Hands-On Review – Uncle Seiko Vintage Straps

If there is one thing that vintage Seiko enthusiasts agree on, it is the poor quality of the vintage bracelets Seiko used back then. Links were always folded and had a tendency to either wear or stretch quickly. Japanese market watches often came on higher quality Stellux bracelets but export markets such as North America, generally got the cheap versions. On a positive note, they were often lightweight, flexible and ironically, strangely comfortable but conveyors of quality they were not. 

Regardless of the quality, or perhaps, because if their poor quality, original examples in good condition are now quite rare. Rare enough to explain why so many vintage Seiko watches are sold on generic bracelets and anonymous ‘vintage’ leather bands even by well-established Seiko dealers.

Uncle Seiko, aka Larry Bouligny, was motivated to start making replacement rubber straps after having difficulties finding good quality replacements for the vintage Seiko dive watches he was restoring at the time. His first strap was a 19mm waffle strap for the early 70s 6105-811x ‘Captain Willard’, quickly followed by oyster and president style bracelets for the early 80s 6309/6306 ‘Turtles’.

Where it all started: the 6105 waffle strap. Image credit: uncleseiko.com

Since those initial models, Larry has produced a number of rubber straps and stainless steel bracelets to fit both modern and vintage Seiko models. As a supplier of vintage bracelets in particular, he has become a valued resource for the vintage Seiko community, that now relies on him to provide bracelets that not only look authentic and period-correct but are often of higher quality than Seiko’s original.

Another aspect of Uncle Seiko that we appreciate is that Larry is first and foremost a Seiko enthusiast and, to quote him, he “would not sell anything he would not want to wear”. This, I think is the key to the brand’s attention to detail and drive to make high quality reproductions. Larry also allocates a proportion of his profits to fund development projects in Kenya to feed, clothe, and educate children in the village of Bungoma. He also supports orphan care projects in Uganda and Romania.

In this article we will take a closer view at a number of his bracelets and bands, focusing on the vintage Seiko reproduction models. 

6139-600x H-Link

Price: $65 straight / $69 tapered.

Uncle Seiko H-Link bracelets: straight (L) and tapered (R)

The Uncle Seiko replacement for the standard 6139-600x ‘Pogue’ H-link bracelet comprises solid links that are a little thicker and significantly heavier than the original. Visually, the Uncle Seiko bracelet links are close to Seiko’s original but wider and thicker.

Original Seiko tapered bracelet top, Uncle Seiko straight bracelet below

Uncle Seiko provides both the straight version and the tapered version of the bracelet for early and late models respectively. Links are connected via pins just as with the original. The quality of the solid links is excellent and Larry is to be commended on not only improving on the feel of the original bracelet but also taking care of historical accuracy by providing both the straight and tapered versions. 

Each bracelet comes with a pair of folded end links which I find invariably fit better than Seiko’s own. The clasp is a three-piece fold over design as used by Seiko on the original bracelet. The clasp is brushed on its top surface and etch with the U logo of Uncle Seiko, a feature of all the clasps in the range. The quality of the clasp is in keeping with the price of the bracelet (more on this later).

Uncle Seiko solid links (L), Seiko folded links (R)

Having owned several Pogues on original bracelets as well as Uncle Seiko replacements, I always prefer Larry’s replacements and now fit them routinely to every 6139-600x that passes through my hands. The greater weight of the reproduction bracelet actually helps balance the weight of the 6139’s chronograph movement. The improvement in feel as a result of using solid links is a reasonable price to pay for the slightly different look in my opinion.

Tropic Strap

Price: $39, various colours available.

The classic tropic strap design is my ‘go to’ band for vintage skin divers. There is something about it’s design immediately conjures up images of pearl divers and exotic locations in my mind. The thin nature of the strap, being devoid of expansion moldings particularly suits the thin cases of the 1960s manually wound skin divers produced in bulk by many Swiss manufacturers. Uncle Seiko’s rendition of the classic strap comes in 19, 20 and 22mm widths and all sizes use the stronger 2.5mm spring bars.

The rubber strap is flexible straight from the packaging and being rubber rather than silicone, does not gathers lint excessively. The parquet moulding on the strap is finely detailed its texture gives the strap an almost velvety feel which is both unexpected and appreciated

On the wrist the strap looks the part attached to my vintage LeGant skin diver. The fit is good but straight out of the box, there is significant side pressure on my wrist where the strap is clamping rather than contorting to my wrist. Time spent curling each end of the strap close to the spring bar definitely helps here, just as you would do with a new leather strap. 

