Breaking down the Seagull 1963 and its ST19 movement

Today we are gonna take a look at the Seagull 1963 ST19 chronograph movement. I have witnessed a rise in interest in Seagull 1963 watches among connoisseurs, which really made me really want to write an article about this movement.

As you might know, the Seagull 1963 wristwatch was one of the first watches which resulted from the ST19 movement. But how did this come together? The original story tells that, in 1960s Switzerland, there were three competing chronograph movement manufacturers: Lemania, Valjoux, and Venus. Venus made the popular Calibre 175 column (or pillar) wheel chronograph movement that was used in several watches in the 1940s and 50s.

Competition in this space was fierce and Venus needed new capital to keep developing and improving their products, so they first tried to sell their existing Cal.175 machinery and designs to the Soviet Union. The Soviets, however, already had the Strela chronograph movement (a copy of Venus’ Cal.150) which meant they weren’t interested. But the Chinese were.

This resulted in the Chinese watch distributors only importing their chronographs from Switzerland, Venus to be specific. Obviously, this increased dependency on the Swiss, didn’t sit easily with the Chinese, especially with world war II going on. This war hindered global trade and on top of that, caused a rise in demand for timepieces which suited military needs. Therefore, the Chinese army decided to test, develop and source Chinese-made wrist watches for air force personnel, known as Project 304.

In 1961 Project 304 assigned the task of developing and producing this air force chronograph to the Tianjin Watch Factory, which had already made a name for itself in China. Tianjin bought the Cal.175 machinery and designs from Venus and then upgraded the original 17-jewel movement to their own 19-jewel ST19 movement. The second round of prototypes was completed in 1963, hence non-Chinese watch enthusiasts refer to this year in the name they gave the watch later on (Seagull 1963). However, in China, the watch remains known as the 304 Airforce Chronograph, named after the project.

By 1965 these watches had met all the requirements and passed all the Ministry’s tests, so an order was placed. 1 year later, 1400 watches were delivered to the Airforce.

Fast forward to 1990 and the Tianjin Watch Factory was promoted to a national level enterprise, which led to the creation of the Tianjin Seagull Corporation in 1992.

In 2003 Seagull resurrected Project 304’s movements and, by 2005, had reissued the first batch of commemorative aviation watches.

Now that we’ve discussed Seagull 1963’s history, it’s time to look at the maturation of the Seagull 1963 chrono. Since the 1963 watch reissue, the movement has been gaining some popularity and following in the watch community. However, some people still argue that Chinese-made watches are unreliable and/or of poor quality. However, this can be taken as an ill-considered statement, as China is one of the best modern watch case makers and in general manufacturers of watches. 

Although many still fall for these unjustified prejudices, more and more watch enthusiasts have come to the conclusion that Chinese manufacturers are in fact capable of producing more than decent timepieces. Due to this rise in recognition, the SeaGull 1963 is one of the most sought-after vintage watches in the industry. It’s a cult classic that remains important yet affordable to this day and an absolute must-have for every (vintage) watch collector. 

Its popularity isn’t surprising, given its design that dates back to the mid-century, authentic roots to the military, and, of course, the fact it’s the best bang for your buck you can get. Despite the high demand by lovers of true vintage timepieces, its price remains reasonable. This is partly due to the watch’s Chinese roots and the stigma around products ‘made in China.

The Seagull 1963 is a military chronograph that aligns itself with the likes of Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Vostok Amphibian, as well as the Rolex Submariner, and Omega Speedmaster. Just like the SeaGull 1963 watch, these watches have affiliations to the military. But unlike these brands, not everyone trusts SeaGull 1963 chronographs due to the stereotypical ideas attached to practically anything that’s made in China. The stigma, however, should be set aside for this watch, given how many people still believe in the timepiece’s appeal and function. A lot of people might reason with the typical “it’s not Swiss” excuse, but this watch certainly deserves to be treated differently.

Given the popularity of this watch, it should be no surprise that several reissued versions have been produced. All reissues inspired by the Seagull 1963 Chrono, are unique in their own ways. So let’s take a look at some of the many reissues, and hopefully make up your mind on which of them would suit your style best.

1. SeaGull 1963 Original reissue

What better reissue is there to kick off with, other than the one that’s often referred to as ‘the original reissue’? Watch enthusiasts have given this watch this name as it’s the timepiece responsible for sparking up the hype around SeaGull 1963. Overall, this watch can be seen as an exceedingly well-balanced watch. This includes quite a quirky design with color combinations which are not particularly the first that would come to mind when creating a timepiece. However, despite the exceptional choice of colors, the overall design of the watch is magnificent. This timepiece references the Seagull 1963 chronograph prototype in a unique way. 

