Watches: Affordable Vintage Appeal - The Seagull 1963


Whether you're interested in getting into mechanical watches or you're already an avid enthusiast looking for an affordable new piece, take a moment to consider an option with a fascinating background and slam dunk vintage style: the Seagull 1963 Reissue.
 
Vintage ST19 Movement
The Seagull 1963 Reissue has been making waves ever since it was released a few years ago. It pays tribute to a chronograph developed by Chinese government mandate for use by the People's Liberation Army Air Force in the early 1960's, and uses a hand-wound column-wheel chronograph movement based on Swiss company Venus Watches' caliber 175 which would come to be known as the Seagull ST19.

At a relatively inexpensive cost of ~$200-300's along with the heritage of the watch, the use of a column-wheel chronograph, and the successful recreation of vintage aesthetic into a modern watch, the line represents one of the more compelling options for someone looking for something infinitely more interesting than a Michael Kors quartz at comparable prices. After the success of the original reissue, several other editions have been released as well in various sizes, dial configurations, and dial colors in the years that have followed.

There are already some great articles that explore the workings of the 1963 more in-depth, but the number of variant models can be confusing to say the least, so here is a quick rundown of the main options available, what differentiates them, and where you can buy them. Be advised there are a multitude of different variants with minute differences (enough so that I suspect no one knows exactly how many variations there are), but these are the big categories.

Original 1963 Reissue


By far and away the most recognized of the 1963 editions, the "original" reissue (also pictured above) has a 38mm case, domed acrylic crystal (now also available in sapphire crystal), gold dart-shaped applied hour markers (vs. painted on markers), blued hands with a red center seconds hand, and different seconds subdial and 30 minute counter hands at 3 and 9 o'clock. The dial itself is a subtle tan-silver which varies in shade slightly depending on the manufacturer and is printed with either "21 Zuan" or "19 Zuan" (Zuan=Jewels) as well as "China - Tianjin Watch Factory" in Chinese characters. Being the most popular model, this version is available at many different vendors and can vary in options, depending on the seller.

Seagull 1963 Caseback (Seagull1963.com)
The general model is also commonly referred to as the "Red Star" 1963 due to the prominent emblem front and center (though a yellow star version also exists). All versions are available with a display caseback showing off the ST19 movement inside, though you can also opt for a solid back. Depending on the source, some display backs have red printing as well (see inset). If you're looking for the 1963 people are usually talking about, this is it. It's well balanced aesthetically, historically based, and exudes an authentic vintage character often attempted but rarely achieved.

Potential Pros:
The classic version that started it all
Balanced design, quirky colors but it works
Design successfully recreates the vintage character of the reference

Potential Cons:
Modern tastes put this on the smaller end of the spectrum (though a size that's still very approachable, and my favorite watch size personally)
Finishing perhaps a bit rudimentary on close review compared to the newer ED1963
Minor details such as hand length proportions, etc.
Many different vendors and slightly different versions of the "original" reissue abound

Which of these things is not like the other? Two different versions of the 1963 - red star vs. yellow star outline (historically accurate), printed "Made in China" vs. "China - Tianjin Watch Factory" (historically accurate) - if you'll notice the models pictured above have reversed subdial hands as well (the right-sided tailed hands are the more accurate version)


42 mm Variants


42mm Panda Dial (Seagull1963.com)
42mm Reverse Panda Dial (Seagull1963.com)
The 42mm versions upscale the 1963 towards more "modern" dimensions - most men's watches decades ago were commonly ~34-36mm. The result is a larger case size with differently proportioned subdials and hands due to the same movement being housed inside. The 42mm models also include versions with what's called a "panda dial" - white face and black subdials or the other way around, though those versions are not known to ever have existed historically. Taken as a whole, the 42mm 1963 reissues are the farthest stretch from the original design they were intended to pay homage to, while perhaps being a bit inelegant in their inflated size in my opinion. That being said, I might be singing a different tune if I didn't have a toddler's wrists, and those with a penchant for everything-panda-dial had no other option until the ED1963 recently expanded its line (see below).



Potential Pros:
More dial selection
Option for people with larger wrists or who prefer a watch profile with more wrist presence

Potential Cons:
Least true to the original watch design out of any of the options available
Proportionally different dial layout (uses the same movement that was meant for a smaller case initially), affecting the balance of the face

"ED1963" aka hked/Thomas editions




Cream Dial Vintage Reference
(also seen with red seconds hand)
These models are the newest versions created in late 2014 by prominent Watchuseek forum member Ed aka "hked" in conjunction with Thomas (formerly of Seagull and vendor for the 1963 reissue) from a different vintage prototype in two dial versions. They've come to be known affectionately as the ED1963 editions.

