Seagull 1963: An In-Depth Guide on the Historical Chinese Chronograph

The world of horology holds a diverse cast of luxury watchmaking brands that champion accuracy and timeless designs over anything else. These companies mostly hail from Switzerland, Germany, the United States of America, and Japan. That said, there are quite a few watch companies, not from the aforementioned countries, that is criminally underrated by the general public. For instance, the Seagull 1963 chronograph easily comes to mind. This is a classic Chinese watch that holds significant value in terms of its history and intended usage. Indeed, if you are an avid watch collector, you may already be aware of the Seagull 1963.

The horology industry and the military have often affiliated themselves with each other throughout the years. The same can be said with Rolex, Alpina, Casio, and many more renowned watchmaking brands. In many ways, being affiliated with the military boosts a watch’s historical significance, making it a more valuable investment. Others argue that being trusted by the military is a testament to the reliability and quality of a watch and its maker. This is why the Seagull 1963 deserves recognition from more than just long-time watch connoisseurs. 

The general design of the Seagull 1963 watches follows one specific blueprint. The sizes may vary, the color scheme may have certain twists and there may be several options available for straps and bracelets, but the main structure of the Seagull 1963 remains the same. This allows the Seagull 1963 to preserve its value throughout the years, showing the world just what made it popular back during its initial release.

History

Prior to becoming the Seagull 1963, this watch went through several name changes. The Tianjin Watch Factory was founded in 1955 with a fairly limited budget and manpower. This factory would soon expand and attempt to create the first Chinese watch available for export. This company was initially named “WuXing”, which translates to “Five Stars.” This name, however, was short-lived and was ultimately changed to “Dong Feng” during Mao Zedong’s rise to power. The word “Dong Feng” means “East Wind”, signifying the headstrong principles and lofty goals of this watch factory.

In 1961, the Tianjin Watch Factory was given a mission that would change the course of its production. With official permission to develop a watch for the Chinese Airforce, the Tianjin Watch Factory started manufacturing numerous prototypes with corresponding serial numbers for each pilot. This was done to ensure a structured system and promote confidentiality throughout the military. This development was called “Project 304.” This codename was used as part of the confidentiality agreement between the company and the military. From its launch to the completion of the project in 1963, over 30 prototypes were issued by the company. This prompted the coining of the name “The 1963” as the official name of the watch.

Over the years, the Tianjin Watch Factory continued its horological innovation and proceeded to garner attention from all over China. In 1974, the company started exporting its watches, which led to another name change for the sake of appealing to other nations. The Seagull 1963 was selected as its official English name. It is rare for a watch company to produce just one watch with a single design that still manages to hold such historical significance. Considering the high regard the Seagull 1963 continues to be held in, it is truly a classic timepiece that is both affordable and a great addition to collections.

First Impressions

The Seagull 1963 has a very simplistic and minimalist design that gives us a retrospective look into a fraction of Chinese History. Some who are unaware of its origins may shrug it off and deem it a cheap mechanical watch. In reality, however, the Seagull 1963 is far from being a mediocre watch, despite its affordable price point. Furthermore, a large number of collectors and watch connoisseurs have an undeniable soft spot for vintage watches. Even if a watch has a very low price point, all that matters is its heritage and historical significance.

With that in mind, the Seagull 1963 is a definitive vintage watch that has slowly but surely evolved over the years. Not much has changed in terms of its style, but there were several reissues of this watch as the years went by. These reissues provide more modern takes on the Seagull 1963 without taking away most of its original charm. One of the Seagull 1963’s most notable designs is its off-white dial. It adds more to the Seagull 1963’s vintage aspect, as it still maintains the classic 1960s demeanour. 

All in all, the Seagull 1963 is a great watch that caters to both beginners and experienced enthusiasts alike. The affordability of this watch makes it accessible to those who are on a tight budget. Plus, the Seagull 1963 is a breath of fresh air since Chinese watches are quite rare in the watchmaking industry. Sampling a variety of watchmakers from across the globe gives us a chance to indulge in their cultures for a little bit—adding to the appeal of the Seagull 1963.

Specifications

Looking at the Seagull 1963, you may be led to believe that it is a simple quartz watch with limited features. In reality, it is actually an incredible tool watch with robust functionalities. This should be expected since the Seagull 1963 is trusted by the Chinese airforce to the point where extreme confidentiality was enacted during its production. Let us take a closer look at the detailed specifications of the Seagull 1963.

