Everyone knows that the first watch worn on the moon was an Omega Speedmaster, one of history's greatest manually winding chronographs. But did you know that the first automatic chronograph worn in space was a Seiko?
Although it didn't become known until just a few years ago, and even though it was not part of his official mission kit, Astronaut Colonel William Pogue made history when he snuck his personal Seiko 6139-6002 chronograph onto the Skylab 4 mission as part of his personal kit in 1973. Manufactured in large quantities in the early 70s by the Japanese manufacturer, 6139-series chronographs were in many ways light years ahead of their Swiss counterparts, offering brightly colored dials, internal rotating bezels, and day/date functionality along with an automatic chronograph movement. The 6139-6002 cost a whopping $71.50 in the early seventies. Colonel Pogue bought his at the PX at Ellington Air Force base and subsequently used it throughout his astronaut training leading up to the mission, preferring it to the NASA-issued Speedmaster. While Pogue did not wear the Seiko during an EVA (spacewalk), he did use it for timing experiments and other mission-pertinent uses while in orbit.
Automatic watches rely on the motion of the wearer’s arm to make the rotor spin, and in the early days of the space program many did not believe automatic winding systems would work in space, where there is no gravitational force. Col. Pouge’s Seiko effectively ended that debate.
Over a decade later, the Sinn model 140 automatic chrono was taken into space on the wrist of Reinhard Furrer on the Spacelab D1 Mission. For decades it was assumed that this was the first automatic chronograph ever worn in space, and it shocked the watch collector community when photographs of Col. Pogue wearing a yellow dialed Seiko in the Skylab module surfaced on the web in 2006. As soon as the news broke, prices for 6139s skyrocketed and a whole aftermarket parts network appeared virtually overnight.
The Col. Pogue legacy has transformed the 6139 into a hotly sought after watch, but it’s also worth pointing out the even without Pogue, the 6139 would still be an important watch to chronograph collectors. Seiko released the watch in 1969, and to many of you that year should ring a bell, since it was the year that the world first saw automatic chronographs. Seiko was in a race against Heuer and Zenith to be the first to market, and while we tend to believe Heuer crossed the finish line first, all the brands were truly neck and neck.
If you're a fan of aviation history you'd be hard pressed to find a more interesting and significant timepiece at this price point. Don't miss out on this nice original (not so easy to find these days) example!
For a bit more information on this interesting timepiece, check out our piece on DreamChrono,
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