightly to change the date, and depress it entirely to change the day. A little practice establishes the right bit of finesse. Setting the time is easy because the watch does not have running seconds. Close enough is good enough. In the normal position rotating the crown in either direction will cause the internal bezel to rotate. The combination of the internal bezel and chronograph complication allows you to time two things simultaneously. It’s these little quirky things that make the Speedtimer 6139 so enjoyable to interact with. 

The inclusion of the bracelet (either the original or a time-period correct replacement) is critical to my modern and neo-vintage steel sports watch collection. Most original bracelets aren’t fit for daily wear due to age. The four original 6139 bracelet variants were: H-link (tapered), H-link (straight), JDM, and Stelux. I bought my Speedtimer without a bracelet. 

Seiko 6139 Speedtimer Pogue

I haven’t found straps to work well with the 6139 case shape as the convex case shape between the lugs causes an arched gap. Luckily Uncle Straps (formerly Uncle Seiko) makes an aftermarket replacement bracelet that has all of the vibes of the original.

This Seiko 6139 is a keeper in my collection of mostly Rolexes, and my friend David servicing it makes it all that more special. Every time I wear the watch I think of David, smell the petrol, cigarettes and burnt rubber, and then I smile. Sure beats a Rolex ceramic Daytona, which was starting to make me cringe!