All watch enthusiasts appreciate a storied timepiece. As passionate purveyors of obsolete timekeeping technology, it is simply in our nature to put a value on the history of our prized mechanical watches as well as the quality and craftsmanship behind them. This is why feats of human endurance for which our timepieces have been present and have withstood (even if they aren’t our specific timepieces, or our personal feats of endurance) mean so much to us. These are the stories that sell Submariners and Seamasters by the truckload.
Of course, nautical feats aren’t the only ones to capture the attention of watch enthusiasts; there is also the sky and the stars. Aviation and space exploration have long been the stuff dreams are made of, and even in the modern age of regular commuter flights, automated drones, supersonic jet fighters and impending commercial space travel, man’s ascent into the heavens still captivates the imagination. Timepieces have, of course, been designed to aid man in these exploits since the last world war, and collectors lust after purpose-built models with a genuine connection to the history of flight.
Amongst the Rolex GMT Masters, Breitling Cosmonautes and Omega Speedmasters which collectors prize, there is also the Sinn 140 which is sought after by collectors because it was the first automatic chronograph known to be worn in space on the wrist of German Astronaut Reinhard Furrer during the Spacelab D1 mission in 1985. To this day, Sinn is generally recognized for being the first automatic chronograph used in space, and enjoys plenty of popularity and collector loyalty for that achievement.
Interestingly, over twenty years after the Spacelab D1 mission, it came to light that Sinn was in fact not the first automatic chronograph worn in space – that honor goes to a cheap, mass produced, ‘70s Seiko. The discovery occurred in 2007 when an eagle-eyed timepiece enthusiast spotted a 6139-6002 on the wrist of Colonel Pogue, an astronaut on a NASA mission dubbed Skylab 4. After an investigation and correspondence with the retired astronaut, suspicions were confirmed, forever changing the history of timepieces and the Space Program.
In 1973, Colonel William Pogue brought his Seiko 6139 Automatic Chronograph on board the Skylab 4 mission as part of his personal kit. He had purchased the watch from the PX at Ellington AFB, and although the watch wasn’t Flight-Approved by NASA, he was allowed to bring it on the flight.
The Skylab 4 mission was manned by Pogue, along with astronauts Gerald Carr and Edward Gibson, and was the third and final manned mission on the United States’ first space station. During the 84-day flight, the astronauts performed experiments pertaining to human endurance in zero gravity, along with observation of the earth, sun, and the Comet Kohoutek. While the mission was ultimately a success, the Skylab project was scrapped as NASA’s shuttle program got underway.
Although the 6139 was never formally approved for mission use, Pogue stated that his operated flawlessly during his time in space. While he never performed an EVA Spacewalk with the Seiko on his wrist (he used a NASA approved Speedmaster Professional for that task), he did use the Seiko to time engine burns. As his story goes, he had been training with the Seiko for six months to a year before the mission launched, as he hadn’t been issued his Speedmaster until late in the process, and had grown familiar with the Seiko, so brought it along without seeking official approval from the NASA brass.
Technically speaking, the Seiko 6139-6002 is a very simple timepiece, and was Seiko’s first attempt at making a mass-produced automatic chronograph model. The watch has a 30-minute counter in a single subsidiary register located at 6 o’clock, along with a day and date indicator at 3 o’clock, but lacks any additional registers and a sweep seconds function. Most notably, the 6139-6002 features an internally rotating bezel with tachymetre scale, operated via the crown. The 6139 range was offered with a variety of case shapes and dial variations, but the yellow-dialed version you see here has become the most iconic.
The discovery of the “Pogue Connection” prompted a buying frenzy amongst collectors back in 2007, and values on 6139s doubled just about overnight. Colonel Pogue decided to sell his personal watch at auction in 2008, hammering for just under $6000 (all proceeds went to Astronaut Scholarship Foundation).
Today, values on “standard” 6139s are still some of the best in the market when it comes to vintage chronographs. Due to their mass production, decent original examples can be found for $400-$500. Rougher examples, and pieces with aftermarket replacement parts are very commonly found for about half that. Regardless, a 6139 is a great affordable point of entry for a beginning collector, and the watches have a genuine (albeit unofficial) connection to the Space Program.