Notable differences include square applied markers, the replacement of the star emblem with a logo attributed to the PLAAF, and English vs. Chinese featured on the original 1963 reissue. The inclusion of the black-faced dial is also the only known edition to have this dial historically. The case is 38mm with either acrylic or sapphire crystal and a solid or display back (you can order both if you want to).

Aesthetically, the watch is a bit less busy than the classic 1963 model and leaves a more subtle Asian-influenced impact due to the absence of Chinese characters on the dial. The dart-like applied hour markers are replaced by square markers here, and the inset subdials have concentric circular grooves lending a bit more texture than the painted subdials of the aforementioned models. The cream and black dial versions differ in hand and subdial color schemes, with the cream dial appearing to show more subdial depth complemented by the red and blued hands, and the black conferring a slightly more refined character to the design with gold and white hands. On the whole, dial and case finishing for the ED1963 versions seems to be slightly finer than their predecessors, though in my opinion they lose a little bit of the flair of the original.
Black Dial Vintage Reference

Though these reissues are only going on a year old now, the initial success of the first "ED1963" led to the proliferation of the line into further models with a lot of different panda dials and various hand options. These variations are not historically based, but bring something a little different to the consumer who appreciates the aesthetic but doesn't mind straying a bit from history's beaten path.

Potential Pros:
One of the most accurate reproductions, including black dial example
Arguably cleaner, more elegant design
Some of the best finishing in the lines
Many options to choose from

Potential Cons:
Less "Chinese" appearing, for better or worse
Square hour markers are a bit awkward compared to the long dart markers of the original reissue
No size options for the bigger boned or big watch people
I've seen a Youtube video of the black version and it doesn't appeal to me, though in other pictures it looks great


Seagull D304


Vintage D304 Reference
This is the only version of the 1963 sold by Seagull directly, again based off a different prototype rumored to be one of the later models and named "D304" for the original code name given to the government project. This version has dauphine hands, block-like dial numbers at 12 and 6 vs. the every other hour numerals, chunkier applied markers, and different inset subdial registers. The crystal is sapphire only, and the case back is solid with red star decoration. The D304 shares the same historical logo the ED1963 uses as well as the English text, but otherwise lacks the color contrast of the other variants and can feel a bit sterile comparably. Of note, this version costs substantially more than any other version at $599.00-$650. Of all the models, this is my least favorite due to the reasons listed above, though your own tastes may take you in a different direction.

Potential Pros:
Fairly accurate reproduction
Officially sold by Seagull

Potential Cons:
Much more expensive
Design more industrial feeling (my least favorite of the designs)
Potentially less readable due to lack of contrast 
No options for acrylic crystal or exhibition back

Summary

1963 Models by Thomas
Heritage and history are some of the most prized aspects of horology, and the 1963 models have those in spades. They manage to capture the vintage appeal and authenticity of its predecessors, and though $200-300's may sound like a lot of money to the uninitiated, finding a column-wheel chronograph movement at these prices is somewhat of a minor miracle (cam-actuated chronographs vs. column wheel movements explained). As a total package, it's truly something special.

There are some potential downsides to consider, however. These include one's confidence in Chinese watchmaking and Chinese products in general, as well as the various merchants selling those variants. It's more or less accepted that Swiss > Japanese > Chinese (grossly oversimplified), but the ST19 movement was based off of a Swiss movement, don't forget. Some vendors also seem to have better track records as well in regards to construction and quality control. In the community, however, the ST19 has also garnered a reputation of being a little bit finicky as well, though many claim those pitfalls are a consequence of the craftsmanship in assembly, not of the movement itself. All the more reason to do a little background research on a particular vendor if you are interested in their reissue.

After researching all this (though I've had my eye on the 1963 for years), I decided to pick up the 38mm acrylic original 1963 reissue with exhibition back and am in the process of purchasing one from Thomas (see below). It's telling, to say the least, that I'm so excited about getting my hands on a watch that costs over 40x less than my other watch. Some things just have a little fairy dust when they come together. Further pics of my own and more in-depth thoughts when that happens. If you've got a favorite or have owned one or more of these models, I'd love to know what you think of them.

