The "True Bruce Lee" - A 1969 Seiko 6139-6010 Proof/Proof, Likely with Hong Kong Day Wheel
After researching this for some time - to include outreach to Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter - we assess there exists sufficient evidence to name the Seiko 6139 legendary martial artist Bruce Lee - yes that Bruce Lee - wore.
This Seiko 6139, now worthy of the name the “True Bruce Lee,” was a 1969 Seiko 6139-6010 Proof/Proof variant, and with slightly less confidence, the True Bruce Lee variant possessing a Hong Kong day wheel. We base this assessment on numerous photographs, a constructed timeline, interweb sleuthing, and some excellent research done on The Watch Site on this topic (The ‘Bruce Lee’ Seiko 6139-6010).
Why? Read below!
First Observation: Based on below attached photographs, as well as some in the excellent thread on this topic over on The Watch Site, it becomes quickly evident Bruce’s 6139 was not the commonly assumed SpeedTimer dial variant (see side by side comparison between this one and the Proof Hong Kong dial variant below). Despite the lack of clarity in photographs from the era (when compared to modern-day photography), it’s a safe assessment there is no “5 SpeedTimer” lettering on the dial at the nine o’clock position (ruling out the Japanese Domestic Market SpeedTimer dial variant as the Truce Bruce Lee dial), nor is there a lume plot (ruling out the later, post-1972 dial variants (the 6139 appeared on multiple occasions on Bruce’s wrists well before 1972). This said, a photo from February 1972 below stands out for its quality and allows us to see – albeit not well enough to differentiate between proof and resist nomenclature – the presence of white font at the 9 o'clock dial position and nothing else, ie: no “5” or blue SPORTS branding we would see were this a JDM SpeedTimer dial variant.
The True Bruce Lee
Second Observation: Bruce’s mother (likely based in Hong Kong) per the excellent https://bruceleewashere.com/timeline, visited Bruce in Los Angeles circa June 1969. Subsequently, and nearly a year later - as recounted in the excellent 2016 book, “Bruce Lee, Letters of the Dragon: The Original 1958-1973 Correspondence” - in a letter to his wife in April 1970, Bruce notes his presence with his son in Hong Kong, while his wife and daughter remained in Los Angeles. In the same letter he offhandedly notes his mother had purchased for him numerous items from Hong Kong, so much he is uncertain he can transport everything back to the United States. That said, there was no mention of a watch among the gifts from his mother – and pictures exist, preceding this letter, of Bruce wearing the watch before his 1970 trip to Hong Kong. This leads to the logical assessment Bruce already possessed the 6139 before this 1970 trip, with his mother possibly gifting the 6139 to him upon her previous mid-1969 visit to Los Angeles (from Hong Kong), additional evidence in favor of 1969 date and the Chinese day wheel variant. Per “Manufacturing Time: Global Competition in the Watch Industry, 1795-2000, “Hong Kong was an important market during this time period, and already a major player in terms of watch assembly [in particular, eventually, for Seiko]," making it logical to assess Hong Kong as a prime destination for the earliest non-JDM 6139s. That Bruce's 6139 had a Hong Kong day wheel is more of an assessment made from logical conclusions, vice solid proof seen above in our first observation regarding the True Bruce Lee dial variant.
Third Observation: Through a combination of internet research and aforementioned Bruce Lee timeline, the earliest dated picture of Bruce wearing his 6139 we could find was 10 May 1969, attending the National Karate Championships (NKC) in Washington DC - we are aware of the irony here it was a picture taken in DC that provides the evidence that cinched this variant as the True Bruce Lee - providing conclusive evidence the 6139 Bruce wore was from 1969. The earliest known date for the 6139 non-JDM variant and 6139-6010 Chinese day wheel variant is at least March and July 1969, respectively, per The Watch Site discussion above. These early dates safely rule out the “Water 70 Resist” dial variant, which did not appear until after Bruce was first seen wearing his 6139. Finally, of important note, per excellent previous research, advertisements for the Hong Kong version of the Seiko 6139-6010 appeared around the time Lee was first photographed wearing the watch, namely, mid-1969.
A Closing Note: The Bruce Lee is like the Pogue, in that there were multiple variations of the dial, but with one "true" variant. While some insist there to be only one "Pogue" - namely the "True Pogue" – it’s not misleading to call all gold 6139-600x's "Pogue." Same for the black dial 6139 Bruce Lee in discussion here. Some may disagree, but this is the approach we are taking, at least.