HIDDEN GEM: THE SEIKO 6138-3000 JUMBO
What if you could find a watch housing one of the world's first automatic chronographs? What if that automatic chronograph was a completely in-house developed, column wheel, quick-set day AND date, reliable workhorse of a movement?
And lastly, what if said watch was readily available for well under a thousand dollars?
You're either foaming at the mouth or thinking I'm pulling your leg. But this watch exists, and it's manufactured by none other than legendary Seiko.
Seiko debuted the 6139 movement in 1969 along two other legendary movements, the Heuer/Buren Caliber 11 and the Zenith/Movado El Primero. It's still debated who was actually "first" but that's not what we're here for. Shortly after the debut of the 6139, Seiko developed the 21 jewel 6138, which featured two chronograph registers and is housed inside the 6138-300X series of watches. I say 300X because this model came in different flavors, the 6138-3000, 6138-3002, 3003, 3005, 3008, and 3009.
Seiko made a plethora of 6138-powered watches in the 1970s and unfortunately many of them had strange case shapes, dial configurations and colors that really kept them static in the time period. Very few (mainly the -300X series, sometimes called the Jumbo, and the -8020 "Panda) have stood the test of time.
There are really only subtle differences between the -300X models and were often differentiated for different markets throughout the world. The watches came in either a black or rarer "petrol green" dial, and the models have very slightly different case shapes which affects the crystal/bezel assembly and the bracelet end links. There's also a very rare 23 jewel version only produced for one year that collectors should be on the prowl for.
Besides the excellent history and design of the movement inside, why is the 6138-3000 series of watches so underrated? Personally I think (unfounded) Swiss Made snobbery has kept these watches affordable despite being an absolute home run and everything you could look for in a vintage sports chronograph.
The case comes in at 42mm, massive for its time and still a very modern wearable size. It's finished in a mix of polishing and deep, coarse, almost industrial brushing that gives the watch a vintage charm. When looking for one of these references, it's important to find one that has seen minimal polishing as those original lines are easy to turn to mush and completely ruin the look of the case.
The dial is very sporty and fits right in with its contemporaries, but the details really set it apart from many other watches. There is an insane depth to this dial that can really only be appreciated in the flesh. The chronograph subdials are recessed, with sloping rings housing the printed indices. The minute and hour markers are printed on a raised portion of the dial with cutouts around the chronograph totalizers and a substantial step between the surfaces. And even further, the sharper sloping chapter ring marries the dial seamlessly to the case. That's an insane amount of depth and it somehow manages to never be too busy. There's also a small polished applied metal Seiko logo at 9 O'clock, and a simple boast of "Chronograph Automatic" beneath.
The hands are simple, but functional and intuitive. Painted white with black bases for timekeeping, and bright yellow for the chronograph operations. Everything you need, and nothing you don't.
The watch pictured here is one from my personal collection that I've had for the better part of a decade, and ever since discovering this model I've been singing its praises as one of the best values in the vintage watch market, hands down. Good examples can be had for well under $1,000, and even under $500 if you know how to find the right one.
Unfortunately, many of these models were produced which means they were shipped all around the world and many of them have degraded into poor condition or were fitted with aftermarket reproduction parts. Originality is really what makes this watch special, and it's important to find one in good condition to really appreciate it and consider adding one to your watch box.
If you're on the hunt for a Seiko "Jumbo", it's important to keep the following things in mind:
So what are you waiting for? Get hunting for this killer vintage Seiko chronograph and discover one of the best hidden gems in vintage watches.
Leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts on the 6138-300x series, other vintage hidden gems, and be sure to check out the shop for our latest watches.
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