So, overall Uncle Seiko’s tropic is good quality strap for vintage style divers. It certainly looks the part and if I had to fault it, it would be just that it could be a little softer and more flexible for my personal taste. Having said that though, I wore my LeGant on the tropic all day with no comfort issues.

6117 Navigator Timer/World Timer

Price: $49, brushed and polished finishes available.

For owners of Seiko’s 6117 vintage GMT, finding an original railroad bracelet is notoriously hard. For one reason or another, they seem even rarer than average for a vintage Seiko bracelet.

In 2018 Uncle Seiko launched a replacement railroad bracelet and end-links for the 6117 Navigator Timer and World Timer. The reproduction is a little different from the original bracelet in the link details but it is faithful to the original with the mirror-like polished finish to match the watch. The fit of the end-links is surprisingly good and definitely better than Seiko’s originals.

The bracelet is noticeably lightweight even with its solid links which is probably not going to please everyone. I appreciate that the Uncle Seiko version feels just like the original with a certain, can we say ‘jangle’, and it is certainly comfortable but it lacks the solidity of other Uncle Seiko bracelets.

Since the high polish cases of the 6117 watches scratch and loose their shine easily, a brushed bracelet is also available which may be a better match cosmetically if not historically.

6117 original bracelets from Seiko 1972 catalog

Overall, the 6117 bracelet from Uncle Seiko feels like a Seiko original bracelet so I cannot really fault it for that. While the feel may be authentic, the design however deviates from the Seiko original. The Uncle Seiko railroad links extend the complete width of each flat link while the original had much smaller ‘loops’ connecting things together.

The 6117 watches also came on the tapered 6139 H-link bracelet so hopefully some end links that can be used to attach the existing H-link are in Larry’s future plans.

Wide-Link Bracelet

Price: $49

The wide-link bracelet is a copy of a vintage Seiko bracelet that was fitted to a large number of models from Bell-Matics to Sports Divers. It is suitable for any vintage Seiko that requires an 18 or 19mm bracelet with straight ends.

The wide-link bracelet on a 6117 Seiko 70m Sports Diver

It is not just the rare combination of 19mm width and straight ends that makes this bracelet practically suitable for so many vintage Seiko models. The bracelet is 21mm at its end and then tapers down to a 16mm clasp which makes it a good visual match for those early 70s Seikos that had quite large cases compared to the lug width.

Again we have good quality solid links secured with pins and the usual U-branded triple fold clasp with micro adjustment that we have come to expect from Uncle Seiko. I really like the quality of the links in this bracelet but I wonder if the style is just a little too vintage for some. The sheer number of vintage Seikos this bracelet fits while looking 100% stock makes this slice of seventies style a winner.

Bell-Matic President Bracelet

Price: $55 with two sets of end-links.

Uncle Seiko provides a replacement president-style bracelet for the 4006-700x and 4006-702x Seiko Bell-Matic models. All of the Bell-Matics came on bracelets but none were originally a president style. Given the dearth of bracelets available for Seiko Bell-Matics the president-style option is a welcome addition to the range, authentic or not.

Uncle Seiko’s Bell-Matic bracelet. Image credit: uncelseiko.com

The 4006-700x and 4006-702x have different case shapes and Larry supplies two sets of folded end-links to connect either style of case. The solid links have a polished center section and brushed outer section to match the rest of the bracelet. The finish is good and the bracelet feels very comfortable on the wrist.

The president-style bracelet really suits the classic good looks of the 4006 Bell-Matic. While no-one is going to mistake this for Rolex’s original president bracelet, the Uncle Seiko version is as good as any I have tried up to $120 and far superior to the usual $50 eBay special purporting to be NOS Seiko. The bracelet has a short side-push release rather than the triple fold clasp on the other bracelets. There are two positions for micro-adjusting.

I have a 4006-701x Bell-Matic awaiting restoration so I thought I would see if the same bracelet would fit that model as well. Unfortunately, one set of end-links were too narrow while the others were the correct width but not the right profile.

While my Bell-Matic still has its original bracelet, I was a little disappointed that the Uncle Seiko president option didn’t fit as I think it would look great on this model too. However, Larry make no claim that his bracelet fits the 4006-701x model so I can’t complain. If I owned a 700x or 702x variant rather than the 701x, I’d definitely be adding an Uncle Seiko president-style bracelet as an option.

