Discovering Seiko’s first professional mountaineer’s watch

Re-writing Seiko history by discovering the explorer's watch that went on a Japanese Himalayan Expedition to Gyachung Kang Mountain

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By: Charlie Dunne

When independently published books are published, it is paramount to support the authors who've taken it upon themselves to contribute to the research in horology. Chris Dahlman's debut publication This Is Gyachung explores the fascinating story of the 1964 Japanese Himalayan Expedition to Gyachung Kang mountain.

Upon acquiring a Seiko Silverwave in 2018, Dahman noticed a mysterious caseback engraving that would serve as the impetus to discovering Seiko's first mountaineering and purpose-built expedition watch, and ultimately, rewriting the brand's history.

Researching the footsteps of the expeditioners, Dahlman traced back their stories through a combination of internet research, primary source material, and communication with individuals halfway across the world.

His love of watches traces back to his father’s Seiko 5. Describing the watch as having a profound impression on him, it soon became a genre that he would revisit. He soon got into watches himself by purchasing a SRP 777 Turtle. “I wanted to get a mechanical watch after college to reward myself,” he writes. The watch, costing $400-$500 at the time, was an “extravagant purchase” for him.

Dahlman's Seiko collection that would be the foundation to seeking out his Seiko Silverwave. From left to right: Seiko SRP777, Seiko 6105-8000, and Seiko 6105-8110

He solidified his passion for vintage watches with Vietnam-era Seikos 6105s. Dahlman would eventually acquire two versions taking him further down the rabbit hole towards the 6217-8000 (aka the 62MAS). While the 62MAS is where many Seiko collectors' interest ends, his interest continued backward. The 62MAS would mark Seiko's first professional diver.

Prior to the publication of his book, the 62MAS was also thought to be the first professional extreme sports and adventure watch. That was until Dahlman discovered the Seiko Silverwave’s connection to the Gyachung Kang Expedition.

With a solid grasp on vintage Seiko collecting, Dahlman would find an attraction in Seiko Silverwave. “One of the things that I really love about the Silverwave is the angular 1960s style case. I am a case person. I love admiring the profile and angles. The old Grand Seikos have brilliant angular cases. Like 60’s Grand Seiko, Silverwaves have a lot to appreciate,” he told us.

The author acquired the watch in February of 2018, soon deciding to dedicate his time to research the Silverwave. “I wanted to contribute to the community, and I decided presenting this story to the world as a book would be the best possible way of doing that. The fact that it landed in the lap of someone with the interest, determination, and abilities to present the story that way was an unlikely coincidence.” 

Dahlman's journey into the Gyachung Kang Expedition involved blindly searching for Gyachung Kang-related documents and screening translations of webpages. Eventually, he came across the Japanese Alpine Club’s annual journal of 1965. Some 30 pages of text and a handful of photos were included in the expedition report, and with translation apps, Dahlman was able to piece together more leads. He was able to accumulate enough primary resource material to trace back the lost story. “Every book contributed to the final product,” he said.

Eventually, he would reach out to multiple individuals involved in the expedition. While much of the research was done, Dahlman emphasized that speaking with the individuals involved in the expedition was the pinnacle of the project.

“Communicating with the expedition members were some of the most rewarding experiences from this journey. Along with graciously taking my questions about the watch and expedition, they contributed to the Gyachung Kang map by improving my plotted expedition route and camp locations. All three men were presented with a copy of the map. I was very happy and proud to have accomplished that,” he said.

Dahlman's interest in cartography began while in the Army. “I had enlisted in the Army, working as a computer cartographer, and later pursued a degree in Geographic Information Science and Geography. The skills I developed from the Army and at university are what enabled me to conduct thorough research, and put together a book.”

“Before interacting with the expedition members it was hard for me to place a watch I had in my hand into black and white photographs of men and mountains. I knew it was real, I had proven it, but this whole thing didn’t feel real. After communicating with the expedition members, the writing and photographs became vividly alive and personal to me. The mental block was gone, and this object fell into the story.”

Incorporated into the later chapters are Eastern masks creating a dramatic effect rarely invoked in watch books. “The masks are part of Noh theater, which is a traditional Japanese stage drama. Before I even had the idea of using the masks, the Noh storytelling structure and methods had an influence on the project. The sections of the book, and the dramatic arc, are my attempt to present the story in the format of Noh. While completing the text, there were pages I left blank because I felt there was something profound that I hadn’t yet discovered. These blank pages were where the Noh masks would later be placed. I’m very happy that the International Noh Institute was able to match the characters and emotions I had described to them with Noh mask photographs. It was a wonderful collaborative experience.”

While ultimately this appears to be a watch book on the surface, it is much more. There are certainly specs for the watch geeks, but you will quickly get drawn into the stories of these individuals. As was the author’s intention, the watch doesn’t necessarily need to be the focal point. Although it most certainly plays a role after the reader is introduced to it. 

“This book is my answer to the question ‘Why do I collect?’ It’s an object, but it can be so much more. It’s about people and experiences.”

This is Gyachung is available on Amazon in paperback ($45.00) as well as a hardcover edition ($95.00)

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