It’s been more than 50 years since Seiko unveiled the Ref. 6139, effectively ending the race to build the first automatic chronograph. A “race” that involved a clutch of Swiss manufacturers including Zenith and a consortium that included Heuer-Leonidas, Hamilton-Buren, Dubois Dépraz, and Breitling, these companies spent the best part of the 1960s trying to build a self-winding movement but it was Seiko that won the race in 1969. Though Zenith also claims its El Primero to be the first, its production models did not hit stores till October 1969 whereas Seiko’s 6139-600x models were already in production in January and were available to the public in March.
For a company that made the first ever automatic chronograph, Seiko doesn’t make too many mechanical chronographs anymore. And while a bunch of anniversaries were marked during SIHH and Baselworld in 2019, Seiko waited until October to tease us with images of Ref. SRQ029, a limited edition Prospex chronograph to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their pioneering effort in 1969. The watches would hit the stores later in December.
The 6139 was a single register chronograph. It had no running seconds but a 30 minute counter, and a quickset day-date display. Among Seiko aficionados, the most desirable Ref. 6139-6002 has always been the yellow dial version called “The Pogue” after it was worn by NASA astronaut Col. William Pogue on the Skylab 4 mission in 1973.
Bizarrely enough, the 50th anniversary Prospex is inspired by a model that was released in 1970, a Ref. 6138-8020 panda style chronograph powered by Caliber 6138. Now unlike the 6139s, the 6138s were two-register chronographs. While Seiko hasn’t communicated why it chose this particular reference, but it could possibly be down to its on-trend panda styling.
The Prospex anniversary edition channels some style codes of the 1970 model, but that’s about it. It is closer in its DNA to Ref. SDGZ013 Seiko Brightz chronograph from 2014. The new Prospex has a 41 mm wide stainless steel case that’s been subject to the House of Seiko’s famous Zaratsu polishing treatment. A blade polishing technique, that’s usually reserved for Grand Seiko models, Zaratsu polishing has now been used sparingly on a few premium Seiko models like the Prospex LX and the Presage Spring Drive timepieces.
The result is a beautifully crafted case with a mix of distortion-free polished and brushed surfaces that play off the light well. The case is a chunky 16 mm thick and is topped by a box-shaped sapphire crystal to give it more of a vintage feel. A sapphire crystal caseback ensures that we get a glimpse of the automatic movement and the case is water-resistant to 100 meters.
Unlike the two-register 6138, this anniversary edition has a tri-compax layout set against vertically-brushed silver dial that is a nod to the original. While the minutes register at 9 and the hour register at 6 o’ clock use contrasting black sub-dials, the running seconds uses a silver subdial. The tachymeter scale is printed on a black ring on the fringe of the dial and syringe-shaped hands indicate the hours and minutes. An orange-tipped chronograph seconds hands brings a pop of color to the otherwise sober dial. The only jarring bit on the dial is a tiny date aperture to the right of the hour register.
The watch is powered by Caliber 8R48, an automatic chronograph movement that was first introduced in 2014 and used in the Seiko Brightz chronograph. The movement has a traditional column wheel construction but it has three vertical clutches, one for each chronograph hand. The result is that when you press chronograph reset button, the three hands ‘flyback’ simultaneously. The movement a power reserve of 50 hours and the escapement beats at 4 Hz (28,800 vph).
The 5-link bracelet again has polished and brushed surfaces. Worth mentioning here that the case and bracelet has been given a coating to enhance its durability. The bracelet is comfortable and the watch sits really well on the wrist. Though it is a 41 mm case, it wears smaller.
The watch is limited to 1,000 pieces and is priced at AED13,885 (Approx. $3,780). It is fairly expensive, by Prospex standards. In all fairness though, this is a limited edition manufacture mechanical column wheel chronograph with a column wheel construction and a hand-polished case. It remains a well-crafted timepiece that marks an important milestone in the brand’s history.