6138 “UFO” President Bracelet

My own 6138 on its two-year old Uncle Seiko bracelet

Uncle Seiko’s second president-style bracelet is one made especially for the 6138-001x UFO chronograph. This watch needs a really substantial bracelet to balance its large 44mm case and the Uncle Seiko president is more than up to the task.

This was the first Uncle Seiko bracelet I bought for the first vintage Seiko I bought and I cannot imagine wearing this watch on any other band to be honest. The lugs on the 6138 UFO are hooded and require a bracelet with 19mm straight ends but then the bracelet also needs to flare out immediately otherwise the watch looks sort of ridiculous perched on a narrow band. This is why the UFO never looks good on leather in my opinion.

Each solid link is brushed on top and polished on the sides and while after 2 years my example has loosened a little, there is almost no drop in it. The dimensions of the bracelet suit the oversized case of the 6138 UFO (also used on the 6138 Sliderule) and it is comfortable, never pinching or feeling sharp. The bracelet also does a good job of securing the top heavy case on the flat of my wrist. The watch and bracelet combination tops the scales at a wrist-wearying 155g.

6138-300x Jumbo H-Link

Price: $69

This bracelet is an adaptation of the 6139 Pogue H-Link bracelet so that it fits the larger 6138 Jumbo chronograph. The Uncle Seiko H-Link is very similar to a Stellux bracelet that was sometimes fitted to the Jumbo in its domestic Japanese market so the combination not only looks good but also has historic some precedent. In export markets the Jumbo was commonly supplied on a center link bracelet that also looks good but suffers from stretch and drop. I have an original bracelet that is almost perfect cosmetically but is still incredibly loose and lightweight compared with the rest of the watch.

The brushed links are the same as on the tapered Pogue bracelet but the end-links are specific to the Jumbo, brushed to match the case. The bracelet holds the watch securely but the initial fit is not up to Uncle Seiko’s regular standards. To his credit, Larry clearly states on the website that the fit is not perfect and will need fettling:

“PLEASE NOTE: The fit to the Jumbo is not perfect and needs minor modification. This would include flattening the end-link slightly and possibly filing a slight amount of the final link to avoid contact with the end-link.”

Each owner needs to decide if they want to break out the tools after spending $70 on a new bracelet but I suspect for many vintage Seiko proponents, this will not be an issue. Getting it to fit is worth it because the H-Link looks great fitted to the 6138 Jumbo.

The fit between the first link and case is very tight

In Conclusion

After trying a large proportion of Uncle Seiko’s range, both owned and loaned, for this review some common themes have emerged. The first is Larry’s determination to create bracelets and bands that enhance vintage Seiko ownership at a reasonable price. This was his vision when starting the business and I feel that it still seems true, even with the larger product line-up.

The general fit and finish of the bracelets is not perfect but it is very good for the money. I think it is worth remembering that these bracelets will be fitted to vintage Seikos that will have generally been bought for less than $500 and I think the quality of the bracelets is absolutely appropriate for such purchases.

With all the bracelets, except perhaps the 6117 Navigator Timer’s, feeling like definite upgrades from the Seiko originals. Larry is aware that the 6117 bracelet is not quite on par with the rest of the range so I am sure an alternative is in the works. The solid links on the other bracelets in particular deserve special mention as they are the key to the improved feel over the Seiko originals.

If there is a common weakness in the range then I think it is with the clasps but the worst I can say about them is that they are just like the Seiko originals. The friction-held triple fold design is exactly the same as Seiko used and so I don’t think we should not feel disappointed with their use here. Milled clasps would be an improvement in quality and longevity but they would also be a step away in authenticity.

There are definite some high points in the selection of products I tried. The H-Link is hands-down the best replacement bracelet out there for the 6139 Pogues, and clearly superior to the other ones that can be bought on eBay. I find that Uncle Seiko’s tropic strap looks consistently good on any vintage divers, made by Seiko or otherwise.

My favourite, though, is the so-called wide-link bracelet. Not only does it uniquely capture the style of the seventies with its weird link design, it solves the problem of a replacement bracelet for so many vintage Seikos, for example the 4006-602x Bell-Matic, 6106-6439 UFO diver, 6119-6023 70m Sports Diver, 6119-6400 UFO, 6138-0011 UFO, 6139-800x chronograph… In fact, pretty much any vintage Seiko from the early 70s that had 18 or 19mm hooded lugs is a candidate for this bracelet.