Seiko’s Rally Sports Divers
What is a Rally Diver?
Rally Divers, narrowly defined, are a series of four 70m sport divers made by Seiko in the late 1960's and early 1970's that have bezels with a checkered pattern resembling a checkered racing flag.
Strictly speaking, while other vintage colorful sport divers are sometimes referred to as Rally Divers, only those with the checkered bezel are true Rallys. If they lack the checkered external bezel, then they are other kinds of sport divers.
Television was the driver of popular culture throughout the 1960s and 70s. By 1970, 96 percent of US households had at least one TV. Two iconic shows popular at the time were
ABC's Wide World of Sports
and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
Both shows were aimed at white adult males with disposable incomes.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports popularized interest in auto racing, notably European Formula One and US Indycar racing.
In the same way The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau popularized scuba diving.
And while the average Joe would never race a Porsche 917 at Le Mans or explore the depths with Jacques Cousteau, savvy marketers (first with Rolex and Heuer, soon followed by Seiko) capitalized making a connection with their products. In the late 60s the market was awash with divers like those worn by Cousteau and his crew, as well as racing style chronographs that a driver or a member of the pit crew might wear.
But where do the Rally Divers fit in here?
While embellishing a dive watch with an auto racing motif makes no practical sense, someone at Seiko decided to make this seemingly ungainly combination.
And it worked... or at least it sold (which is the whole point in marketing after all).
The proof of Seiko’s success with rally divers is not only that they had a four-year run, beginning in from 1969, but that they actually spawned knockoffs!
Pictured above is the brown-dialed Towncraft sold by JC Penny, and the blue-dialed Stellaris sold by Sears.
All five Rally models produced by Seiko came with the same well proportioned tonneau case topped with a wide knurled bezel. Seiko's Rally Divers were produced between 1969 and 1972. Their model numbers were: 6106-7117(9), 6106-8227(9), 6119-7170, 6119-7173 and 6119-8300.
The Rally Sports Divers were first issued with 6106 movements as export models. These early 6106 models DO NOT have a 5 logo on the dial.
1) 6106-7117(9) with blue bezel
These earliest Rallys come in two identical silver-dialed variants, the 6106-7119 exported to North America and the 6106-7117, which shipped to other markets:
2) 6106-8227(9) with black bezel
The 6106-8227 and 6106-8229 were also export models, and are identical in every way except for the last digit of their serial numbers. They both have a flat black dial jazzed up with a minute track of alternating baby blue and silver checks that traces a line through the applied markers. The baton style hands are striped and contrast well with the vibrant orange seconds hand.
The 6119 versions differ from the original 6106s mainly on the addition of the 5 logo and the dial text. While the 6119 models were produced after the 6106, there is a period of overlap in which both were produced simultaneously. The 6119-8300 was sold only in Japan.
3) 6119-7170 with black bezel.
The Japanese Domestic Model (JDM) was the 6119-7170.
The JDM 6119-7170 was ONLY available with a silver dial and a BLACK bezel.
4) 6119-7173 with blue bezel.
The 6119-7173 export model came with a BLUE BEZEL and both silver and blue dials.
The 6119-7173 seems to have had the longest production run, continuing well into 1972. It is also by far the most common of Seiko's Rally divers.
Beware of 6119-7170(3)s being sold with AM dials and bezels. Almost all of the "restored" or "mint" 6119-7170(3)s found on the auction sites today have fake dials, bezels, chapter rings, and bracelets.
5) 6119-8300 JDM, with blue bezel only.
The 6119-8300 combines the main design elements of the dial and hands of the 6106-8227(9) but with a deep blue iridescent dial. In my opinion it is the most beautiful of the four. It certainly is the rarest.
Two bracelets are evidenced in US Seiko catalogs.
The “Railroad Tracks” style bracelet came mounted on the 6106-8227(9)
The 6106-7117 came on an H-link bracelet fitted with end pieces
A third style with 19mm straight ends (mine is stamped with the number 6119 717) was made for the 6119-7170(3), and probably most every other sports diver Seiko issued from 1969 to 1972.
A 1969 Japanese ad shows yet a fourth style bracelet on a 6119-8300. It is the same weird slotted bracelet as the 5126-8130 as seen below. I recently purchased a 6119-8300 still mounted on this same original bracelet.
Although the 6119-8300 obviously still came on the more common H-link bracelet as well.
Spotting Aftermarket Bezels
The original Rally bezels came in black and a light metallic blue.
Dagaz sold two different reproduction Rally Bezel inserts - one in Turquoise Blue and the other in Black.
The Turquoise Blue is obvious, but the black reproduction bezel is much closer the original. The only way to tell them apart is the slight difference in their number fonts.
Recently Seikosis has begun to sell AM bezel inserts that can be indistinguishable from the real thing to the untrained eye.
The telltale signs of a Seikosis bezel (on the left) are:
-Small differences in the font (especially the "1").
-The outer row of blue and silver checks are larger on the Seikosis AM.
-The width of the silver lines next to the pip on the the AM Seikosis bezel are too wide.
-The color of the Seikosis bezel is dark blue, while the originals were a lighter shade of blue.
Other Seikos that Should be called Rally Divers.
In spite of my narrow definition of what a rally diver is, there are some other models that don’t fit the strict definition, yet are known by no other name other than Rally diver. Watches such as the 5126-8130 and the 5126-8120 have bezels that evoke motor racing, yet are not checkered.
I put them at the end of my review, you may call them what you wish.