We all know that watches are more than just their specs on paper, or the way they look. The history of a watch can be just as important to collectors.
That’s one of the reasons why the Seagull 1963 is so popular and highly regarded. Aside from its unique red and blue hands, unique gold hour markers, and the fact that it’s an affordable mechanical hand-wind chronograph, it also has an interesting background.
Originally developed in 1961 to be issued to the Chinese Air Force with proprietary venus watch caliber 175 movements, the Seagull 1963 was purpose-built for pilots, making it a cool piece to add to any collection.
I picked it up as a birthday present to myself last month and wore it for a few weeks religiously. And in this review, I’ll share all of my ramblings and thoughts about this beauty. Without further hesitation, let’s get into the Seagull 1963 review.
- Diameter: 38mm
- Thickness (sapphire crystal version): 11mm
- Lug to Lug: 47mm
- Lug width: 18mm
- Weight: 59 grams
- Water Resistance: 30 meters
- Movement: ST19
- Crystal: Sapphire
- Included straps: Olive NATO and Light Brown Leather
- Check Price
All Polished Case
One of the arguably least impressive things about the Seagull 1963 is its case. Thankfully, the quality only gets better from here.
The case is shaped regularly, with a geometric bevel along each of the four lugs that adds some dimension. The polished bezel is rounded to meet the flat case underneath, and the lugs are nicely curved to fit your wrist comfortably.
My one gripe with this case is that there aren’t any brushed surfaces, although, the all-polished nature of the watch is a bit more true to its ’60s roots.
But I find that having a combination of brushed and polished surfaces almost always makes a watch more dynamic and interesting to look at. I also think it adds more variety to the way it reflects light. This is more of a personal gripe than an issue with the watch itself.
The chronograph pushers that activate the chronograph complication (more about that later) protrude out to add a bit of extra visual bulk to an otherwise smaller watch, coming in at about 38mm in diameter.
Last, the crown is well-done for a manual-wind watch, as it is textured and grippy enough to be able to wind it comfortably, without issue. It also doesn’t feel cheap or wobbly when winding it.
Display Case Back
One of the standout visual features of the Seagull 1963 is the decorated ST19 movement that can be seen through the clear see-through case back.
Being able to see the inner workings of a watch, especially with a movement as highly functional and decorated as the ST19, is all a part of the appeal of this watch.
There is a 1963 variation with a stainless steel case back that covers the movement completely, but I opted for the see-through version instead. Why wouldn’t you want to see such a beautiful movement in action?
Dial From the ’60s
The Dial of the Seagull 1963 is nothing short of vintage. With a champagne hue that teeters the line between a very warm silver, and a dial that’s aged and patina over the years, it’s quite a looker.
With gold applied hour markers alternating between arabic numerals at 12, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and arrow markers in between, the shimmer of gold certainly adds a touch of almost-elegance to an otherwise militaristic vintage watch.
The gold arrow markers point toward the center of the dial, focusing your eyes on the magnificent red and blue painted hands. The red-painted second-hand sticks out like a sore thumb, and completely captures your attention as it sweeps across the dial when using the chronograph function. The blue hour, minute, and sub-dial hands help subdue the otherwise rather unruly and intriguing red second hand in a very complimentary way.
Complimenting the red second hand is the red star logo, labeled 21 Zuan, underneath. This indicates that the ST19 movement has 21 jewels, while some variations of this watch only have 19. Mind you, this is still a recreation of a Seagull watch, despite its lack of Seagull branding on the dial.
At the 6:00 position, you’ll find some Chinese writing, which I, unfortunately, cannot decipher. If any of my readers know what it reads, I would love it if you could leave a comment below.
The two subdials add a bit of visual interest and help add some variety to the dial. The subdial at 9:00 is a running seconds dial since the main second hand on this watch is for the chronograph function. The subdial at 3:00 is for the chronograph function and measures time in up to 30-minute intervals.
Overall, with the red and blue seconds hands, champagne dial, and gold applied indices, the dial is very original and stands apart from every other watch in my collection.
Dimensions and Comfort
Being a vintage watch reissue, the Seagull 1963 also has the vintage sizing to match.
Coming in at 38mm in diameter, the 1963 is compact and wearable on just about any wrist size. There is also a 42mm variation available for those of you with a larger wrist, or who simply prefer a larger watch.
The 38mm variation wears perfectly on my 7″ wrists, with more than enough room to bend my wrist comfortably in any direction, without the watch interfering.
It’s also very lightweight, coming in at just about 59 grams, so you shouldn’t have a problem wearing the 1963 as an everyday piece. It almost disappears on the wrist weightlessly, and after a while, I completely forget I’m wearing it… Until I’m enticed to take another look at those striking painted hands.
