6138-0010, -0011, 0012, -0017, and -0019 UFO Chronographs
The Quintessential "Dad Watch"
For me this is the quintessential "dad watch".
What is a “dad watch”? A dad watch may be the timepiece your father wore while you were growing up.
Or it can be a watch that, through the force of its aesthetic alone, conjures up a sense of paternal masculinity. The 6138 UFO Chronograph is just such a watch.
Defining the 6138 UFO Chronograph
Any case style in the range 6138-0010 thru 6138-0019 is known to Japanese collectors as the Bigguai/Sumōruai ("Big Eye / Small Eye") or "UFO".
It was first launched in Japan in 1970.
In the US it was also known during its time of production and retail sale as the "Yachtman's Automatic Chronograph" due to the American distributor's (Unimetrics Inc.) print ad showing the 6138 chronograph together with the 6105 diver, both labeled as “Marine Watches”:
The astute among us may have recognized one glaring error in the print ad's description of the Big/Small Eye (or Yachtman's): The movement is described as 17 jewel movement. The 6138 is in fact a 21 jewel movement.
THE 6138 MOVEMENT
The Seiko 6138 001X series chronographs were the first to be equipped with the 6138, derived from the existing 6139.
While the earlier 6139 was the first commercially available automatic chronograph, it was not without its shortcomings: first it is an automatic only movement (and so could not be manually wound) and secondly, the 6139 only came with one solitary subdial, while the newer 6138 UFO was an automatic movement that can be hand wound and it came with two subdials!
The manufacture of the first 6139 mechanisms began in 1970 and were marked as 0010. The first version of the 6138 caliber movement was marked "A". Subsequently, the different series were marked with four other case numbers and were all were equipped with the final version 6138B movement, which would continue until 1979.
The Seiko 6138 series was the first fully integrated automatic and winding chronographs in the world featuring column wheel and vertical coupling mechanism. A testament to its advanced design was its adopted by Rolex for their Daytona Chronograph in 2000, 21 years after being discontinued by Seiko.
Primary dial color is always black
Subdial color is always silver (based on available Seiko source documentation).
So, any other color examples (i.e. gold or blue) are probably aftermarket.
Dial badging can be one of the following:
Export Dial: "Chronograph Automatic"
Early Japan Domestic Market [JDM] Dial: "5 SPORTS Speed-timer", believed to be used until sometime in 1975.
Late JDM Dial: "Speed-timer" without the "5 SPORTS" text believed to be used from sometime in 1975 until the end of production. The dials do not have lume, but the markers are painted white.
There are also reports of a lumed Speed-timer dial that has the dial numbers 6138-0014 T.
The watch measures 40mm across, without the crown, and an impressive 44mm from lug to lug and is 13mm thick.
6138 UFOs have pushers with small rings engraved around them, while others (like bullheads) have pushers that are smooth.
TEXT and COLORS
This model used 3 different color schemes for the printing of various text [Speed-Timer] and printed "block" markers in the subdials: red, orange, and yellow. All dials proclaim WATER70mRESIST.
On the Late JDM variety, the "orange" color scheme actually seems to be composed of orange for the marker blocks, but a mustard-yellow for the Speed-Timer text.
Water Proof/Resist Dial Indicator.
There were 3 different styles here:
1. NO indication
2. WATER70mPROOF written under the day/date window [Early indicator]
3. WATER70mRESIST written under the day/date window [Late indicator]
The change from PROOF to RESIST was based on various national (liability) laws regarding legal responsibility for the use of the phrase "Water Proof". It is believed that the timing of the change depended upon the nation/market to which the specific watch was sold.
HOUR and MINUTE HANDS
1. Long/thin lume filled (international)
2. Short/fat lume filled (international)
3. Long/thin solid white painted (JDM)
4. Long/thin "arrowhead" painted hands with white triangle tips, black "frames", with unlumed white centers (JDM)
The "long/thin" variety is easily determined by the length of the minute hand - it reaches into the outer individual minute/second marker track of the main dial, but not as far as the 1/5th minute/second marker track. The "short/fat" variety has a blunter shape to the hand tips and the minute hand reaches past the 5 minute (hour) markers but does NOT reach the individual minute markers.
