James Bond watches, and the mysterious Seiko outcast

October 18 filed in gadgets, History, Hobbies

I have an embarrassing confession to make.

Seiko A159 acquisition <br /><em>click for larger view</em>

Virgin Seiko A159 // click image to enlarge

I have a strange obsession (fetish?) with incredibly vintage and/or nerdy watches.  Watches so geek-laden, I might only wear them in public while wearing a long-sleeved shirt.  I focus mostly on watch designs from the 1970s and early 80s, which I appreciate for their clean lines and understated modernism.  I must admit a strong nostalgic attraction as well.

My most recent acquisition is a New Old Stock (NOS) Seiko A159 (to be precise, an A159-4029 T) digital Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) men’s wristwatch.

Somehow, this museum-worthy relic sat in a display case or box or coffin completely untouched for the past 32 years, never to be worn, or scratched, or nicked, or anything – until now.  It’s almost like a rare fruit fly that was thought to have been extinct decades ago thanks to man-made global warming is suddenly rediscovered.  Hovering lazily over my banana.  Incredible!  (Slap!)

In any case, for those out there interested in this type of timepiece and its origins, I thought I would share some of my research findings in addition to the photos I’ve taken (if you wish to reuse my photos for personal use, please ask permission first).

Ohhhh, James …

Why an impact printer?  Why?

Seiko 0674 fortune cookie // photo © MGM

First off, the Seiko A159 has mistakenly been reported by some as a “James Bond Movie Watch.”  From what I can tell, this is technically not true.

According to one source, the watch was used in some promotional marketing materials to introduce the new relationship between Seiko and the 007 brand prior to the 1977 release of “The Spy Who Loved Me.”  I have not been able to verify this, but it is an interesting anecdote, if true.  If anyone has any of these materials, I would love to see them.  Nevertheless, it was never in the movie, or any other Bond film.

The watch made famous in the campy spy classic is in fact the unforgettable Seiko 0674 5009.  You remember, it’s the watch that ironically stamped out a secret message from HQ on narrow fortune cookie paper rather than alerting 007 on the digital screen of the watch.  Can you imagine trying to load the paper into the back of that thing?

The 0674 is quite rare these days and hard to find in excellent condition for less than $300.

Regardless of the A159’s suspect linkages to 007, it is still considered by some to be part of Seiko’s 1st-generation of LCD digital watches, which first hit the market in 1973.

The History

Seiko A159  starboard view <br /><em>click for larger view</em>

Seiko A159 starboard view // click image to enlarge

Prior to Seiko’s partnership with the Bond franchise in the late 70s, the movies had primarily been dominated by Rolex, although the it was by no means a monogamous relationship.

“By 1977 quartz prices had fallen to the point where they were accessible to anyone, and Hattori [Seiko] initiated one of the earliest examples of high-profile product placement via the popular (and evidently endless) James Bond film series … Roger Moore’s iteration of the character wore six [emphasis mine] different Seiko timepieces [if the A159 was included, it would be seven], appearances that were paralleled by extensive print ads featuring James Bond and his Seiko. Most of the Seikos James Bond wore were the flagship LCD watches of the period, and their latest development were quickly shifted to film.”

Having been born in ’77, the A159 was likely the end of that 1st-generation, right before the 1980s pummeled Seiko and its stock share price, as well as any remaining significant monetary value of stand-alone LCD digital watches from a public perception standpoint.

LCDs were, and still are, deemed fashionably acceptable when part of an analog/digital combo, or in pure sport or exercise related watches, but rarely as elegant fashion pieces particularly at the mid-level price range.  Due to their ease of manufacture, LCDs became “cheap” and easy to obtain.  With the LCD watch approaching four decades, the once cutting edge technology lost its ability to capture or impress the world’s imagination long ago.  Pan left, enter nostalgia!

Seiko A159 LCD closeup

Seiko A159 LCD closeup // click image to enlarge

There have been a multitude of  James Bond watches spotted over the decades (around 50), including Seikos.  With the exception of the occasional laser beam equipped watch, humorous 007 gadget watches appear to have taken a bit of a hiatus for several years.

As you can see, the Bond franchise has been dominated by the highly respectable Omega brand since 1995 (owned by the Swatch Group, which have also taken the Olympics away from Seiko under the Omega flag) .

