A United States Navy Diver and His Tested 1971 Seiko 6105-8110 "Captain Willard" Dive Watch
Seiko’s dive watch history is, well, legendary – and among them, few of its divers are better known than the 1970s Seiko 6105-8010/8019 “Captain Willard.” The 6105 has swiftly become the vintage dive watch to own among those "in the know." It’s quite easy to see why (even before the nickname and its USMIL heritage, which I will get to) – the build quality and finishing is exceptional, on par with other high end divers of the same period (aside from that pesky 6105 crown lock design).
With a properly cared for Seiko 6105, and under proprietary Seiko Hardlex crystal, is a dial that truly represents a work of art, with its beautiful matte black color and raised applied chrome markers filled with the – again – proprietary Seiko lume. The case is a solid piece of stainless steel, with a distinctive asymmetrical cushion shape. The crown at 4 o’clock is protected by a bulging crown guard, rendering the 6105 case a unique and instantly recognizable geometry.
Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) wearing his 6105 in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now"
This 6105 design flaw unfortunately results in the singular hazard when fans attempt to find one – namely, aftermarket 6105 parts, with shiny and laughably-designed dials, handsets, and bezel inserts. Unfortunately, many 6105’s in contemporary times are afflicted with some or all of these.
Now – on to that nickname.
During the 1970’s Viet Nam War, Seiko – among other brands – were offered in the U.S. military Post Exchange (PX) on bases in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. The 6105 was slightly less expensive during this era than a Rolex or Tudor Submariner, but with a reputation for providing no-nonsense functionality with a build quality to withstand harsh climates – and Army-issued watches were known to fail in the Viet Nam jungle environment.
Augie's 1971 Seiko 6105-8110
While the 6105 is by itself no means scarce, it is quite difficult to find one in good and all original condition. Seiko designed the 6105 as a tool watch, and it was almost always – until recent years – worn as such by those that possessed it. As noted, it suffered from a poor crown design, which occasionally allowed moisture inside the case if not engaged properly and would in turn allow the irreversible growth of “black rot” mold on the dial and handset lume.
In Francis Ford Coppola's seminal 1979 (a mere two years after Seiko halted 6105 production) film, “Apocalypse Now,” Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Willard, wears an asymmetrical cased Seiko 6105. Willard wasn't the only one - many U.S. service members, to include from the Special Forces and early Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT, predecessor to the U.S. Navy SEALs) wore the 6105 during the same conflict.
Many 6105’s survived combat, with their owners bringing them back to the U.S. after their tour was completed in Viet Nam, which provides a convenient segue into the example we are looking at here.
This pristine and all original May 1971 Seiko 6105-8110 here is a one-owner watch for the last 50 years, purchased in 1971 in a U.S. Navy PX in Puerto Rico by a U.S. Navy diver we will call “Augie,” who has engraved his initials and nom de guerre on the back of the 6105 case and case back.
Through my conversations with Augie (he asked not to be named), he recounted the history of his 6105. Augie told me he wore this 6105 – frequently while diving – during his tour in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the early 1970s, a tour in Guam, and subsequently a tour in 1974 on a U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) U.S. Navy destroyer in Long Beach/San Diego. While on these tours, Augie had port calls in Hawaii, Midway, Guam, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Australia, Philippines, Eniwetak Atoll, Thailand, Okinawa, Singapore, and Viet Nam.
Augie diving with his 6105 (crown Faintly Visible)
Original 1970's Seiko
Augie recounted a few memorable stories during his time overseas, to include one that started ashore in the U.S. - seated in a “gentleman’s club” in the U.S., Augie was approached by a dancer who, seeing his Seiko 6105, asked if he was a diver, and if so, where? When he said yes, in Guam, the dancer noted she had just received a job offer from a Saipan-based club (near Guam, in the Northern Marina Islands) and asked for his opinion on Saipan.
Following his endorsement of Saipan, Augie forgot about the conversation until he was in gentleman’s club in Saipan a few years later…where he was approached by the same dancer, thanking him for recommending she take the job offer.
A U.S. Navy LST Ship, the Newport-Class USS Frederick (LST-1184), circa 1970s
Following his destroyer tour, Augie transferred to a U.S. Navy Landing Ship, Tank (LST) amphibious troop ship – designed during WWII to support amphibious operations by transporting tanks, vehicles, cargo, and landing soldiers directly onto shores without the use of docks or piers – and while on the LST, visited the same port of calls he had while on the Navy destroyer. After this tour in the 1980’s, he was discharged from the Navy and joined the U.S. Coast Guard (San Pedro, Los Angeles).
The USS Frederick (LST-1184), with bow dropped to take on U.S. Marines and equipment, March 1996
After Augie’s service in the Coast Guard, he moved to Guam in the late 1980s, and resided there through the mid-1990’s, with frequent travel to Saipan, Rota, Micronesia, Majuro, and “others I can’t remember.”
In the mid-1990s, Augie “retired” the 6105 in favor of that other diver favorite, the Citizen Aqualand – but brought the 6105 back from retirement when he sailed in Lake Mead Yacht Club races. He would go on to wear the 6105 in “30+” U.S. states.
This 6105 has a permanent place in my collection now – given the life it has lived, how could it possibly not?