We get asked this question quite often. It is a result of the sheer volume of these 1963 pilot watches on offer that confuses a customer. It is also the result of some competitors claiming to be the original.
But it's a discussion about a topic that doesn't exist! There is no original Chinese pilot's watch from 1963 (Project D304), except for the 1400 pieces produced in 1963. Only these are now valuable collector's items. All of today's pilot watches in the 1963 style with the Seagull ST19 movement are merely reissues.
Our story with the Seagull 1963 (Part 1)
We started selling the Seagull 1963 pilot watches in 2018. We purchased them directly from the Seagull Export Center in Hong Kong. After Seagull was acquired by an investor (2020/21), they "doubled" the price and the watch became unsellable against all other offers from watchmakers to whom Seagull sold their ST19 movement. The only version of the Seagull 1963 pilot's watch offered at the time was a cream dial, acrylic crystal, an ST19 movement without a swan neck and a steel back. A version with a transparent base and a large red logo on the inside was later added. Was this the original?
Maybe, but I would still say no. And why?
The new edition of the pilot's watch from 1963
The question of whether it is an original from 1963 or not no longer arises today.
Seagull reissued their Vintage 1963 in the late 90s and modernized it a bit (36 -> 38mm case, more jewels in the movement etc.). The 1963 design itself was not protected. At the same time, Seagull sold more than 80% of the ST19 movement production to other manufacturers. These ST19 customers also created a re-edition of the 1963 pilot's watch, taking the design and configuration/specification a big step further, unlike Seagull itself.
Today's versions of the Seagull 1963
Until recently, there was NO version of Seagull's 1963 pilot's watch with an ST19 with a swanneck or sapphire crystal or a true transparent back (and no 40 or 42mm case version). But these are the bestsellers!
Some customers interested in purchasing a 1963 watch with this specification ask if it is the original. That is of course not the case. Although some competitors claim "the original" for their watch, there has never been a contemporary "original"! The current landscape of ST19 pilot watches has evolved over time into this multitude of variants.
Further development of the Seagull in 1963
I think that all of these variants/models are a logical evolution of the clever, original idea of the 1963 reissue and a response to customer demand for interesting mechanical chronographs at an entry-level price. The common theme and core value proposition of all these watches is the ST19 movement, which has always been manufactured by Seagull. These 1963 style watches are the result of (sort of) real creativity unlike Seagull which stuck to acrylic/no gooseneck/no transparent back/no 40mm or 42mm cases.
Counterfeit of a counterfeit?
Meanwhile, Seagull has copied these other 1963 watch makers, offering some of the specifications mentioned above and even a 40mm case version (at twice the price). So is this the “original” or a fake of a fake?
For potential buyers of these watches, it is much more important than the question of whether it is a "counterfeit" to find information about the quality of workmanship, reliability, accuracy and availability of service and spare parts. You can find these answers in watch forums and shop reviews.
Our story with the Seagull 1963 (Part 2)
After ending our collaboration with Seagull (2019), we carefully selected a new and quality-oriented manufacturer (not all have this ability). We found a partner whose quality was already much better (no acrylic lenses and pushers that have since fallen off), whose understanding of the demanding Western customers was better, who was responsive and willing to adapt their quality efforts and testing to our requirements, and who had more models and variants at fair prices. This is our offer today. We are happy with our selection of ST 19 chronographs because our customers are happy with these watches.
Conclusion: In the end, the clock counts
An original pilot's watch from 1963 is no longer available today. The discussion about the "original" is useless and just clever marketing to justify a higher price.
Which aspects should be relevant to the customer's decision-making process? It's about figuring out the difference in quality, the warranty and service offered, and (!) how much effort and communication it would take to return a watch or get warranty or service.
If you can check these boxes, you'll most likely get a nice, reliable watch and a provider that won't run away when service is needed.
*(we insisted on a glass back and got one with a large red stamp on the inside which obstructs the view of the movement)