The Seiko 007 list:

  • 1973, Live and Let Die, Hamilton Pulsar ‘P2 2900’ LED.  Not a Seiko at the time, but an interesting LED history, nevertheless.  Hamilton, a once innovative US-based watch manufacturer from the 1890s-1970s, has been a subsidiary of The Swatch Group since 1984.  The Pulsar brand is now owned by Seiko, however, “positioned below Seiko, but above Lorus.”  These days, Pulsar watches are mainly analog.
  • 1977 ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ Seiko 0674 ‘Ticker Tape’ wristwatch, mentioned above
  • 1979 ‘Moonraker’ Seiko m354 Memory Bank ‘Plastique Explosive’ Wristwatch
  • 1981 ‘For Your Eyes Only’ Seiko H357 Analog Digital Display with scrolling LED message bar (now they get it!) and two-way radio
  • 1983 ‘Octopussy’ Seiko Liquid Crystal TV Watch
  • 1983 ‘Octopussy’ Seiko G757 Sports 100 (the ultimate collectible) Homing Device/Hidden Microphone Monitor
Seiko A159 PDF Manual

Seiko A159 PDF Manual // click image to download

The Manual

Back to my A159.  The watch arrived to my San Francisco Bay Area abode  after a long journey all the way from Budapest, Hungary – by blimp, no doubt.  It did not come in an original Seiko box, nor did it come with the instruction manual.  There are only 4 buttons, yet the usability of the buttons and the watch face labels is nonexistent, except perhaps for the quaint bulb-driven light (which works).

I contacted Seiko customer service to see if they had any of the manuals in their archive, and they politely sent me a full-color scan in PDF format, which you may also download from me if you’re so inclined (you won’t find it on their website).  The manual says it is for the A159 and its 1st cousin the A158.

Help yourself.

I’ve currently got my radar up for this jaw dropper, circa 1971.  But for now, I think I’ll close the blinds and put on my virgin Seiko A159.

16 Comments

  • Dell Deaton, jbw007.com

    October 18 6:52 pm


    Very nice to see the venerable SEIKO brand get the recognition it’s earned as part of the James Bond watch legacy. There is actually an official poster from “The Spy Who Loved Me” that features images of two SEIKO watches by way of leveraging the tie-in; I do have this and it will be featured as part of the “Bond Watches, James Bond Watches” exhibition at the National Watch & Clock Museum, June 2010 – May 2011.

    Dell Deaton
    http://www.jamesbondwatches.com


  • […] I recently blogged about the Seiko A159 digital watch and its dubious ties to the James Bond movie franchise. […]


  • […] The differences are subtle, yet they are there for all to see. Check out my earlier posts (1, 2) of the A159 to inspect the physical differences for […]

  • Case closed: The Moonraker SEIKO A158 (not A159) | eric hill

    October 18 9:47 am


    When qualifying on board USS Kitty Hawk in Feb. , 1979 I bought my A159 from the Ships Store for ???. After qualifying I was shipped off to the Philippines with my trusty Seiko to fly the C2A Greyhound. On one of my stops to Hong Kong I had it engraved with my name and wore it faithfully for about ten years, also using the countdown timer for starts in sailboat racing. It then sat in my nic nac box. Last week I opened it up, put a new battery in it and voila! It worked, but I forgot how to turn off the alarm. You’re right, Seiko does not have the instructions on their site and I thank you for suppling same.

    Have a nice Christmas.

    TK

  • Case closed: The Moonraker SEIKO A158 (not A159) | eric hill

    October 18 1:27 pm


    Very nice article, just what I was looking for. Did you contact US seiko customer service for the manuel, or a different country? I need one for my M159-5039. Thanks a lot!

  • eric

    October 18 2:31 pm


    Hi, thanks for the kind words. As it turns out, (even after my two follow-up posts to this article), I’ve discovered even more information around a very rare A159 model that WAS in a James Bond poster. More details on that soon.

    As for the manual, yes – I contacted Seiko customer service directly and they emailed me the PDF file. Very cool of them to do so.

  • william burke

    October 18 4:52 am


    I bought the Seiko A159-4019-G new back in the 70s. I wear it now and then, it still keeps excellent time. I’m going to put it up for sale and buy a Seiko Monster. The manual comes with it, the bracelet and case are in nice condition, the crystal also. The 4 buttons are slugish though, they work- but sometimes you have to fight with them- I don’t use them often, I just wear it for the time. I’m asking 75.00 USD or best offer. Everything is original.

  • Craig Houston

    October 18 9:28 am


    Can you tell me if Seiko done any promotional 007 watches in the 70’s. I recently purchacsed a Seiko automatic and on the clasp in clealy has 007 on it, which suggests to me it may have been a promotional watch.

