The Seiko 6139 automatic chronograph – a historical movement in its own right, like this just serviced, all original 1970 Seiko 6139-6011 "Bruce Lee" here – was one of the first automatic chronographs created and ranks with Zenith’s El Primero and Heuer’s Calibre 11.
Back in the late 1960's, Heuer and Zenith had taken hold of the entire sports watch industry by racing to become the first to produce an automatic chronograph. It has been widely debated who won, but in the background of this skirmish, Seiko quietly created their own at the same time, beating the Swiss at their own game – the Seiko 6139.
We all know Omega was the first watch on the moon, mostly because Omega won’t let us forget (ever). However, the first automatic chronograph in space was the more humble and less publicized Seiko 6139-6005, named after US astronaut Colonel William Pogue, who wore his on the 1973 Skylab 4 mission-despite not obtaining NASA authorization–to time shuttle engine burns due to his familiarity with the watch and trust in its capabilities…trusting the lives of himself and fellow astronauts to the reliability of his Seiko.
The 6139 was the first chronograph to have a vertical clutch, a feature considered by many to be one of the hallmarks of a superior automatic chronograph movement. The 6139 features a single register chronograph allowing time to be measured in increments of 30 minutes, and also features an automatic column wheel timing control, vertical coupling mechanism, and is an integrated chronograph – the first in the world – which means the entire 6139 movement was designed and built to be a chronograph, vice being an automatic movement with a mere timing module added.
Of note, this Seiko 6139 variant received its nickname by regularly being worn by Bruce Lee - yes, that Bruce Lee - check out the last picture for evidence of this. Unfortunately, this bit of research appeared to have escaped the watchful eyes of the producers of Quinten Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood," and Bruce wasn't wearing his in the movie, but we digress - vintage Citizen, like the one Brad Pitt wears in the film, deserves the limelight for once!
With this movement, Seiko set the standard, which was followed by the Swiss watch industries 20 years later. The same movement configuration was adopted by Rolex when it made its own in-house movement for the Daytona in 2000, 30 years after Seiko released the caliber 6139 and 6138.
The transitional 6139 inhabited the time period between when the Pogue debuted in early 1969 and late 1971. In January 1969, it was sold with a "waterproof" signed case and dial, 6139A automatic movement, two-piece chronograph second hand, and a "notch" in the case over the crown. However, Seiko, to comply with a U.S. law deadline of January 1972, changed the 6139 to feature a case and dial marked with "waterresist" nomenclature, single piece chronograph second hand, 6139B automatic movement, and no "notch" above the crown in the case.
In between these two 6139 models was the transitional model, like this example here, which featured a proof or resist-signed dial, two-piece chronograph second hand, and a 6139A movement, but also a "resist" caseback and no notch in the case - these transitional 6139's are not common.
This 6139 includes an Uncle Seiko "railroad" bracelet, NATO strap, springbar tool, and Pelican travel case.
1970 Seiko 6139A-6011 "Bruce Lee" Transitional Automatic Chronograph
DIAL: Original black Seiko resist-signed dial, with original minute, hour, and red chronograph hands – second hand is the two-piece sweep indicative of an early 6139. Lume on dial and hands is in good condition and continues to shine. Day/date complication – with Spanish/English variants – at 3 o’clock position works nicely.
CASE: Original 39.5mm x 43.5mm stainless steel case; crown is recessed. Original caseback has "water resist" nomenclature.
CRYSTAL: Flawless Hardlex crystal, no deep scratches.
BAND: This 6139 comes with an Uncle Seiko stainless-steel "railroad" bracelet, which will fit up to an approx. eight inch wrist; for those unfamiliar, Uncle Seiko makes high-quality bracelet homages to the original vintage Seiko issue, including this one. It also comes with a black nylon NATO strap - a great sporty compliment to the colors and inherent vintage nature of this Seiko Bruce Lee.
MOVEMENT: Original Seiko 6139A automatic movement, manufactured in November 1970. This watch received a full service in December 2020.
CROWN: Original recessed unsigned stainless steel crown.
CHRONOGRAPH PUSHERS: Chronograph pushers depress with a satisfying click, no stick, and snap back as designed to zero with no issue.