Case, Crown, and Case Back

The original Seagull 1963 (Prototype 304) has a 38mm stainless steel case with an 11mm or 14mm thickness, depending on the crystal used. The case was made smaller and lighter to provide more comfort to the pilots. It may be a little too thin for some, but the NATO or leather straps that come with the Seagull 1963 adds to its comfort. The 38mm diameter and 11mm thickness provide a proportionate design scheme that allows for god compatibility on any wrist size.

The caseback is screwed down to protect the inner mechanisms of the watch from the water. On the newer variations, the caseback now has a see-through crystal, allowing wearers to look inside into and see how the watch’s movement operates. This is a now-common design found in a number of modern luxury watches. The Seagull 1963 also has a 30m water resistance. Keep in mind that this watch has a very thin case, so having 30m of water resistance is already an incredible feat. The scratch-resistant crystal also adds to the protection of the watch. There are many variations of the crystal throughout the production of the Seagull 1963. These crystals can alter the dimensions of the watch since some models come with a domed crystal and others with a flat one. The domed crystal adds 3mm of thickness to the watch, granting a total of 14mm in thickness. This variation is actually the original crystal that was used during the Seagull 1963’s initial production. The flat crystal, which maintains a more standard surface compared to the domed crystal, is only 1mm thick.

Seagull 1963 Movement

The crown of the Seagull 1963 is also screwed down to prevent water from going in, although it is unusually placed on the left side of the watch. As usual, the hands can be adjusted with the un-screwed crown. The same procedure is used to wind the Seagull 1963 since it is a hand-wound mechanical watch. The two buttons beside the crown are used to control the chronograph sub-dials. These buttons are used to start and stop the timer as the wearer pleases. 

Dial

The dial of the Seagull 1963 is probably its most defining feature. The slim profile of the stainless steel case perfectly complements the clean off-white color of the dial, without any unnecessary styles or embellishments that encumber the legibility of the watch. The off-white dial itself provides a clear view of each numeric character on the dial. The Seagull 1963 has gold-plated applied indices. It has numeral markers for all of its even numerals, but its odd numerals take the shape of triangle markers. The gold-toned hour markers blend well with the off-white dial and are a very popular color combination in the watch industry. The minute and seconds markers can be found on the outer rim of the dial. These markers may be small, but they are still visible and easy to read. 

The two chronograph sub-dials are positioned at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. The size of these sub-dials is just right, not too small as to be unreadable and not too big, so the dial doesn’t look cluttered. As for the designs of the dial, there is a red star with a gold outline below the 12th-hour marker along with the words “21 Zuan”, which translates to “21 Jewels.” This pertains to the embedded jewels found on the calibre movement used in the watch. Chinese writing can also be found on the bottom part of the dial, which is only natural considering its country of origin. These characters spell out “China”, and under it reads “Tianjin Watch Factory.”

Calibre Movement

The calibre movement used in the original Seagull 1963 that was released in 1961 was the Venus 175 caliber. This movement was commonly found in watches that were manufactured during the 40s up to the 50s. Given that the Venus 175 caliber is quite outdated in the modern age, the Tianjin Watch Factory has changed the caliber movement used to the new ST19. The Seagull ST19 caliber is a hand-wound mechanical movement that is used in the reissued versions of the Seagull 1963 watch. Not much has changed in regards to the functions and features offered, but the reliability and accuracy of the ST19 caliber movement allow the Seagull 1963 to keep up with its modern contemporaries. 

Oddly enough, the Seagull 1963 chooses to highlight the number of jewels used on the dial instead of the caliber movement used. The reason behind this design is still a mystery. On top of that, the Seagull 1963 can last up to an impressive 45 hours when wound to its maximum capability. Winding a watch may not be a significantly time-consuming activity, but it can prove to be a hassle if you forget about it, so the relatively long 45-hour power reserve is very handy. Indeed, the ST19 calibre movement is definitely a huge improvement on the Venus 175 caliber in terms of reliability and utility.

Notable Variations

Did you know that there are several variations of the original Seagull 1963 watch model? Most of them vary in size, color scheme, and even manufacturer. The Tianjin Watch Factory may be the main manufacturer of the Seagull 1963, but they are more lenient than they seem when it comes to their products. They have allowed the distribution of the Seagull 1963 from several vendors. Aside from that, the Tianjin Watch Factory has even allowed third-party companies and watchmakers to create new Seagull 1963 watches, with the same name and design. This is an almost unheard-of move, especially for a watchmaking company.

With that in mind, here are a few notable variations of the Seagull 1963.