The thickness varies depending on which crystal variation you get. The domed acrylic crystal is the standard version, and the most accurate recreation of the original. The domed crystal is boxy and stands tall on the watch, making the overall thickness float around 14mm. This is further accentuated when you wear it on a nato strap, which raises the watch of the wrist even further.
I opted for the sapphire crystal variation instead, which still comes in at a rather tall 13mm at its tallest point. Not a slim watch, but not overly bulky on the wrist either.
Included Straps: Olive NATO and Brown Leather
The Seagull I purchased from Amazon came with two straps: an olive green nato, and a light brown leather strap. Both come in at 18mm to match the lug width of the watch. I’ve seen reviews and unboxings from many owners showcasing different boxes and included straps, so it doesn’t seem there’s a particular rhyme or reason to finding one with this exact configuration.
Regardless, here are my thoughts on each of the straps I received.
The olive nato strap is a typical-looking nato strap that is much thicker and more robust than I would have expected, from my experience with similar-looking NATO straps. Like many other thick and robust straps, it took a few wears to mold to my wrist and become completely comfortable. Once it broke in, however, it just flows effortlessly over my wrist and is a joy to wear, which is not something I can say about all of the nato straps I’ve tried.
The light brown leather strap, on the other hand, is soft and supple right out of the box. Its light brown hue compliments the vintage dial nicely, sharing a bit of that “faded” look. It has quick-release spring bars that allow you to swap the strap in and out with ease and without any tools.
Although I often take joy and liberty in swapping out straps regularly on my collection for fun, I’ve found that both of these straps are such high-quality and perfect pairings, that I find myself wanting to enjoy them in 1963 for as long as possible. With that said, there are a few other types of straps that I think will look amazing on the Seagull. More about those in a bit.
While not as true to the original model of the 1963, I opted for the newer sapphire crystal version instead of the classic domed acrylic crystal also available. While I do love the look of distortion that a domed acrylic crystal creates, I wanted the extra scratch resistance that a sapphire crystal provides.
This crystal lacks any sort of anti-reflective coating, so direct lighting can create glares that affect legibility, and maybe more importantly, affect your ability to take clear Instagram pictures of this beauty, which is a bit of a bummer.
The movement housed instead of the Seagull1963 is the ST19, a fully mechanical hand-wind mechanical chronograph. It’s extremely rare to find a fully mechanical chronograph in this price range, which is one of the standout features that make the Seagull 1963 such a great value for the money.
Based on a swiss Venus 175 movement, the ST19 is quite impressive in build quality, design, and even looks.
Seen through the see-through case back, you can see just how well-decorated this movement is. Golden-colored cogs, purple jewels, and guilloche striped parts make it a joy to look at through the see-through display case back.
The movement runs well and is fairly accurate, specified to range somewhere between + / – 10 seconds per day. It’s also advertised to have a power reserve of 50 hours, though that doesn’t seem to be the case with my model. I’m not sure if I just have a lemon, or if I’m too scared of overwinding the mechanical hand-winding mechanism, and thus, not winding it to its full capacity.
Unlike winding an automatic movement, a mechanical movement like the ST19 can be broken by being overwound, so I am extra careful.
The Chronograph is simply one of the coolest parts of this watch. In fact, without it, I just don’t think this watch would have the same appeal.
Here’s how to use the chronograph:
As you know, it’s a mechanical, hand-wind chronograph. Winding the chronograph is comfortable thanks to the knurled crown, and while just a few rotations are enough to give the watch enough juice to start, winding it about 40 rotations will give it a full charge.
Once charged, simply press the top pusher to activate the chronograph function. The red second hand will start ticking to time seconds, while the subdial at the 3:00 position will time the minutes counted, up to 30 minutes.
I find the pushers on this chronograph extremely clicky and tactile, making them very satisfying to use. Some cheaper chronographs have a cheaper, mushy feel. But the ST19 movement feels much higher quality than its price would suggest.
Alternatives to the Seagull 1963
Typically in my reviews, I like to suggest a few alternatives across various price points, so you can find the exact watch for your needs and budget. However, since the Seagull 1963 is one of the most affordable mechanical chronograph movements, it’s simply in a league of its own. Typically you can expect to pay upward of $500 for any other mechanical or automatic chronograph.
With that said, there are quite a few variations of this exact model, such as the 38mm and 42mm variants, as well as the options for either sapphire or acrylic crystals. There’s also a panda dial configuration. There is also a microbrand, HKED, that uses the same movement, in a similar, yet slightly more refined design.
Additionally, check out the Dan Henry lineup of watches if you want a similar-looking chronograph, although they come with a meca-quartz hybrid movement, instead of a manual hand-winding mechanical.
