My Chinese Air Force Watch-buying Adventure – SeaGull 1963
My wife and I spent about a month traveling around China last year and I knew going into the trip that I wanted to find a Chinese watch as a souvenir from our travels. I didn’t want some generic Chinese watch that was pretending not to be Chinese; I wanted something that was proudly Chinese, something with a tie to the country outside of simply being manufactured there to be exported elsewhere. The SeaGull 1963 seemed to fit the bill with its “21 Zuan” (21 jewels), Chinese characters and vaguely communist red star on the dial.
As a re-issued watch that was originally produced for the People’s Liberation Air Force, the SeaGull 1963 definitely has a solid association with the country.
Now that I knew which watch I wanted, I had to track one down. Should be easy enough, right?
When we first arrived in Beijing, I wandered the luxury shopping districts looking for watch shops. We discovered pretty quickly that China was jam packed with luxury watch dealers.
It seems like every skyscraper in every city in China was anchored to the earth by a Rolex, Cartier, Omega and Zenith foundation. There were so many luxury galleries that some made their employees participate in on-the-hour choreographed dance routines to attract customers. I’m not sure how well that works in practice, but it sure was entertaining.
This dancing spectacle makes for some great window shopping, but wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. (I wish I was shopping for a $155,000 diamond-encrusted Daytona!)
I tried searching online for a retailer or dealer that sold SeaGull watches and figured out pretty quickly that getting any useful information on the internet in China, behind the great firewall, without speaking a word of Chinese, was going to be unproductive.
So, after striking out online and finally getting my VPN configured correctly, I tried emailing SeaGull USA directly. They suggested I tour the factory in Tianjin and purchase a watch directly from the factory, which would have been awesome, but we weren’t going to be anywhere near that part of China. Then, they put me in touch with Thomas, who worked out of Hong Kong and suggested I buy directly from him and have the watch shipped to our hotel.
That would have been fine, but we were flying all over China and I was nervous about missing the shipment and losing the watch forever in the Chinese postal system.
When I got in touch with Thomas he said not to worry about shipping, and to call him when we were in Hong Kong. He said he’d be happy to come to us with the watches. Talk about fantastic customer service!
We ended up in Hong Kong a few weeks later and Thomas was willing to cross half of Hong Kong to meet us in our hotel lobby. By Chinese standards, Hong Kong is pretty small, but the fact that he was willing to take a couple hours out of his day to meet us in our hotel was pretty astounding to me. He was such a nice guy, spoke perfect English and was happy to hang out with us and talk watches. He explained that Fabrique d’Ébauches S.A. (ESA) sold its tooling for the Venus 175 column wheel chronograph movements to China in 1958, which then evolved into the ST19 movement used today. After the sale, ESA went on to merge with Valjoux and then eventually with the granddaddy of all Swiss movements: ETA.
This is the entire SeaGull 1963 family. Left to right, we have the 41mm silver sub-dial on black, 41mm panda dial, 41mm olive dial and finally, the 38mm olive dial.
The 41mm silver sub-dial has a rich black dial with polished chrome numerals, indices and hands. The chronograph hand is bright red and provides some nice contrast to the black/silver dial combination.
The panda color option has a crisp white dial with black sub-dials, again with a red chronograph hand.
Unlike the black and panda versions, the olive 1963 has flame-blued baton hands without any lume. The olive version also has the gold/red star which is more in line with the Chinese aesthetic I was looking for (The Chinese Army’s logo is a red star with a yellow border.)
This is the 38mm version, which I think is more symmetrically balanced than the 41mm versions. This one has a slightly domed acrylic crystal, whereas the 41mm options have a flat sapphire glass. I would have preferred the 41mm with a domed crystal, but unfortunately, such a thing doesn’t exist.
I ended up going with the 41mm olive color option with the green striped nato.
The 41mm options have a nice display case-back that shows off the beautiful intricacies of the chronograph movement, whereas the 38mm version had a solid case-back.
The golden brass wheels, silver steel bridges, red rubies and flame-blued screws make for a great looking movement. Watching everything jump around when you start, stop and reset the chronograph is a treat as well.
Luckily, these watches are much easier to find in the United States than they are in China, so if you’re interested in picking one up yourself, you don’t have to look any further than the Amazon links below.
I don’t think you can find a better value in a watch for 300 dollars.
I stumbled across this website by accident while researching flieger watches and then this article caught my eye. Now I’ve got a 1963 Seagull coming to me in the mail! Decided to go for the classic 38 mm. Thanks for bringing these interesting timepieces to my attention.
You bet! The 38mm is a beauty.