The Seagull 1963 38mm (Original)

When it comes to reissues or tribute watches, most watchmakers would strictly follow the original blueprint of the watch being reintroduced. That way, the heritage of the reissued watch is clear, even through its design. Of course, some watchmakers love to add their own modern twists when creating a tribute watch. This practice can sometimes leave fans divided. Some may want a part-by-part remake of the original watch, while others welcome the idea of change. It is a tricky situation that can happen in any industry.

That is why the Seagull 1963 38mm reissue is a great example of a remake done right. This reissue stayed true to the original that was released for the Chinese Airforce. It retained the 38mm stainless steel case along with the domed crystal that contributed to its 14mm thickness. The weight of the Seagull 1963 38mm reissue is not a concern either, as it remains the same as that of an 11mm Seagull 1963 watch. The reissued Seagull 1963 also maintained the same off-white dial with gold-toned applied indices, and black minutes and seconds markings. The chronograph sub-dials can also be found at the same 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions, with both chronographs being operated through the two buttons located beside the screw-down crown.

Despite being manufactured by different vendors in China, the Seagull 1963 remake did not undergo any change whatsoever across vendors. The ST19 calibre movement is found inside every piece of the Seagull 1963 remake, the same 30m water resistance is also present. The Seagull 1963 38mm reissue is an excellent utility watch, and the only real challenge is finding a reliable vendor that manufactures it.

The Seagull 1963 Panda

As the name suggests, the Seagull 1963 Panda is reminiscent of the famous Chinese national symbol, the grand panda. In this reissue, a number of features were changed while keeping the base design intact. Instead of going for the original 38mm case, a larger 42mm polished stainless steel case was used for this version. The polished stainless steel blends well in the modern era of horology, where polished stainless steel tends to be more popular than just stainless steel alone. The Seagull 1963 Panda also uses a black and red NATO-style strap to provide a more unique design that sets it apart from the original. 

The dial of the Seagull 1963 is a pearlescent white, a sharp and glossy color that matches the silver-toned appliques and hands. The minute markings are still in contrasting black, located at the outer rim of the dial, which makes them easier to read. The chronograph sub-dials, on the other hand, are colored black to complete the panda motif of the watch, as it resembles the endearing black eyes of a giant panda.

The Seagull 1963 Price Range

As mentioned before, the production of the Seagull 1963 branched out to several third-party vendors across China. This made it difficult to acquire an authentic Seagull 1963 model due to the inevitable rise of counterfeits and cheap knockoffs. Such instances also led to negative reviews from patrons who received fake Seagull 1963 pieces of cheap quality. Some of these reviews have reported that the crystal falls off easily after a single impact, while others received an unsecured caseback. These problems are all the result of fake sellers hawking counterfeit Seagull 1963 models. That said, there are still reliable sources of an authentic Seagull 1963 watch to be found online. Renowned online stores should definitely be your top choice when looking for this sought-after watch.

Lucky for you, the price range for the authentic Seagull 1963 is really still quite affordable. In fact, the highest price for this watch is $560 USD, which is manufactured by a certain watchmaker called “Sea-Gull.” The prices for these watches may vary, but as long as you can get your hands on a genuine model, the quality remains consistent. Some buyers have reported getting authentic Seagull 1963 models for as low as $334 USD. As for the Seagull 1963 Panda version, its retail price is $339 USD, which is quite budget-friendly for such a well-designed watch.

Final Thoughts

The Seagull 1963 is definitely a classic watch that definitely deserves greater recognition and respect. There are two main reasons why a lot of people might be conflicted about getting this watch. The first one is the presence of an overwhelming number of counterfeits and knockoffs that managed to infiltrate the market, largely due to the fact that there is no single manufacturer for the Seagull 1963. Second is the lack of official information on the Internet that highlights more of the Seagull 1963’s history. 

That said, there is no doubt that the Seagull 1963 is a great watch with a very interesting heritage. From its honourable purpose as an official aviation watch intended for the Chinese military, the Seagull 1963 definitely soared the skies with glory. It is true that the original Seagull 1963, made by the Tianjin Watch Factory, is no longer available or is extremely rare to find. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a great watch to add to your collection, the Seagull 1963 remake might be an excellent one. It is affordable and has a particular nostalgic charm—the perfect vintage utility watch for the modern connoisseur.

If you are looking for more classic watch designs, check out our Top 5 Japanese Dress Watches to find the best dress watch for you.

All images courtesy of Seagull 1963

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