Vintage Seiko Chronographs: The 6138 “Panda”


This guy is a rock star in the world of vintage watches. I don't think anyone who's into vintage would not have heard of the Seiko 6138 Panda - its two tone colorway a stuff of dreams for the watch lover.

To the extent that the watch gives you serious collector cred whenever you have it on - earning it a place in the wish list of the most serious collectors. In the scheme of Pateks and Journes this Seiko Panda doesn't even dent the bank account, but commands a lot of respect despite of the fact.

I remember when I first started out, and Seiko chronographs were the thing to own - they were affordable first and foremost, and their designs were quirky albeittimeless. It's hard to hit that Goldilocks zone where form and function and price come together, but vintage Seiko chronograph watches made it possible.

And among the fray was this watch - the Seiko 6138-8020 Panda Automatic Chronograph.

I'm starting a series of reviews for my modest collection of vintage Seiko chronographs, covering a little about what they are, why they appeal to me, and sharing some facts for those still hunting for these humble but awesome vintage watches.

The Good

This has got to be one of the most handsome watches out there, the Panda dial inspiring a whole genre of collection all together where collectors gawk and gather different variations of the colorway. Case in point, that new Breitling chronograph that's looking oh so good.

There's just something about that color combination that makes catches the eye from far away. If someone's wearing a panda chronograph, you'll notice it from quite a distance. And when you get up close, boy does it look better.

And it's not just about the color either. The Seiko 6138 Panda chronograph has a very nice proportion in its entirety.

The short lugs accentuate and up lifts the dial centre - the thin black tachymeter ring separating the linen white dial, the two sub-dials in the same color as the outer ring at just the right size and the right distance away from the tachymeter rehaut. The dial is then balanced with the applied Seiko logo and day date window on the horizontals.

Pure aesthetic mastery.

Another thing I like about the Seiko 6138 and 6139 vintage chronographs is their weight. Despite being contained in relatively modest case sizes, The Seiko panda chronograph is rather heavy, which gives it a sort of authority when you have it on.

I like the feel of the watch as it weighs do on my wrist differently as I go about my day.

Beating inside the 6138-8020 is the trusty 6138 movement, among the first automatic chronographs to have hit the watch industry. The thickness of the movement is due to its design, where a chronograph module was adopted by the regular gear train, resulting in a vertical clutch system (or so I like to think, so correct me if I'm wrong).

The movement is robust and can easily be replaced if the need to service or repair arise. Despite the short run of vintage Seiko chronographs, plenty were produced.

The Bad

Price. I remember when I first started out collecting 4-5 years back, the Seiko Panda was already out of my reach. I wasn't as comfortable as I am now with finances, and samples of the watch was going for twice the amount of the other 6138 chronographs.

It hasn't gotten better over the years either. It's not uncommon for you to see one being offered at almost $3,000... If you hang around old-timer collectors like I do you will no doubt hear about how vintage Seiko chronographs like the Panda, bullhead or the jumbos will hit the market at $150 back in the 1990s.

Another thing about the infamous Seiko 6138 Panda is the amount of made up or cobbled watches there are out there. The notoriety of chance takers in eBay and forums is perhaps as well-known as the watch itself. With the number of good honest examples dwindling, it is very crucial for collectors, especially new ones, to know what to look out for.

The flip side of the doppelganger dilemma is that you'll have a lot of bad examples to study. Using the internet, new collectors can no doubt be well-resourced in their search.

They'll spend big money on a true one and contribute to the already inflated bubble, but I guess that is better than buying a fake.

The Verdict

A vintage Seiko 6138-8020 Panda Automatic Chronograph is a thing of wonder, and something that every vintage collector should strive to own. I managed to find one at a reasonable price, and despite the obvious flaws on its dial it still remains one of my favorite watches.

The sheer pleasure you get when admiring its dial, examining the details and the way the colors and textures have faded, is beyond reasoning.

Seiko 6138-8020 "Panda" Automatic Chronograph

Seiko 6138 automatic chronograph

21,600vph, 36hrs reserve

30-minutes and 12-hours counters, central 60-seconds chronograph hand

38mm stainless steel case

Screw on caseback with factory engraving

People tend to ask between $2,500 to $3,000 for a good example


©.2020. Reproduce with permission. Further enquiries at tabletopwatches@gmail.com.

Best viewed on desktop, because you should really take your time with vintage.

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