Paradoxically, the year 1963 can simultaneously provide a historical reference point to the development of the quartz watch movement and its role in the white heat of technology revolution whilst also providing a stopping point in the somewhat more steady application of traditional horological technologies to the development of the diver’s watch. In some sense, this period feels a little like the turn of the last century must have in the world of physics: Newtonian mechanics was in no danger of imminent obsolescence but it was having to contend with the radical new ideas of Planck, Einstein, Rutherford and Bohr. In the context of the current upheavals the world is experiencing and in particular those of us living in the UK and Europe, it worth noting that in January of 1963, Charles De Gaulle, demonstrating a razor-sharp prescience, vetoed the UK’s entry into the European Economic Community. At that time, I was not yet even a twinkle in my father’s eye, although the plotting I am sure was underway. January 1963 was also notable for marking the production date of the silver-dialed Seikomatic SilverWave sports diver pictured below.
As discussed in a previous entry on this blog, the SilverWave J12082 was Seiko’s first semi-serious divers watch; it was their first watch with an inner rotating timing bezel; and it was their first automatic watch with a screw-down case back. By January 1963, the SilverWave had been in production for a little more than a year and within a couple of years, its position as the catalyst for a long line of iso-rated professional divers watches would become established with the release of its replacement, the 150m Seiko 62MAS.
This is the third example of this model to have found its way into my hands. The first was an unworn example that I bought on the lead up to celebrating my half-ton and which has sat since, frozen in aspic waiting for me to freshen up its innards. The second was a spectacular star burst dial example with black inner bezel whose case was suffering from corrosion but which cleaned up nicely. And now we meet the third: a facsimile of the first but in patently used condition and minus the original bracelet.
As we saw last time, the case back on these watches comprises two parts: a press-fit back secured in place with a separate screw down ring.
Under the hood, we discover a 603 movement with just the most wonderful degree of tarnish consistent with the considerable time that must have passed since its last service. In fact, I can find no evidence in markings on the inner surface of the case back to suggest that it has ever been serviced in its 56 year lifetime.
Unlike the 62 series movements that were to follow and for which this movement acts as the base calibre, the stem is removed by loosening a setting lever screw rather than depressing a setting lever axle.
Its successful removal requires that you pull the crown out to the time-setting position and continue to pull gently while turning the setting lever screw anticlockwise until the crown pulls free. Unless you are planning on dismantling the movement, great care is required to ensure that you don’t unscrew it completely from the setting lever. Recovery from such a calamity requires removal of the hands and dial.
I don’t propose to provide a detailed breakdown of the movement because we’ve been here umpteen times in the past with this basic calibre but I will pause to note the following: where the high level of tarnish and the unblemished condition of the screw heads on the balance side suggest that this movement may not have been serviced in the past, I note that the setting lever spring screw has a slither of metal lying along its groove suggesting a screwdriver slippage. However, it is not clear to me whether the damage to the screw head occurred when the screw was being tightened or loosened. The perfect condition of the hour wheel film washer persuades me that my interventions here may well be the first since it left the Daini factory in 1963.
Switching track, the case is really in very nice condition, with that impression only slightly marred in its disassembly by the obvious build-up of external grot and, yes, some corrosion along the mating surfaces of bezel and mid-case. You may recall that the crystal on these watches is of the type that sits around the outside of the case aperture lip, its waterproof seal provided by the external force of the tightly fitting external bezel.
With the crystal removed, we can see that the inner timing bezel just sits loosely within the case aperture. There is no retaining pressure spring present here or in any of the examples of this watch that I have handled. The timing bezel is simply held in place by the crystal. It should be clear in observing the way the bezel meets the case lip that there is simply no room in any case for a retaining spring.
The seemingly generous quantities of hydrated iron oxide present around the mating surface of the case are quite easily removed and the actual extent of corrosive damage to the case revealed to be rather milder than initially suggested.
The movement rebuild proceeded smoothly from this point, aided by the fact that none of those fiddly Diafix settings are used in this 20 jewel movement. The only minor dissatisfaction was that the blotch marks on the barrel surface remain visible following a thorough clean but of course that is just a minor cosmetic rather than operational issue and will be hidden from view in any case.
The only real obstacle to this objective was the oft-encountered problem of the aftermarket crystal being just a shade too large in diameter at its base to allow the bezel to be refitted. The only option in such situations is to remove a little material from the outer edge of the crystal which then allows the bezel to seat correctly.
One of the significant challenges with this model is to decide how to re-establish some sense of water resistance in the case. The main source of concern is the crown gasket which in this age of watch will have long since lost its ability to provide a satisfactory seal. The issue with this crown is that, like so many others recently featured here, the gasket is encapsulated behind a washer which makes replacement at the very least a bit of a chore and at worst infuriatingly difficult. The alternative option is a replacement crown but that is more or less out of the question because service parts are just not available and even when on rare occasions replacements pop up there is always the nagging worry that the gasket will have hardened. So the choice is either just to live with a leaky crown or to attempt to replace the gasket. I opted for the latter.
You can see that the extraction process has been successful and my decision to carry out the procedure is justified by the ease with which the old gasket crumbled when encouraged to depart its home. Having extracted all of the remaining fragments and properly cleaned the vacant space, the next problem was to identify a suitable replacement. I went through a number of generic options, discarding them one by one either because they failed to properly occupy the space in the crown or because their internal diameter was either too large to form a useful seal with the crown tube or too small to allow the crown to seat at all on the tube. As a desperate last measure, I thought I’d give a gasket intended for the 6309 divers watches a try. Its girth is such that I was only able to ease it through the space between the washer and threaded crown tube with the aid of lashings of silicone grease.
Having succeeded however, I was then only just able to get the crown to seat on the tube, several attempts were required before it would stay in place without the pressure of the gasket forcing it back off the tube.
The scene is now set to reunite movement with case but first we need to refit the case ring that serves the dual purpose of providing a stable platform for the movement as well as defining the inner circumference for the correct seating of the case back gasket.
This additional step can prove to be a little annoying if you find yourself having to remove the dial and hands again to resolve any snagging issues. In this case, we can proceed on to the re-casing of the movement.
The conundrum we usually face at this point it to identify a suitable strap. These watches would originally have been supplied on a steel bracelet featuring a divers extension on the clasp. The photo below shows a correct original bracelet fitted to my new old stock example.
Needless to say, it is very difficult to find original examples of this bracelet but similar style bracelets were fitted to contemporary Sportsman and Sportsmatic models. By a stroke of luck, I happen to have bought, many years ago, an unused example of a Sportsmatic 7625 whose bracelet looked like it would do the trick. The end links needed a little adjustment, but I reckon it looks born to the manor.
A tad blingier perhaps, trading off the brushed centre links of the original for a full polish but on the wrist it is gratifyingly jangly and extremely comfortable. In inadvertently building a mini collection of this model, I’ve been rather careless in acquiring two with identical dial/bezel combinations but the rather more conservative presentation of these two is more than compensated for by the more extravagant sunburst dial and black bezel combination of the third.
It is something of puzzle that these wonderful watches should still be sailing slightly under the radar. They hold a genuinely important position in the development of the modern divers wrist watch but I guess the inherent conservatism of many watch collectors biases tastes towards the standard black dial, black external bezel trope of pretty much every significant divers watch made since that standard was established by the Rolex Submariner.
I think these watches are pretty special. The design is essentially flawless, they are of a perfect size, occupying the wrist to an extent that would satisfy most tastes, comfortable, versatile and with just enough quirk to keep them interesting for the long haul.