Seiko Celebrates 50 Years of Automatic Chronographs with the Prospex SRQ029
A commemorative piece celebrating the 1969 Caliber 6139, one of the world’s first automatic chronographs.
1969 was a prolific year for the watch industry. We could talk about the Moon Landing or the introduction of several iconic timepieces. But when it comes to innovation and pure watchmaking, 1969 should be remembered mainly for the introduction of the first automatic chronograph movements. Among them were the El Primero and the Chronomatic/Calibre 11, but a third manufacture also came on the market with this technology… Seiko. To commemorate this important milestone in the brand’s history, here’s the Seiko Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029.
The new 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029 is part of a sub-collection comprising two watches, the other one celebrating the 55th anniversary of Japan and Seiko’s first chronograph, as shown below (and also reviewed on MONOCHROME).
Seiko’s First Automatic Chronograph, Calibre 6139
Whether it is for the concept of professional dive watches and its influence on the ISO 6425 standards, or for chronographs, Seiko’s contribution to innovation in watchmaking is indisputable. Seiko was part of the three manufactures/joint-ventures that, almost coincidentally, launched the first automatic chronograph movement, back in 1969.
Seiko was part of the 3 ventures that developed coincidentally the first automatic chronograph, and its contribution is still impressive today.
Three manufactures, three different visions. First was Zenith with the El Primero, a high-frequency but traditional horizontal clutch, integrated movement with a central rotor. Second was the joint venture Heuer/Hamilton/Breiling venture, associated with Buren for the base movement and Dubois-Depraz for the chronograph, with a modular movement named Calibre 11 or Chronomatic, with micro-rotor automatic base and chronograph plate on the backside.
Seiko’s vision was more modern, cost-effective and focussed on industrialisation. In 1969, the Japanese brand launched the calibre 6139, one of the world’s first automatic chronographs but also the world’s first automatic chronograph with a column wheel and vertical clutch. Seiko, with this 6139, went for an integrated architecture, where the chronograph parts are not added to an existing movement but integrated into a single design. Also, the combination of a column wheel and a vertical clutch would later become the norm for high-end chronograph movements. But back in 1969, this was an important breakthrough delivering real improvement in precision.
Other specifications included a 3Hz frequency, a diameter of 27.4mm and a height of 6.5mm, a centrally-mounted automatic rotor, with Seiko’s innovative Magic Lever, a click-winding system and a 36-hour power reserve (when the chronograph is working). It was later replaced by the improved calibre 6138, an evolution of this movement with 12-hour counter.
To launch this movement, Seiko introduced several watches, which included a day-date complication but only a 30-minute sub-counter. Later came the Panda chronograph, a sporty, deliberately modern watch with a typical cushion/helmet-shaped case, steel bracelet and space-like design. The dial featured two vertically aligned sub-counters – 30-minute and 12-hour – in black over a silvery-white brushed dial, meaning it was equipped with the calibre 6138. This is the watch that serves as an inspiration for today’s commemorative Prospex Limited Edition SRQ029.
The new Seiko Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary SRQ029
Today, Seiko launches the Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029, a watch meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the brand’s first automatic chronograph. Obviously, it no longer features the calibre 6139/6138 but a modern in-house calibre instead. However, the design of this SRQ029 clearly pays tribute to the early automatic chronographs of the late-1960s/early-1970s. Still, this isn’t a copy but more a modern reinterpretation.
The new Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary is a shaped watch, with integrated lugs and robust design. It is made of stainless steel case with super-hard coating, as you can expect from Seiko, and its surfaces are alternating brushed areas and bright, polished accents and casebands – with the famous and superb Zaratsu polishing technique, resulting in distortion-free reflections. This watch might be branded under the Prospex family but it isn’t part of the affordable collection and isn’t treated as such.
The case has some presence on the wrist and feels solid as a rock – its 16mm height contributes to this feeling. Still, Seiko has chosen a relatively reasonable diameter of 41mm. The Prospex Automatic Chronograph SRQ029 is topped by a highly domed sapphire crystal, giving this watch a vintage look but also a great appeal. The case is water-resistant to 100m and the SRQ029 is delivered on a three-link steel bracelet with a three-fold clasp and push-button release. Overall, the quality of the execution isn’t far from Grand Seiko models.
The dial clearly evokes early Seiko’s chronographs but has been updated with the modern mechanics inside the watch, with a 3-compax layout instead of the two vertically aligned sub-counters. This Prospex Automatic Chronograph SRQ029 has a silver-panda dial, with a silvery-white hairline finish – just like the original watch. Two of the sub-counters, related to the chronograph indications, are executed in black, just like the tachymeter scale on the inner flange. The small seconds at 3 o’clock has the same colour as the rest of the dial and a touch of yellow on the seconds hand reminds of the 1969 model.
The dial of this SRQ029 has great contrast and is easily legible, thanks to blackened hands, applied hour indexes and white-on-black or black-on-white markers. A date is positioned at 4h30, in a circular window.