CHRONO SECOND HANDS
The chronograph counts up to 12 hours (sub-dial at 12) with a 30 minute counter (sub-dial at 6) and depending on if the chronograph’s hour hand is on a blank field or on a colored (orange) field determines if the timing is in the first or second half of the hour.
The hands on the small dials are black on all models.
The large sweep seconds hand came in red, orange, or yellow.
A catalog scan from 1971 shows a 8138-0010 with yellow hands, but they are just as often seen with orange or red hands.
The ONLY consistent pattern in matching the case numbers with sweep hand colors is that the 6138-0019 (only produced for a short time in 1970) and ALWAYS has a YELLOW sweep hand.
Perhaps some of the non-0019 specimens found with yellow hands might in fact be orange hands that have faded to yellow?
The colored "flags" on the subdials usually match the sweep hand, but not always.
It is not entirely clear from source documentation whether the second hand color was supposed to match the dial (text & marker blocks) color. However, catalog examples seem to follow that pattern, despite the availability of "mismatched color scheme" examples in the used-market.
It appears that the above 3 dial varieties were matched with appropriate bracelets:
1. Export Dial came with a "SEIKO" marked bracelet clasp.
2. Early JDM likely came with a "SEIKO 5 SPORTS" clasp.
3. Late JDM appears to have used a "SEIKO Speed-timer" signed clasp.
There are five models: 6138-0010, -0011, 0012, -0017, and -0019.
The -0010 is a Speed-timer version was available only in Japan.
The -0011, -0017 and -0019 were produced for the international market.
The 6138-0011 and -0012 were produced for BOTH the Japanese market as a Speed-timer AND as an international version.
The -0010 and -0019 seem to have been discontinued rather quickly.
The 6138-0011 seems to appear alongside them, and the 6138-0017 appears a bit later (but not much).
The -0011 and -0017 were around until the model was discontinued in 1979.
Water resistance indication on the dial is a function of when the watch was made, not which case number it has. Watches from 1970 to late 1971 or early 1972 have it, later watches don't.
Actor Oliver Platt in the American film "Bicentennial Man (1999)" wears a 6138-0017. Platt plays Rupert Burns, the son of the NDR series robot creator. Burns works with his father to make the android (played by Robbin Williams) look more human-like.
Japanese actress Fumino Kimura is seen wearing a 6138-0011 in the TV drama "Ishi no Mayu (2015)" a thriller about a pair of police detectives stalked by a serial killer. In the story, the watch had belonged to Fumino Kimura's character's father, who had also been a police detective. In the flashback scenes her father is seen wearing the timepiece that she will one day inherit.
In a now notorious 2017 UK McDonald's television ad (called the “McDonald's dead dad ad”) a 6138-0011 is featured at the five second mark:
The ad shows a young boy dealing with the demise of his father. It opens with him rummaging through a box containing his late father's effects, where he finds his vintage chronograph (obviously his father was a man of good taste). By the end of the narrative the boy finds common ground with his dead father when he discovers that, like his dad, he too enjoys Filet-O-Fish sandwiches!
Shortly after its release, McDonald’s was compelled to withdraw the ad after it attracted criticism for “inappropriately and insensitively using bereavement and grief to sell fast food”.
Nothing in a film or a commercial is put there by accident. Every detail (including a two-second shot of a watch) is laboriously chosen.
Why include a watch whose production run ended almost 40 years ago? Certainly not for product placement.
Clearly the Seiko 6138-0011 was selected as a prop in order to raise certain connotations that further the development of the plot. The Seiko's function as a prop was the same in all these instances: to evoke a sense fatherly masculinity and paternal connection. In "Bicentennial Man" the character is working with the father, and perhaps wearing his father's then 25 year-old watch. In both "Ishi no Mayu" and the “McDonald's dead dad ad” the watch functions as a bridge to a deceased father. With the movement still ticking, a watch can be a poignant memento, an almost magical living thing, the wearing of which becomes a ritual of rememberence.
For collectors as well, might not the "Yachtman's Automatic Chronograph" create subconscious associations of fatherly love and paternal care?
I can imagine that, after I die, my own children will rifle through belongings, consigning most things to the thrift shop, but keeping a small cigarbox-sized collection of my things. One of these things certainly will be a watch they saw me once wear.
Maybe this one?