The Seiko 6139 automatic chronograph – a historical movement in its own right, like this freshly full-serviced 1974 Seiko 6139-6012 "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 one at the same time, beating the Swiss at their own game – the Seiko 6139.
This Seiko 6139 variant received its nickname by regularly being worn by Bruce Lee - yes, that Bruce Lee. 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.
From a recent GQ article, "Be Water, ESPN’s moving documentary about Bruce Lee, artfully reframes the martial arts icon as a protest figure who spent his entire life fighting for equality and respect both onscreen and off. It’s also got a lot of footage of Bruce Lee wearing dope stuff. The first time I watched it last June, I caught a glimpse of something intriguing in an archival photo of Bruce in a production meeting. There, on his wrist, was a mysterious shiny band with a series of holes along the side. Was it a bracelet? A watch band? A few minutes of Googling delivered an answer: it was a Seiko 6139 automatic chronograph, Bruce’s watch of choice in the final years of his life."
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.
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.
This 6139 includes a stainless-steel rally bracelet, nylon NATO strap, springbar tool, and Pelican travel case.
1974 Seiko 6139-6012 "Bruce Lee" Automatic Chronograph
DIAL: Black Seiko resist-signed dial. Subtle color difference between large and small chronograph hands suggest one - while Seiko OEM - was replaced at some point, likely during a service. Lume on dial hour indices continues to shine. Day/date complication – with rare Dutch/English variants – at 3 o’clock position works as designed.
CASE: Stainless-steel case measures 39.5mm x 43.5mm; crown is recessed. Caseback has "water resist" nomenclature.
CRYSTAL: Flawless Hardlex crystal, no scratches.
BAND: This 6139 comes with a stainless-steel rally bracelet, similar in design to the one Bruce Lee wore. It also comes with a black nylon NATO strap.
MOVEMENT: Seiko 6139B automatic movement, manufactured in May 1974. We have performed a full service on this watch.
CROWN: 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.