Technically speaking, this watch is not sold by the Tianjin Seagull 1963 itself, as the rights to produce and sell it have been given to 3rd parties. Because of this, plenty of different variations of the Seagull 1963 original reissue have been sold, one of the most common versions of the watch being the “Red Star” 1963. 

The version that’s closest to the original version, is the 38mm version of the seagull 1963 with an acrylic glass. The indexes are also applied, while the sub-dials of the watch are painted, as well as the inscriptions on it. The watch can have either a cream or silver dial. 

This watch, in particular, has a red star outlined in the color yellow, hence the name Red Star. The movement of this watch has either 21 or 19 jewels. The modern version, as you might guess, is the one with 21 jewels. The 19-jeweled version, however, refers to the historical ST19 movement. The words “China – Tianjin Watch Factory” or “Made in China” can be seen underneath, the first inscription being the more accurate one.

2. SeaGull 1963 42mm Reissue

Fueled by the success of the original reissue of the SeaGull 1963 Chrono, a 42mm version of the timepiece was launched. This expanded size came with a few changes on the watch that made it another popular choice among watch enthusiasts. Firstly, the 42mm gives a lot of space and balance on the watch’s dial. This model is also available in panda dial version, as well as the reverse panda dial version, where the dial is black and the sub-dials are white.

There’s no particular reason for this, as this is not something that’s rooted in the history of the watch. However, It seems to simply be a way to give the timepiece a more modern look, as the trend right now is to produce watches with slightly bigger dials, instead of the renowned vintage aesthetic Seagull 1963 watches come with. If you’re into more modern designs and find most Seagull 1963 timepieces too vintage-looking, this could be the perfect reissue for you.

3. Seagull D304

This timepiece features dauphine hands instead of thin ones, which means that the hands are triangular in shape. On the dial, the numbers at 12 and 6 are very boxy, as if imitating a more modern design. This is a huge deviation from its reference with chunky applied markers with the numerals applied evenly every other hour and with different inset sub-dial registers. It has a sapphire crystal and a solid case back with the red star symbol applied to it. 

4. Lume Version

This lume dial Seagull 1963 Chronograph is a reissued version of the Chinese Air force Mechanical Chronograph with a slight twist, a unique and classic masterpiece now searched for by collectors nearly as much as the original. Available with retro acrylic glass and sapphire on front and an exhibition case back. The Movement is an upgraded Seagull st19 movement with Swan Neck Regulator for better regulation. The movement is a Seagull ST19 mechanical (hand-winding) chronograph with 21,600 BPH. The power reserve is about 42 hours on full wind without the chronograph running.

As for the physical characteristics of the watch, the original acrylic glass is changed to arched mineral glass. The button is measured by 5 merkurs test, the flexibility and strength are accurately adjusted, and the pusher feels better. The diamond knife in the middle draws the rough san to shape so that while maintaining the sense of history, it reflects the new level of existing watchmaking technology. All-steel spring straps with close chain. This makes it the standard configuration of global antique watches in the 70s Retro style 10-sided slot. The corroded texture says  ‘Made in China’ in Three large characters, using ring and five-star at the same time, traditional characters and pinyin and other retroelements

Final Thoughts

The history and the sheer amount of reissues made of the Seagull 1963 make this watch into more than just an aesthetic item; these timepieces have a story to tell. More and more watch enthusiasts from all over the world are gaining interest in these Seagull 1963 chrono’s, not only because of the story behind them but also because of the extremely decent quality and affordability these watches come with. However, versions that come with this original seagull 1963 ST19 movement are relatively scarce, as Seagull only makes a limited number available for sale. Due to high demand, there are some watch manufacturers who’re producing imitations of the versions that come with the ST19 Movement, so beware! At Seagull1963.org we have over 7 years of experience with these timepieces, so we are certainly able to distinguish the fake versions of the ST19 Movement from the real ones.

Whether you’re into watches that could be placed in the more vintage part of the watch spectrum or the more modern ones that are perfect for everyday wear, I can guarantee you that there is a SeaGull 1963 reissue that will suit your style. 

Want to learn more about these watches and their specifics? Seagull 1963 watches are what we live and breathe, so feel free to browse our site to learn more about the compelling stories behind some of these timepieces and eventually, how you can become the proud owner of one of these timepieces yourself!