To power this Seiko Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029, the brand relies on its well-known calibre 8R48, a movement we’ve already seen in the Seiko Presage Enamel Chronograph. This movement, launched in 2014, is Seiko’s high-end integrated chronograph calibre (not talking GS, of course), with a 4Hz frequency, a vertical clutch and column-wheel architecture, Seiko’s unique three-pointed hammer and a heart-shaped cam which ensure the perfect synchronisation of the flyback function and a centrally mounted automatic rotor. Surprisingly, Seiko chose to have the chronograph parts on the dial side, so this calibre 8R48 doesn’t show much through the sapphire caseback. It is finished in an industrial way, with brushed surfaces.
Availability and Price
The Seiko Prospex Automatic Chronograph 50th Anniversary Limited Edition SRQ029 will be produced in 1,000 pieces, available from December 2019 at Seiko Boutiques and selected retailers worldwide. Recommended retail price in Europe is EUR 3,700. More details at seikowatches.com.
Can Monochrome Watches PLEASE CLEAN their watches before they photograph them!
I am a huge fan of Seiko as it was until very recently and the movement design cited above is a great example of why. Technologically superior, without un-necessary adornment. While Zenith go on and on about their El Primero, Seiko went one better as a matter of course. It really does make The Swiss look second-rate.
However, I have to say, this does not look like a four grand watch. The hands are basic and far from perfect. The end-links do not match with the case. It just looks…cheap. My Tuna has a sheen to it which is absent from this watch. My 500 quid baby tuna. If someone told me this was a 300 quid Seiko 5, I’d believe them. At least the 62MAS looked like the real thing. But then, that was before, wasn’t it?
Get it together Seiko!
Yo hubiera diseñado algo con más sabor de los 70′ y con precios populares seiko hace cosas geniales a bajo precio
Don’t make ridiculous comments like it makes the Swiss look second rate. F*cking hell man.
Like my comment on the Presage chronograph… the original was prettier, more characterful.
Sorry Gil. I stand by my statement.
@monochrome I wonder why you haven’t mentioned that this is a Prospex reissue of the Brightz SDGZ013 — with a few small cosmetic changes (the movement is the same). However, this is a fantastic watch and I bet lots of other fans are thrilled that Seiko has released this again.
The “Panda” chrono in the article is a 6138, not a 6139. Also, after all of the excellent reissues Seiko has come up with over the recent years, this is honestly a big disappointment. It’s pretty, but doesn’t really look like any 6138 or 6139.
Indeed, you’re right, we mentioned this in the text, but the photo caption is incorrect. Well not anymore!
Fair enough – I’m sorry to snap. But, the truth…well, let’s just say it probably sits between our perspectives on this, and I suppose that’s why I keep my less-than-admiring views on Japanese watches in general to myself, and give small compliments when due (as certain aspects are wonderful). Otherwise I might regret something half-informed and inflammatory that makes me look like a dunce, a snob, or a guttersnipe.
We’d hate for that to happen, obviously. And I was wrong to phrase my opinion as I did. I should have said that I believe Seiko’s approach was superior and they had the dignity not to go on about it or call it a silly name. Or overcharge for it. Until now.
We are all guilty of kneejerk reactions and it would be unfortunate for them to poison the atmosphere.
I formally apologise to the community.
I think – after some post-comment regret – the main problem is today seems to be my male time of the month, as I’ve snapped at someone else today over nothing important. I apologise to you and **** the community.
Yes this model indeed looks like a recycled version of the sought after SDGZ013. A disappointing, and a lazy effort by Seiko, imo.
There are some shitty Swiss watches, problem is they are a completely separate brand than their higher end counterpart, ie swatch. Seiko has a problem with brand image, they need to get rid of the Seiko name for higher end watches, because they’ve already sold to the world that Seiko=budget friendly/durable. They already did it with credor, but they need to invest in a further breakdown for their mid-tier watch selection.
I disagree Shaka. Rather than customers potentially being misled with labyrinthine corporate structures designed to gloss over ownership and/or legal liability, you know/knew when you buy/bought a Seiko that there were few better watches for the money and you took comfort from the fact that they were all made by the same company. The company that has/had a long-standing reputation for reliability and honesty.
The problem is not Japanese but Western culture. In Japan, there are very, very few sub-standard products and very few products which are overpriced in the name of “prestige”. Trying to buy yourself up the social ladder is seen as futile and childish. In Japan, the boss often eats with the rest of the workers, drives a slightly more expensive model of Nissan, say. Salary disparities and inequality is lower; the whole cultural mindset is different. So when I worked there, my line-manager had a small Nissan and The Boss had a big, “executive” Nissan. Very few people, especially outside Tokyo, have to worry about name-dropping to book a table. So the boss of Honda, for example, will eat at his local Izakaya as he did before he became the boss. It is his community. A person gets respect for the way he conducts himself for the good of the group and hero-worship, while present of course, tends to be for personal achievements other than crass financial gain.
I was in a rock band while I was in Japan and the bass player, a lovely, humble guy turned out to be the second-in-command at a major import-export company. When I found this out I was astonished and asked him if he was making good money. He just smiled and said, “Enough, yes!” He drove a middle-rank Japanese car, even though he could afford a flashy imported model and played music at the weekends just to unwind.
