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The ‘Bruce Lee’ Seiko 6139-6010
If you google “Bruce Lee’s watch”, two main hits pop up. First are reviews and ads for a limited edition G-Shock MR-G which uses Bruce Lee’s name and image in the marketing. It sells in the neighborhood of $6000!
The Second most popular return is a gold-plated Polerouter that Bruce Lee gifted to Herb Jackson (a martial arts student of his) in 1969. It sold at auction recently for $28,700.
But what watch did Bruce Lee wear during the last, and most productive years?
After he gave away his old watch to Herb Jackson in 1969, all indications are that until his tragic death in 1973, Bruce Lee became a Seiko fan. The only watch that I can find evidence of him wearing in his final years was a Seiko 6139-6010.
His choice of the 6139 makes a lot of sense. Seiko made quite a splash at the time with its stylish automatic chronograph. Working in the film industry, choreographing the action, it would make practical sense that Lee would choose a chronograph for timing scenes.
THE 'REAL' BRUCE LEE
Now here is where things begin to get a bit murky. We know that Bruce Lee wore a 6139-6010, not by any written evidence, but strictly by photographic evidence.
Let's look at the contemporary photographs of Lee’s actual watch.
Seiko produced a few different renditions of the 6139-6010, but since about 2015 the general opinion on the internet has been that Lee wore the JDM version of the 6139-6010 with the large blue '5 SPORTS' on the dial at the 9 o'clock. But this opinion has not been universally accepted.
Recently actors Daniel Dae Kim (Lost and Hawaii Five-O) Yun Lee (Altered Carbon) both acquired quite different 6139-6010s from DC Vintage Watches, both identified as being a ‘Bruce Lee’. While they are both super clean specimens (Daniel Dae Kim even has it on a bracelet identical to what Bruce Lee wore on his) are they really the same model that was owned by Bruce Lee?
According to research by Homeless Traveller, the first photographic evidence of Bruce Lee wearing the watch in question is dated on or about about June '69 at his Bel Air home in Los Angeles. The dial in these pictures does not have '5 SPORTS' printed in blue at the 9 o'clock position, but instead a line of white text.
After this, until his death in 1973, in picture after picture, Lee is shown wearing the same Seiko 6139-6010, none of the pictures show the JDM dial with ‘SPORTS 5’ in blue.
The clearest photos we have of Lee’s watch were uncovered by Casedhongkong and are dated February 1972, and again the ‘SPORTS 5’ is absent, but the white lettering of ‘WATER70PROOF’ is clearly there at 9 o’clock. This again proves that Bruce Lee did not own the Japanese Domestic Version.
So if it was not a JDM 6139-6010, which version was it? According to Homeless Traveller advertisements for the Hong Kong version of the Seiko 6139-6010 appeared around the time Lee was first photographed wearing the watch after arriving in Los Angeles in June 1969. So it is highly probable that the watch that Bruce Lee actually wore was a Hong Kong model Seiko 6139-6010 like the one below, with a Chinese/English date wheel.
So of the two watches owned by Daniel Dae Kim and Yun Lee, which one is the closest to what Bruce Lee wore?
Let’s take close a look.
It appears that Daniel Dae Kim’s watch is the closest, but neither has the ‘WATER70PROOF lettering at 9 o’clock as is on the Hong Kong dial. So neither exactly matches the known watch worn by Bruce Lee.
The only bracelet that catalogs showed the 6139-6010 on was a stainless-steel triple "railroad" bracelet.
Each of the planks of the bracelet are linked together by three connectors. It’s one of Seiko’s most comfortable bracelet designs of the era: light, strong, and comfortable.
Bruce Lee didn’t keep his 6139-6010's bracelet stock however. Multiple photos taken over his last years show that Lee modded the watch to his style, choosing what was either a Stelux or Kreisler rally style bracelet.
It was an unusual bracelet, with elongated oval-shaped vent holes, as opposed to circular shaped holes more common in this style of bracelet. It has been speculated that the choice of this bracelet may have had to do with the elongated holes resembling the number 8, which Lee may have considered auspicious.
Homeless Traveller has found that by February 1972 Lee had replaced the previous Kreisler/Stelux bracelet, and mounted his 6139-6010 on a Seiko bracelet meant for a 6139-8020. It's clearly too wide for the 19mm lugs. He is seen in photographs wearing this bracelet through casting and on location for Way of the Dragon from April through June 1972. There is also a picture of Lee with the 6139-8020 bracelet on his wrist on the set of Enter the Dragon a few months before his July '73 death.
So which 6139-6010 is the authentic Bruce Lee?
If you are like me, and the 6139-6010 that you own isn’t the waterproof, Hong Kong model from 1969, can you still call it a Bruce Lee?
I know I will.
In spite of the overwhelming photographic evidence that pretty much proves that I’m delusional in my claim, the fact that Lee’s watch was never mentioned in his journals or come up for auction, means that there will always be a modicum of doubt about what a 'True Seiko Bruce Lee' really is, and that’s the straw I’m grasping.