My Chinese Air force watch buying adventure – Seagull 1963

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 07
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 that had some 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-issue of a watch that was originally produced for the People’s Liberation Air Force the Seagull 1963 definitely has a solid association with the country.

So now that I knew which watch I wanted I just 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 absolutely jam packed with luxury watch dealers.

155,000 dollar rolex daytona

$155,000 Rolex Daytona

It seems like every skyscraper in every city in China was anchored to the earth by a Rolex, Cartier, Omega, Zenith foundation. There were so many luxury galleries that some of them even made their employees participate in on-the-hour choreographed dance routines to bring in the customers. I’m not sure how well that works in practice, but it sure was entertaining.

This whole spectacle makes for some great window shopping, but wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. (I wish I was shopping for a 155k dollar 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 not going to be very productive.

great firewall of china

The Great Firewall of China doesn’t want me checking my email

So after striking out online and finally getting my VPN configured correctly I tried e-mailing Sea-Gull 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. They then 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.

Tianjin Seagull watch factory.

Tianjin Seagull Watch Factory

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 give him a call when we were in Hong Kong. He said he would be happy to come to us with one of each of the watches for me to look at. Talk about fantastic customer service!

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 03
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 eventually evolved into the ST19 movement used today. After the sale ESA went on to merge with Valjoux and then eventually with the grand-daddy of all swiss movements: ETA.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 04This is the whole Seagull 1963 family. Left to right we have the 41mm silver sub-dial on black, 41mm panda dial, 41mm olive dial, and finally 38mm olive dial.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 05This one 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.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 06The panda color option has a crisp white dial with black sub-dials, again with a red chronograph hand.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 07Unlike 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 much more in line with the Chinese aesthetic I was looking for (The Chinese Army’s logo is a red star with a yellow border)

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 08This 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.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 09I ended up going with the 41mm olive color option with the green striped nato.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 10The 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.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 11The 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.

Buying a Seagull 1963 reissue 12

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.

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  1. Mike

    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.

  2. Geoff

    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!

  3. E. Jones

    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.

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