Seiko 6138/6139 – Automatic for the People

Hope you are all well and wishing my readers a happy and healthy New Year 2020!

My first blog entry in the new year is – of course – about Seiko. I know there are many articles about the first automatic chronograph, but with now two vintage Seiko chronographs in my collection I decided it’s a good theme to start the new year.

As usual we start with history. Back in the beginning of 1969 chronographs were only available with manual winding. Chronographs are a lot more complicated than the usual three hand watches and although the first attempts to create an automatic winding movement dated back to the 20s (the Harwood watches) it took more than 40 years until the first automatic winding movements apperead

Homepage Harwood

It’s a long discussion which company was really the first. Was it Zenith/Movado with their “El Primero” (the name claims the first place for itself), the companies Buren, Heuer, Breitling, Hamilton and Dubois Debraz with the Caliber 11 or Seiko with the 6139?
Facts: The El Primero and the Caliber 11 were shown in March 1969 but were not ready to use (not for industrial manufacturing). The Caliber 11 never was good enough for a reliable production, it took some time and the Caliber 12 to satisfy the requirements. The El Primero too had some minor improvements. But in May 1969 Seiko began to sell the 6139 in the stores with production date numbers starting April 1969. So you can with good arguments say: the first really working automatic chronograph movement was the Seiko 6139. Why didn’t they made a big fuss of it in 1969? Well maybe they were Japanese…Another even better explanation is that in 1969 another invention from Seiko was more important for them – and with good reason. In 1969 the Seiko Astron was released, the first quartz wristwatch ever. To complete the history I will mention the first quartz analog chronograph movement, the 7A28, released in 1983 (https://michaelswatchblog.de/2019/11/29/seiko-7a28-7040-quartz-chronograph-went-analog/).

The Caliber 11 was an automatic movement with a chronograph module, while the El Primero and the 6139 were genuine chronograph movements. The 6139 is a construction with a column wheel. Until today this is the best and most reliable approach to construct a chronograph movement. All new developments in the last 10 years followed this principle. Only the famous Valjoux 7750 is different in construction (and because of this difference bears some disadvantages, for instance stiff pushers and sometimes a not exact starting second hand).

Seikos first chronograph ever was released only five years before the 6139, the 5717 monopusher, shown at the Olympic Games in Tokio 1964.

Seiko Monopusher 5717

The El Primero is the only one of this three first movements which is produced until today. It survived the quartz crisis under strange circumstances – but that’s another story.

The 6139 was produced almost unchanged until 1979. One year after the 6139 the second automatic chronograph movement from Seiko appeared, the 6138. Why the second movement had a minor number, I don’t know. The two movements were produced simultaneously.

Let’s have a closer look at the differences between the two movements.

The 6138 offers handwinding, the 6139 doesn’t. So to start the 6139 you have to do the famous Seiko shuffle. None of them offers hacking – a senseless feature without a continuous second hand in both movements.
Both offer quick day-date set but in a completely different manner. The 6138 works like most modern movements, be it automatic, manual winding or quartz: Pulling the crown to the first position allows adjusting day and date. The 6139 adjusts day and date similar to older Seiko movements: Push the crown to change the date. Push the crown even stronger to change day and date.
Both movements are counting seconds with a big central second hand and minutes with a subdial at 6 o’clock. The 6138 also counts hours with a second subdial at 12 o’clock.

Both movements were sold at the same time in the 70s in many variations: with tachymeter bezel, without bezel, with blue, black, white, champagne, golden dials and many more.

Seiko catalogue from the 70s with 6138 models

The most famous 6139 is for sure the legendary Seiko “Pogue” (first Seiko in space) with a Pepsi bezel and a golden dial. Some other colors have also special names, for instance the “Cevert”.

The most famous 6138 are the “Panda” and the “Kakume”, other interesting models are the “Bullhead” or the “UFO”.

In my collection I have the famous blue Kakume (Japanese for “square eyes”) in excellent condition and with original bracelet. Really a highlight among all my watches. It’s an export model with English/Roman day-wheel and “Chronograph Automatic” written on the dial. The JDM Models have a English/Kanji day-wheel and “Seiko 5 Speed-Timer” on the dial. Also the hands are different.

Seiko Kakume
Roman day-date wheel
“Chronograph Automatic” – an export dial

You can see a JDM dial on my 6139 with English/Kanji dial.

Seiko Speedtimer
Kanji wheel
Seiko 5 Speed-Timer – a JDM dial

If you want to buy a 6138/6139 take the best example you can find. Repairing one of this beauties can be rather expensive and difficult. You must first find someone who is able to do this (like my friend ajiba54) . Your usual watchmaker might not be the right person for this watches. And beware of watches with aftermarket parts – which only an expert can tell.

While the 6139 can be found in rather good shape starting at about 500 Euros (some models are more expensive), prices for a 6138 are a bit higher, especially for the Panda and the Kakume. If you fell in love with the panda but you are not the vintage guy – Seiko released an excellent reissue of this watch recently, the SRQ029. Unfortunately not a very affordable piece (retail price is 3.900 Euro) with a high-end chronograph movement.

Seiko Panda Reissue (picture copyright ajiba54)
Comparison Seiko SRQ029 Panda Reissue and Seiko 6138-8020 Panda (picture by ajib54)

I don’t think a Seiko collection is complete without a 6138/6139 watch. So look for them while they are still affordable!

3 thoughts on “Seiko 6138/6139 – Automatic for the People”

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