This post is an edited and expanded version of original content first published on 10/05/2020.
First of all a big thank you to Julian Kampmann from @poljot24 for making this review possible!
The Seagull 1963 has become a bit of a cult classic in the affordable watch world, with its authentic mid-century design, military provenance and very reasonable price accounting for its popularity.
This pilot watch is a tribute to the very first watch that was manufactured in China in the early 1960s, for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Its hand wound column-wheel chronograph movement, the ST19, is the resurrection of the movement developed in 1961 which was based on the Venus caliber 175 (Venus was later absorbed by Valjoux, which today is part of the Swatch Group). It is an elaborate mix of golden gears, jewels, blued screws and “Seagull striped” bridges. It is the sort of movement that is hypnotic to look at: reminding you of the brilliant intricacies that go into every mechanical watch.
The watch movement is housed in a highly polished steel case with down-sloping lugs to better hug the wrist and topped with a high-dome sapphire crystal, enhancing the vintage aesthetic, and mimicking the acrylic crystal used in the original.
The dial of the 1963 is pure, purposeful, and surprisingly elegant for a military watch, with applied golden markers, on a sort of pearlescent cream/silver background. It has a slightly antique feeling to it that suits the 60s vintage vibe well.
The main hour and minute hands are long and thin blued rectangles that are punctuated by the striking red of the chronograph seconds-counter.
In the top centre of the dial is a red star outlined in gold underneath which is “21 Zuan” (21 jewels) marking and, at the very bottom of the dial, Chinese characters translating to “China – Tianjin Watch Factory”.
A full description (in Chinese) is available on the official website. This features a 65-year (1955-2020) factory anniversary limited edition. It is labelled, rather curiously, the D304 project watch from 1962, not 1963 as it is nowadays widely known. 650 (65 years x 10) units will be produced of this piece. We reproduce below some of the images from this webpage. The 1962, or Plan B, designation is because this design stayed in a drawer and had never seen the light of day, until now.
This limited edition is available to pre-order from poljot24 for €495. It features slightly different lume-filled hands, lumed hour pip markers on the outer edge of the minute ring and ridged rings on the dial around the hour markers and numerals. This version is just 13 mm high, 1 mm less than the ordinary version, and dispenses with the exhibition case back.
The standard collection versions are also available from poljot24, from as low as €269 with acrylic and a NATO strap to €305 for the sapphire version with a leather strap as well as a NATO one. These are all 38 mm (14 mm high) with the ST19 caliber. Larger, albeit less original, 42 mm versions are available, also equipped with the ST19. There are also other dial options, although cream is the way to go, I think.
This watch, in my opinion, hits all the right notes. It has a history grounded in the pioneering days of Chinese watch production, it is aesthetically well-balanced, and features a design that seems simultaneously familiar, yet unique with a character all its own.