A timeless affair with Seiko

Jing Magsaysay
'Switzerland is universally accepted as the source of the best watches. But ask any Seiko aficionado and they will be quick to point out that Japan's Seikos are as good or even better, beat for beat than any Swiss watch, at any price level'

TIMELESS. Any Seiko aficionado will be quick to point out that Japan's Seikos are as good or even better, beat for beat, than any Swiss watch, at any price level.

MANILA, Philippines – It’s ironic for timelessness to be the selling point of a product that tells time. 

This started for me when my father gave me a stainless steel watch – a chronometer with a white face and a red and blue bezel with the word “Tachymeter” written on it. I loved that it looked different from the other watches from that period. I would seldom catch people steal a glimpse and sometimes, they would just come right up to me to ask what it was. That was a Seiko 6139, my introduction to the brand.

Little did I know that the Seiko 6139 I had was arguably the first automatic chronometer to be in a production series and the first watch to go into space. The story goes like this.

The NASA astronauts assigned to fly the Skylab Mission in 1974 would use the Omega Speedmaster as the official mission watch. The Omega, however, would be issued to the astronauts just one week before the flight.

One of the astronauts, Col. William R. Pogue, needed a watch he could train with for the 6-month period, so he decided to buy a Seiko 6139. He trained with it and depended on it so much that he felt he could not do his job without it. So, on that space mission, Col. Pogue wore two watches: the Omega on one arm and the Seiko 6139 on the other. Today, people who are into Seiko watches or “Seikoholics” refer to that particular Seiko 6139 model as the “Pogue.”

Col. Pogue wearing his Seiko 6139, now commonly known as 'Seiko Pogue' in Space. Photo by Heritage Auctions (www.historical.ha.com)

I lost my 6139 in the fog of life. Then sometime in 2011, I chanced upon a Seiko collector. He asked me to check his collection in Davao City because he was willing to part with some of his pieces. It turned out, I was more than willing to help him. In that catch was a Seiko 6139. I had come full circle.

But it turns out, with Seikos, there’s no such thing as a full circle. It’s more like a never-ending rollercoaster ride.

FULL CIRCLE. A Seiko Pogue bought from a fellow collector from Davao City. Photo by Jing Magsaysay

Missiles and Misconceptions

You need a watch to tell you what time it is. Simple enough. There’s a phrase that guided missile designers use, “fire and forget,” which simply means, just fire the missile and it will find its way to the target. That’s how it should be with a watch: buy it, put it on in the morning and take it off at night. In between, subject it to the harshness of everyday life and expect it to tell the time, accurately, forever almost.

Switzerland is universally accepted as the source of the best watches. But ask any Seiko aficionado and they will be quick to point out that Japan’s Seikos are as good or even better, beat for beat than any Swiss watch, at any price level.

A hundred and thirty years ago, in the Ginza area of Tokyo, Kintaro Hattori opened the “K Hattori” watch shop. Eleven years later in 1892, he started producing clocks under the brand Seikosha or the “house of exquisite workmanship.” 

People who know little about the brand think that Seikos are cheap watches, in every sense of the word. It’s a misconception. Here’s the thing. Those reasonably priced Seikos, that were bought in the 1970s, the “Pogues” among them, are still telling good time today, 50 years after they were bought. Fire and forget.

Indeed, Kintaro Hattori’s house has produced some of the most exquisite, dependable, and iconic wristwatches.

Ococ Ocliasa said he loves Seikos because there is “the amazing disconnect between the quality and the price.”

No matter what your budget is, you can be sure that what you buy – whether it’s a P4,000-department store Quartz Seiko, a P10,000-SKX007 Divers’ watch, a P100,000-Astron Solar GPS, a P300,000 Spring Drive Grand Seiko, or one of the eight P25 million-Seiko Fugaku Limited Edition Tourbillions – you can rest assured that the Seiko of your choice will do what it’s supposed to – accurately tell the time, day in and day out, year after year.

Another aficionado, Mario Sarmiento said, “Seiko has a long history of watchmaking, and it gives a collector a timepiece at every price point. A beginning collector could start at entry level and make his way up, similar to what I’m doing.”

For Alec Corpuz, “It is a nice gateway to horology, in-house movement. Horological and historical significance.”

Many of those 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Seikos have been passed on from father to son, friend to friend, collector to collector, all of whom share a common preference and passion for Seikos.

FROM THE 70s. 6138-0040; 6138-8020 and a 6138-0012. Photo by Jing Magsaysay

Seiko Watch Club of the Philippines 

But why is there this passion for Seikos? Aside from its reliability, affordability, history, and heritage, it is also the fact that sharing the passion is a joy in itself.

For some reason, many Seiko models, especially divers’ watches, have been available in the Philippines, making it known as the Seiko divers watch center of the world. If you’re into Seiko divers’ watches past to present, including the rare models like the 1975 Seiko 6105-8009 worn by Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) in the epic Apocalypse Now, or the Seiko H558 “Arnold Schwarzenegger” dual display watch he wore in the movie “Predator,” this is the place to be.

Here in the country, if there’s anyone who likes Seiko, loves Seiko, wants to get started in Seiko, is a Seiko cult guru, an avid collector, or belongs to a family of Seiko watch owners, the common stomping ground is the Seiko Watch Club of the Philippines or the “SWCP,” a group where people can freely share and talk about their passion for Seiko watches, including technical know-how, tips, tricks, and updates.

Each day, the club’s 17,000 members do exactly that. It is not uncommon to read posts from newbies looking to buy their first Seiko or seeking advice on the authenticity and period correctness of a vintage model they’re eyeing. It is a true enthusiasts’ site, where you can also buy, in a separate secret buyers’ site, the Seiko of your dreams, your so-called Grail Seiko.

This often starts out as a particular model that calls out to you from the ocean of models out there, a glowing dream on a mountaintop. Until you get it. And by the time you get it, you’ve learned more and discovered more. Full circle, over and over again. “The hunt is exquisite,” as club member Arnel Marcelo Andal puts it.

I guess for me, it is the stories that come with my Seikos, with every Seiko. It is a story of family and friendship, sharing, inclusivity and excellence, something to keep, but also something to share.

Very few things in this world can serve you and be so well-built that they can go on to be useful for the next generation: a Swiss Army Knife, a Colt 1911, a Buck 110 folding Hunter, a Nikon F2, and a Seiko. Any Seiko. – Rappler.com