1969 Seiko Sports Divers: Issei and Nihonjin
Nihonjin (日本人) are ethnically Japanese people who were born and live in Japan.
Issei (一世) are Japanese people who are the first generation to immigrate to another country.
The immigrant experience changes a person. While there is a strong desire to hold on to your identity and stay true to where you came from, the expectations of the new country pressure one to conform. This tension between conformity and being true to one’s roots seems to be evident in 1969s 70m Sports Divers that immigrated to the US in 1969.
But first let’s look at the ones that stayed behind in the old country.
The twenty JDM 70m Sports Divers produced in 1969 are found on the pages of the Japanese language "1969 Summer SEIKO Ready Sports" catalog:
Earlier in the 1969s’ Seiko had promoted it’s watches using images of salarymen in white shirts and narrow black ties, happily rushing to work.
But for its 1969 Sports divers, Seiko shifted to more laid-back imagery. The watches were featured with a denim clad Eurasian model, driving a jeep and motorcycle on an empty beach, sometimes in the company of a hippieish girl. The ad campaign had a mild counter-culture vibe to it.
As varied as these 20 watches seem to be, they do have many things in common:
*Varied 5126, 6106 or 6119 caliber movements.
*All have both the 5 shield and ‘SPORTS’ printed on the dial.
*All are labeled WATER 70M PROOF on the dial, and WATER PROOF on the case back.
*All have either one of six styles of slotted bracelets or some other bracelet, some unique to that watch.
*All came with “Seiko 5 Sports” stamped on the clasp.
Only ten 70m Sports watches were offered in the US market in 1969.
Of these, NONE were exactly the same as the JDM models, and four were completely unique designs made for the export market exclusively:
*All have 6106 caliber movements.
*None have the 5 shield nor ‘Sports’ printed on the dial.
*All are labeled WATER 70M RESIST on the dial, and WATER RESISTANT on the case back.
*Most had either ‘railroad’ or ‘H-link’ bracelets. while the two ‘UFOs’ came with ‘razor’ bracelets.
*All came with a plain Seiko clasp.
Why the differences?
I speculate that the Seiko’s choice to confine itself to the 6106 movement on its export models was intended to streamline operations at its overseas repair facilities.
The simplified offering of bracelets also no doubt was born of the desire to simplify the spare parts overseas supply chain.
As far as the JDM all being marked Water Proof, while the US models were labeled as Resist, the reason was US government regulations. In 1968 the US changed the laws regarding water resistance markings on watches. Up until that year, watches that were sealed against water intrusion where typically marked as “Waterproof”. As we have all experienced, no watch can be made perfectly sealed. When the US law changed in 1968, it required that starting in 1969 manufacturers change the marks on their watches from waterproof to water resistant. Watches destined for the US market (usually with case numbers ending in 9) changed to Water Resistant first in 1969. But the Proof designation continued on for the JDM models another year or so.
And as for excluding the 5 shield and “SPORTS” on the export models, anybody’s guess is as good as mine.
Overall the stylistic differences between the export and domestic models are small. Perhaps this has to do with Seiko not wanting to print up two entirely different versions of the same dial for the two markets. I do find it interesting that Seiko’s most daring designs were reserved for the Japanese domestic market.
While Seiko’s choice to produce funky dials was an obvious marketing ploy aimed at baby boomers on both sides of the Pacific, it does show that by the 1960s fashion had become a worldwide phenomenon. The ostentatious styling of both the JDM and export models is a reflection of this.
Some collectors prefer the issei side of the sports diver side of the family. Back in 2008, Isthmus writes, “The 6106 sport divers are my favorites. The main reason for this is because of their higher grade hackable movements and (for the most part) the lack of the 5 logo . . . the overwhelming majority of sport Seiko divers carry it, so the few that don't have it are older and far less common (therefore, one would assume, more interesting and generally more collectible).”
Today being ‘hāfu’ or mixed-race person in Japan is widely accepted and even idealized, with many of Japan’s top models falling into this category. In 2015 Ariana Miyamoto (who is half Japanese and half African-American) was named Miss Universe Japan.
Not that long ago however, racial purity was the ideal, and being mixed race was highly stigmatized. There are estimates that by 1952 around 10,000 hāfu children (most fathered by American servicemen) were left abandoned in orphanages across Japan.
So it’s all the more remarkable that the face of Seiko’s 1969 ad campaign was that of Ryo Sasame (蟇目良), the hāfu child of a Russian father and a Japanese mother. It is the earliest example I have found of a hāfu’s image being used to promote a domestic Japanese product.
Like the human model they choose, the watches have the DNA of both East and West: European styling and Japanese ingenuity.
Seiko designs for its 6106-7107 and 6119-7160 Sports Divers for example, while clearly inspired by Doxa, are something entirely new.
And the same can be said for the 5126-8120, which clearly echos the square case of the Yema "Sous Marine" of the same era, but Seiko added a whole new layer if styling, creating a unique hāfu watch.
Seiko’s choice of this hāfu model as the face for their 1969 Sports Diver line up both unusual and groundbreaking (like the watches themselves).
Whether JDM Nihonjin or Issei imports, Seiko’s 70m divers are artifacts that embody the aesthetic of the late '60s and early '70s, calling to mind the sights and sounds of my early childhood. Whenever I browse my collection, the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” plays in my mind.