Vintage 1980s Seiko 5 Watch

Vintage 1980s Seiko 5 Watch

Richard Brown





It is 1989, and I find myself stationed on a desert island off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea. I am waiting for a beige camouflage Lockheed C130 to land, carrying a crucial diplomatic bag. I glance down at the stark white dial of my new Seiko 5 7009-316J, adjust my mind to the new concept of the 24-hour clock, and look up to spot the aircraft due in at 15:45hrs.

How and where did I find this watch?

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” - Credit WatchGecko

Astonishingly, this is the only Seiko I have ever owned. I bought it because I needed a decent watch. As I mentioned in a much earlier feature, I arrived in The Gulf in 1988 with a watch that died due to harsh conditions. The military shop on the island had several fine Seikos for sale, and I liked the robust dial on this particular model. It was about £100, and I remember it seemed like quite a lot of money (gosh, how times have changed), but I was assured that this variant would stand up to punishment and see me through my time in Oman.

Several things stood out on the model and still do today. I desired, but could not afford, a Rolex at the time, and the Seiko reminded me of the simple dial that I longed for on classic steel Rolex Oyster tool watches. I admired the Seiko's 24-hour track, which I needed and its very bold black outline luminous hands. It was automatic, a new creature to me, and I remember holding it in the shop and falling in love with the effortlessly smooth sweep of the seconds hand.

The Seiko 5 7009-316J is often called the "Military" simply because of the 24-hour track and ultra-clear legibility. It was also part of a collection called "Sultans" in the Middle East because the day text alternates between Arabic and English. As a new Arabist, it was interesting to have it set on Arabic script and learn how to read the day in a foreign language.

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” - Credit WatchGecko

2023, and the Seiko 5 is rediscovered

As we were considering a vintage Seiko feature, I wore this watch all of last week to see if it could be a candidate, and I completely fell in love with it again. The dial is still beautiful, clear and purposeful, and the white is almost iridescent. Let's take a closer look at this truly excellent vintage Seiko, which 34 years later, I still recommend you seek out on the pre-owned market.

The Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”

This Seiko 5 has a 36mm case which wears large at full diameter leading to a narrow look – typically a 1970s design. The proportions are so different to modern sports watches that it may look a little odd to a younger audience but I think the retro styling resonates today.

Like so many Seiko watches of the era, it retains the tiny 10mm lug width, which means that in the event of a strap failure, I am locked into an aftermarket Seiko bracelet. It has a screw-down case back and a 4 o'clock position push-in crown. The watch claims to be water resistant, without any depth rating given, and I can't testify to that, having fallen off a boat with it on.

The indices batons are raised and polished on either side with a black central inset to make them stand out and compliment the black outline hands. The monotone colour palette on the watch is so effective that it's tough to see how Seiko could improve on it.

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” - Credit WatchGecko

The watch is fitted with Seiko's 7009A movement, which has 17 jewels and lots of interesting features which you would expect to find in more expensive watches. This calibre was used until the late 80s, so my watch must be one of the last to have it fitted; subsequent models succeeded by the 7S26.

The 17 jewel movement is simple but robustly constructed. It has no hand winding capability and benefits from an excenter regulator as found in more high-end brands such as IWC and Longines.

The watch has a day-date complication. The date is adjusted by pulling the crown out in the conventional method; however the day is adjusted by pushing the spring-loaded crown with each push flipping the data wheel round. You must do two pushes depending on whether you want the watch to cycle in Arabic or English.

It has a pallet lever escapement and a Glucydur balance which is superior at resisting high temperatures. The watch benefits from Seiko's proprietary Dia-Shock protection, and the rotor has a counterclockwise wind and a very reassuring wobble when you wear the watch.

Originally the watch offered a 43-hour power reserve, and according to my research, the movement was developed in the early 1970s.

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” - Credit WatchGecko

Only rediscovering this watch last week, I felt quite embarrassed that I had not been wearing it, and I had an emotional pang when I put it on. This was, after all, my first proper watch. At the time, I was becoming a huge James Bond fan, and to anybody who knows Ian Fleming's novels you will note there are many references to Bond glancing at the luminescence of his dial when he is stuck in some dark, horrible place. Until now, I had never had a watch with proper luminescence; everything previous had faded within a few hours, so I distinctly recall the first night of ownership, waking during the night and seeing the soft green glow from the indices and the hands. I suspect the lume is Seiko's Lumibrite as it has never developed a patina, a well-known Lumibrite characteristic. 

It sparked a lifelong fascination with luminescence, so much so that I have just penned a feature on everything you need to know about luminescence!

I will never sell this watch because it's beautiful and represents a time in my life when I first appreciated watches. This Seiko 5 has a few marks, including a reasonably sizable scratch on the Hardlex glass between the 10 and 11 markers, but that is just part of its charm.

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan”Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” - Credit WatchGecko

You can pick up these bilingual Seiko 5s in fine condition for anything between £100 and £200 (US$190 - $250) online. Perhaps with the advent of Grand Seiko and Prospex ranges, these simple watches have become overshadowed, but they have an undeniable charm and are bulletproof. The Seiko 5 is a legend, and I am thrilled to have rediscovered mine. Never again will it lurk in the dark recesses of my watch drawer.

Seiko 5 7009-316J “Sultan” Specifications:

  • Case and bracelet material - Stainless Steel
  • Movement - Seiko 7009A, pallet lever escapement, Glucydur balance, Dia-Shock protection, 43-hour power reserve 
  • Diameter - 36mm (Dial 30.5mm)
  • Glass - Hardlex Crystal
  • Lume - Possibly Lumibrite
  • Weight - 91g
  • Complications - Date and day (alternating between English and Arabic)
  • Cost new - £100 (in 1989), to buy now IRO £100-£200 depending on condition


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Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

About the Author: Richard Brown

I truly believe one of the best partners in exploration and adventure is a fine watch. Over 30 years of collecting, my fascination with the technical capabilities of both vintage and modern timepieces has never abated and it is a privilege to be able to share this passion through writing.

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