3 Affordable Japanese Vintage Watches

June 7, 2019 Watches By Photo by Chrono Timepieces
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In the minds of many modern consumers around the world, “Made In Japan” means quality and often interesting design at affordable prices, and many a bargain can be had on awesome Japanese watches, including vintage ones. While some extra-popular vintage models from Seiko in particular now have prices similar to their Swiss counterparts, there remain myriad watches from the major Japanese brands that are interesting and affordable. Each of the mechanical watches below clocks in at under $500.

Full Auto Orient Swimmer

What We Like: Many people know that Orient is today under the Seiko Group, but this Orient Swimmer watch from the 1960s comes from the time the company was independent. It’s got a great look, with an in-house automatic movement (“Full Auto”), and a digestible price at just $150. While it’s named “Swimmer” and claims to be “waterproof” on the case back, vintage watches like this are probably best enjoyed dry. At 36.5mm, with some apparent thickness to give it a boost, this is a good, wearable size for many modern wrists.

From the Seller: Case is gold-plated stainless steel with some scratches. Good working condition and ready to wear.

Citizen Jet

What We Like: This extremely classic, 36mm, European-looking vintage watch displays a side of Citizen’s history that’s now mostly overlooked. While current mechanical Citizen watches do exist — and their Miyota movements are some of the most common found in affordable watches of all kinds — modern Citizen focuses primarily on their Eco-Drive quartz technology. With the rising popularity of Japanese watches, automatic Citizens from the 1960s like this one just might be the next thing to capture collectors’ attention.

From the Seller: Watch has been restored and is in excellent condition. It works precisely and comes on a new leather band.

Seiko Chronograph 6139-7100

What We Like: The 6139 is one of the vintage Seiko references that is more well-known but still often reasonably priced. It’s famous as among the three movements that claim the title of “first automatic chronograph” that helped mark 1969 as a groundbreaking year for watchmaking (though this example is from the ’70s). The chronograph layout with the single sub-dial at 6 o’clock makes it immediately identifiable, but not all watches to feature it have the distinctive and very era-specific case shape shown here — which some have named the “Vader Helmet.” At 40.6mm wide, it wears boldly and offers a real piece of Seiko and watchmaking history.

From the Seller: Everything on the watch is looking and working good; some scratches on the case, but nothing deep; crystal is the original Seiko Hardlex, with some wear on the edges.

The Hidden History of Swiss Watchmaking’s Biggest Rivals

The story of Asia’s most iconic brands center around Japan, whose history and modern prominence form the most important narrative for Western watch collectors. In the 1890s, Japanese watchmakers began building pocket watches with lever escapements; by the end of the Meiji era, in 1912, 20 factories turned out 3.8 million timepieces a year. Read the Story

Zen Love

Zen Love is Gear Patrol’s watch writer. He avoids the snooty side of the watch world, and seeks out food in NYC that resembles what he loved while living in Asia for over a decade.

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