Update 3/14/16 - Link to the review of my personal 1963

Where to Buy (Main Vendor List)


There are several other vendors out there, including ebay, various online merchants, etc. Most common are below with general options at the time of this posting:

  • Thomas (email lhczthomas@gmail.com) - Former employee at Seagull when the 1963 Reissue was developed, selling multiple flavors of the 1963 (maybe all of them) and allegedly supplies some other 3rd party merchants. His English is a little shaky, but by all accounts he has great feedback for customer service.
  • Ed (email etse249@gmail.com) - Distributes the ED1963 versions in conjunction with Thomas. If you are interested at all, shoot him a line. Super friendly and helpful, even if you're not buying from him.
  • Watch Unique - 38mm acrylic versions only (of note, forum feedback has been a bit negative as of late, for what that's worth).
  • Long Island Watch (also on Amazon) - 38mm sapphire and acrylic versions, all 42mm variants.
  • Sea-Gull Watch Store - Sea-Gull's official store, selling on the D304 version only (though apparently there are somehow two official Sea-Gull companies in China).
  • Poljot24.de - German based retailer carrying many 1963 versions, including some panda ED1963 versions (I would say, however, that Ed is personally very easy to contact and I'd prefer to do business with him personally given he created the ED1963s and has a great track record online). Prices here include VAT which would be deducted out of the EU.


**Pictures used from vendor websites and forum postings available to the public. They remain the property of their respective owners with full rights reserved. Please contact site with any concerns.

Comments

  1. Nice article, thanks for compiling the info. BTW, I found (and just purchased) a panda version of the ED1963 at poljot24.de. They also carry most of the other options you list. I have no affiliation with them, but thought you might want to list one more reseller.

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    1. Hey Russ! I did know about Poljot, but when I was writing this article I couldn't tell how legit they were. Looking back later, it looks like there are a number of people who used Poljot without any complaints. I'll add them to the list. Thanks for the comments!

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  2. I bought an "Original 1963 Reissue" last December (2015) when visiting Hong Kong, from a shop called 'Goods of Desire' on Hollywood Road. One thing that I've found that never gets mentioned is the oddball case dimensions of this timepiece. The lug width isn't precisely 18mm, it's roughly 17.5mm. In reality, the dimensions seem to be precisely in Imperial measurement with the lug width being exactly 11/16" and the case being *exactly* 1 1/2" in diameter. This isn't "normal" for a modern-day produced timepiece. The case that they used as the basis for their reissue has got to be from the 50s/60s, when something like this would have been more the norm.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comments and insight - for someone who takes pride in being thorough and detail oriented, it's pretty awesome to see others do as well. I'd like to say that now, looking back, I noticed the lugs were a touch tight when switching out the straps to my 18mm. It'd be interesting to see more images side by side of earlier 60's references from different angles, but regrettably I could only track down a few - and all of them head on. Food for thought, though.

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    2. I was trying to find a case that would be similar to the Seagull, based on the case lines alone and although some models of Breitling Premier and Benrus Sky Chief looked like they could be a match, there were scores more that could also be the same. A watch aimed primarily for the UK or US market would most likely have their dimensions in precise Imperial units. And this brings me to what I appreciate the most about the aesthetic of the Seagull, it's the case lines. Many/most modern watches can't get the proportions and the case lines down like they used to in the mid 20th c. and earlier. Whatever case they based themselves on, and I'm assuming they did, Seagull made a good choice.

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  3. Is there a color reproduction issue in the first image since the dial looks a lot whiter?

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  4. Good question - the pics aren't mine, so I can't say for sure, but I think the answer is a firm maybe. It's kind of a known "issue" that different vendors often use slightly different components, including the dial color so some look lighter than others. However, photo processing can also account for some of the differences at times. Watches with high contrasting faces/straps/etc. can often appear very white or bright artificially when shot and need to be adjusted in postprocessing. So somewhere in there is your answer, though I unfortunately can't confirm exactly which it is (or some combination of the two).

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  5. hi
    I came accross your blog after discovering the Seagull 1963 and looking for more info. It is becasue of your detailed comparison that I opted for the 38mm "red star" as the closest to the original issue. I took delivery today after purchasing from poljot24. Service was 1st rate with 24hr DHL form Germany to UK. Thanks for the steer.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Maxx - thanks so much for the feedback. I hope you enjoy it as I do (I'm wearing mine today). Wear it in good health!

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