It is a source of National pride that one company can serve the needs of many different people. Rather than taking the easy way out and only producing goods for one market sector, many Japanese companies, particularly those which dominate the large (and largely unknown) Japanese domestic Market, produce an astonishing variety of high quality goods which many Westerners do not get to see. So, Yamaha, for example, make excellent motorbikes and excellent guitars and excellent electronic goods.
Japanese people know this. As a Canadian who had lived in the country for 8 years said one night, “Man, when you’re in Japan, just buy Japanese!” His amp was an unassuming black Yamaha. I had the chance to use it one night. It was very nearly full-on pro spec, with rock-solid build quality and a neutral tone..for $500.
Westerner tend to be too concerned with prestige, with making themselves special, which mindset has been exploited mercilessly by companies which spend fortunes trying to convince the gullible that they are buying something they are not.
You’ve got to look at Japan in the bigger picture, though. It’s essentially America’s most successful economic neo-colony (because the old patriarchal culture was left mostly intact – check out that age of consent of 13 for example – although those military bases are getting very unpopular), having completely copied the western manufacturing and technological model from the end of the Meiji era that made it an easy beast to yoke in modern times. They’re geared to serve our needs, and boy do they benefit from us too.
The Japanese are also every bit as much the conspicuous consumers we are, but the big difference is that social equality is better due to fairer taxes – 55% inheritance tax for example, that means wealth accumulation is much more difficult, and there is a heavily-impressed social model from the top down that encourages stoicism and civility. But good for your friend finding a cheap amp – he’ll need to save the money to pay for his insanely-overpriced and tiny house.
The way you say ‘westerner’ belies the differences between western nations and their different ways, seemingly aiming to lump them with the lowest common denominator of dumb avarice and crony capitalism – not that I’m denying that exists; you wouldn’t be massively oversimplifying to make the Japanese seem like wise deities in comparison – ergo their watches must be amazing and the only option for the sensible, savvy man of modest means who sees through the gaudy veil of Anglospheric culture, and rejects the venal spirit within?
The sad fact is that many Japanese products are just copies of European ones, and quite superfluous. Specifically in the world of horology they haven’t earned the right to be compared on equal terms to the wonderfully innovative Swiss, French or English watchmakers with great histories; even quartz clocks were around in Bell Labs decades before the Japanese eventually decided to miniaturize that idea (they’re good at that). There’s just nothing remarkable about their watches, nothing. And that philosophy – or perhaps just an inference – of earnestness and lack of self-aggrandizement is only another USP. And they know it.
How disappointing. I think you’ve been in America too long Gil.
Scotland. A country where the excesses of western culture aren’t exactly in one’s face. I do admire Japan’s society, though. Never in my life have I felt safer walking alone through a gigantic city at night. I admire them immensely for achieving that.
And I know how much of a fool I am buying expensive examples of these mechanical relics. I do it because I can, because it’s an avenue for my starving soul to wonder down in search of sustenance of an orthodox flavour. That’s the way it is.
Am I proud of this? No. Would I rather live in a world where baubles weren’t something connected to status, real or delusional? Of course. But as Machiavelli wrote: “He is happy who adapts his mode of proceeding to the qualities of the times.”
@Gil @JAGOTW – you guys should exchange phone numbers and meet! 🙂
Do you mean that in the sense of ‘whatever takes your tedious ramblings away from this comments section is a fantastic idea’? 😉
@Gil – haha not even!
I would very much like to meet JAGOTW at some point in the future. I think he’s a good guy, seriously. I’ve been a bit of a grandiosely-opinionated bawheed here though, time to get back to glibness for a while.
Finally (thank God), I take back saying that there’s nothing remarkable about Japanese watches; there are obviously some worthy aspects – it’s just a drop in the ocean, though. Right, that’s it, done. I’ve exposed my flabby flank with ‘The World According to Gil’, and want back in my shell.
La sociedad japonesa mezcla tradición modernidad y esa es su esencia y a pesar de criticar de ser copiadores han superado a quien han copiado a pesar de la guerra de su superficie territorial de tener poco y nada se han superado ,y con respecto a los relojes no importa si es suizo o japonés todos cumplen con su función dar la hora
I placed an order for SRQ029 with Seiya Japan. Eagerly awaiting it’s arrival. I think it is an historically interesting watch as well as a visually interesting watch. I know Seiko prices have been creeping up. Compared to the previous panda chronograph SDGZ013 the price is over a thousand more. However I have not been able to find a SDGZ013 on eBay for less than $3400 which is close to the price of a new SRQ029. Visually it’s interesting with the single register in silver for seconds, and the colors make the watch look purposefully tool watch like. The case shape is typical of high end Seiko with subtle curves and fine polishing. In fact I see the case shape is quite different from SDGZ013 and I prefer the SRQ029. The dial is a bit smaller but the watch is quite thick at 16mm but I also noticed that the crystal is shaped sapphire which gives it a special appearance as well as the added thickness.
Well I just picked one up this evening from Jura Watches with 40% off list price. It’s probably the right price point to be honest. If they had come out at that price to start with they’d have shifted all
1000 of them straight away.