Finally, if you aren’t necessarily looking for a chronograph, but you like the look of the Seagull 1963’s creamy vintage-inspired dial, check out the Orient Bambino V2 instead. It’s a time and date only watch that doesn’t have a chronograph feature, but it has a fully mechanical movement and is a great budget watch in its own right. It’s simply one of the most affordable dress watches that I’d recommend.
Like the 1963, it shares a cream dial, and blue painted hands. It does wear a bit larger, coming in at just about 42mm, so don’t expect it to be as compact. But it’s a bit more modernized in its dimensions, and thus, possibly more well-received by today’s standards.
With a watch that has so many different colors, you can have fun changing straps and finding new pairings. Here are a couple of my suggestions.
A “bond” style nato strap (red/black/green) strap adds a bit of that classic/cool James Bond spy look to your chronograph.
A tan rally strap emphasizes the sporty nature of the watch, as leather rally straps are often traditionally paired with racing chronographs.
A dark chocolate brown or black leather strap with white stitching can help emphasize the vintage elements of this watch and will contrast against the beautiful champagne dial.
A navy blue NATO strap punctuates the painted blue hands and helps add a bit of a serious, yet casual vibe to the watch. A red NATO strap on the other hand is much more daring and bold but could be a fun way to brighten up your wrist. Plus, it would work well around the holidays.
Truth be told, the Seagull 1963 is a versatile strap monster that will look great on a variety of watch straps and wrists.
As long as you get a watch strap that’s 18mm to fit the lug width of this watch, almost any strap would work well with it.
When considering value, the Seagull 1963 is a watch with an original design, a completely mechanical chronograph, and a horological backstory that you can be proud to share at your next watch meetup. (Or on the watch forums with your fellow watch nerds such as myself).
There aren’t too many other watches that boast a mechanical movement at this price point, and the sharp looks of the 1963 are just the icing on the cake.
Overall, the Seagull 1963 is simply an unarguably fantastic value for your money.
The Seagull 1963 is truly a special watch that any collector would be thrilled to enjoy in their collection.
This is a Chinese-made and built watch, but don’t let that dissuade you, as the fully mechanical ST19 movement is every bit as good as the swiss movement it was based on.
As stated before, mechanical chronographs are hard to find, and especially rare at such an affordable price point, making the Seagull 1963 one of the best entry-level mechanical watches you can buy.
10 thoughts on “Seagull 1963 Review – An Affordable Mechanical Chronograph”
As I understand things, only the individually numbered, non see through case back are the only certified reissued watch from the original maker. So why are you reviewing counterfeit watches? Without even mentioning the are not the real deal?
I’ve heard a mixed bag on the topic. I have read that Seagull has licensed the design to various manufacturers. If you have a reputable source stating either/or, I’d be glad to look into it further.
You are right. The company that made your watch, Red Star, has the license and is in no legal battle with Sea-Gull. Moreover, i do understand using “Seagull 1963” so that readers know what you are talking about. That being said, you should have disclosed that your watch isn’t actually made by Sea-Gull, the company.
That’s a fair point, Stefan. Absolutely not trying to deceive – I actually am still a bit mixed up about the whole situation. So to confirm, Sea-Gull, the original manufacturers, did in fact license the design out to Red Star. the brand that makes them now? Or are they made by a variety of factories in China throwing in the Red Star logo?
The story is different. Thomas (the owner of Red Star watches) is the original designer of this homage version from the watch from 1963. He was working at Seagull Hongkong when he designed this watch. Since no one registered the design, everyone could in theory produce this watch but in reality there are only 3 factories in China making it (which Red Star is the biggest). All watches do use a genuine Seagull st1901 movement tho since that can’t be counterfeited anyway (it’s too low cost to make it worth it).
Thanks for the insight; Aschwin. Where did you source this info from? Would love to learn more.
Unless you happen to to own one of these watches that was produced for the Chinese military in the 1960s or possibly the early 1970s. We are talking about replica or homage watches. Putting a solid case back or an acrylic crystal do not make the watch built 40 to 50 years later authentic. If the watch reviewed was made under license from Seagull it is in no way a counterfeit.
what shop on amazon did you purchase yours from?
The Congee near the six o’clock is the place of manufacturing.
I would believe , ( based on what I’ve read) these watches are indeed being made by the same company as in the 60s.
“ 50 years later, the Tianjin Watch Factory has been charged with producing an official remake of the Seagull 1963 Chinese Air Force watch. The special edition watch features a hand-wound, 21-jewel chronograph movement with 40-hour power reserve.
The steel, screw down solid case is fronted by a reproduction dial face labeled with “China – Tianjin Watch Factory” in Chinese and sporting a gold-edged red star. Both the strap and clasp are indistinguishable from the original.”