  • Craig Houston

    October 18 3:08 pm


    Is the A159-4019G water resistant? The manual shows diagrams of a swimmer.

  • Eric

    October 18 9:09 am


    Well, it was over 30 years ago I’m sure. Unless you have one that’s been completely restored with new gaskets, etc. I wouldn’t risk it. That’s what your Casio G-Shock is for. 😉

  • Eric C

    October 18 2:05 pm


    I have a “like new” seiko 0674-5009. I would like to sell it. Can you tell me what is worth? I understand it is worth apx $850. I saw a beat up one sell for $350 on eBay. My watch looks new. If there is serious interest I can send photos. Oh, I just had a seiko tech put in a new battery and it runs perfectly and the light works too.

  • Eric

    October 18 2:36 pm


    Hey Eric C, here’s what I’d say to your questions.

    “I have a “like new” seiko 0674-5009. I would like to sell it. Can you tell me what is worth?” – No, not easily. There are so many subjective variables involved.

    “I saw a beat up one sell for $350 on eBay.” Sometimes this falls to luck: luck of who saw it when on a given week. But if you believe a beaten up one can fetch that, yours should surely do better.

    “My watch looks new. If there is serious interest I can send photos.” Have you tried selling this on eBay? When I sell my watches, I always use a DSLR with a lot of “bokeh” in the background for added dramatic effect. It helps.

    If you can take true beauty shots, it will drive the interest higher. If you’re really worried you won’t get enough for it, you can always set a reserve price (e.g. $400) or a create an auction that starts at $399, but have a “buy it now” option that’s, say, $750 or whatever.

    I’m extremely picky when I’m a buyer. If I see any nicks or slight blemishes, any discoloration at all in the LCD display (a lot of these old watches will get odd orange or green hues in areas depending on how you angle your wrist this way and that). Or, a watch that claims to be NIB (new in box) or near-mint is lacking several bracelet links. Or is using the wrong bracelet!

    In any case, I’m not in the market today but good luck! And thanks for dropping by. If you have picks, I’d always love to see them. Here are some of the beauty shots I’ve taken before to get an idea of what I’m talking about:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/intric8/sets/72157622454631885/

    I consider this watch, when the pics were taken, as “near perfect”. I wore it a bunch since, so the clasp has some wear now.

    Here’s another watch I had which was in “very good” condition, but it has that odd coloration on the display. It bothered me enough to sell it shortly after I got it. You’ll also see the clasp is worn enough where the “SEIKO” is almost gone.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/intric8/sets/72157625107557617/

    And another, slightly better, but still slightly annoying
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/intric8/sets/72157625600452537/

    Or
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/intric8/4577274654/in/set-72157623987794662

    I guess the point is, you should give it a go on eBay but have patience and don’t rush it.

    Cheers!
    Eric

  • Jason

    October 18 11:36 am


    I received this watch for my 13th birthday and still have it. It was heavily advertised in the Chicago Tribune back then.

    Being worn through middle and high school, it got beaten up pretty badly. Still, I have it now and it works just fine. The pushers are barely functional, though, and the crystal has some weird cast in some lights. It also feels small on the wrist. I’m glad I have it.

  • Max

    October 18 5:11 pm


    I bought my Seiko A159-5009-G New. When I went to jeweler recently to change batteries in other watches, I decided to take my old friend with me. Hadn’t worn it in quite a long time. The jeweler changed the battery and its good as new. I have always loved this watch since it was the cutting edge when I purchased it. The James Bond angle helped along the purchase too being my favorite movie character and a 007 watch. Even though I have not worn in a number of years, I am really enjoying having my old friend back. Crystal is scratched in a couple of places but jeweler said he could polish it out. I was having trouble setting the time since daylight savings changed back this weekend. Thanks to you, I made copies of your available download on setting the watch. I can’t thank you enough. I believe I even have the original box the watch came in and likely will find the instruction booklet inside as well. Thanks again for your web-site. I thought the watch might possibly be worth something now since it was the first of its kind when introduced. Very glad to find someone who appreciates the time-piece as much as I do. Thanks Again, Max Kirk

  • Eric

    October 18 9:54 am


    Have you ever taken pictures of your watch? If so, I’d love to see them.

  • David Adams

    October 18 10:28 am


    just pulled fair condition one of theas out of a lucky dip sack from an auction in the B’ham jewelry qrt Uk. called fellows iv just put a battery in it and its working was a rubish bag but this at the botom has cheard me up. thanks Dave

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