Learned about these on a well known watch forum, which commissioned its own limited editions, one olive and one black, both 38mm. I’ve acquired one of each!
Great article. Do you have a contact where I could get one?
Planning to get this from Thomas too. How is it holding up after a year?
Still ticking like the day I got it!
I lived in HK last year and returned to get my Omega fixed at Christmas….came upon a 1974 Sea-Gull for sale and ended up trading the Omega for the Sea-Gull (& some change)…remarkably stable watch for a 1974.
Please could you email me so I can get hold of Thomas. I live in HK but a friend in the UK is asking me to source a Seagull watch for her husband. Please email me.
Will do! (I also edited your e-mail out so you don’t get picked on by spam bots)
Sorry to piggy back on your comment, I was wondering if you could send me Thomas’ info as well? I’m trying to find a 41mm but so far online all I can find are the 38s.
Can I please have Thomas’ contact number also, thank you very much!
Hey there, I’m in Beijing right now and I was also hoping to get my hands on this model. Could you email me Thomas’ contact details as well? Thanks and great review!
Interesting article, and now I want that 1963 too.. Could you pls send Thomas’ contact? Appreciate it.. Tks a lot.
What a good experience!
I’m very interested in this. Could you please pass me Thomas’ contact details? I’m torn between the 41mm sapphire with clear caseback or the 38mm domed. Awesome pictures!
Pls share with me Thoma’s contact, much appreciated.
I was just womdering if you could email me Thomas’ contact info. I would like to pick up a 1863 for myself.
Is there any possiblity to get Thomas’ contact or any other solution to see/try/buy in HK?
hi there, do you have Thomas’s contact details? I have been looking to get this watch for months but don’t know how to go about doing it…
Hi, how can I get in touch with Thomas?
Hi Luke, its funny how you are the one who is talked about across any forum in case someone is looking for this watch. I’d love to get one as well, if you could please send me the details of Thomas, I’ll get in touch with him.
I would like to get Thomas contact infos (email preferred but phone number will do too) as i’m looking to buy a Seagull watch when I go to HK at the end of june.
hey, could you share Thomas email address thinking to engage with him if he carries any vintage Chinese watches.
Looking forward hearing from you. thanks.
I do live in HK and am also interested if you could send me Thomas’ contact details please?
Many thanks for the article!
Great article, can you pass me Thomas contact info? Will be in Hong Kong for a couple of days.
Can you share Thomas’s info? Thanks!
great info, its 2019 and was wondering if I can get in touch with thomas as I will be in HK and would love to get SeaGull 1963.
Thanks in advance
Hey luke! I’m also in Hong Kong today. I know it’s a longshot, but if you could please forward me Thomas info I would love to grab one.
Hi.. I live in HK, can you please give me Thomas’ contact number/mail, I would like to buy 41mm Olive dial one. Thanks
Hi Luke, wondering if you could share Thomas’s contact details? Looking at adding the 1963 to my collection. Thx in advance.
Hi Luke, I’m also after for this watch could you provide me Thomas contact, thanks.
I have been living in hk and have been searching for this watch for quite some time now!
It would be great if you could share the contact info for Thomas!
Thanks in advance!
Hi Luke, great article/story you have shared! I’m going to China in March and would like to pick up a Seagull 1963. Is it possible to receive Thomas’ contact information?
Many thanks, Tony
Your article is Best and great.
Please share Thomas information?
Hey Luke, Would like to have Thomas’s contact info for my girlfriend based in Hong Kong
Please, would you be so kind as to share Thomas from HK contact with me? An email address would be great, thanks
Hi Luke, stumbled upon this article and am looking for the 38mm beauty. Can you please forward me Thomas contact? Thanks in advance.
Luke, thank you so much for the info, video and photo…all so very interesting. I’m endeavoring to acquire an “authentic” Seagull 1963, but am concerned about “fakes”.
I’ve seen reports/opinions that 42 mm are fake, that sapphire glass is fake, etc. I haven’t heard of the 41 mm (only seeing 38 mm and 42 mm with acrylic, mineral or sapphire), but I believe I would prefer that one, like you selected.
Any opinions on how to get a real one and like so many here, Thomas’ contact information would be appreciated. Thank you, Scott
May I ask for. the contact details of Thamas too? Thank you. =)
I am looking into getting a lumed version. Hands and pips lumed. I saw one that had a hammer and sickle at the end of the center second hands. I take it only the lumed one has that feature? Or do they all have the same plain red second hand? Any watch with lume got my attention. I just want to buy the real deal from the factory. What would be the website to buy direct?