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Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches

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Ron Good
June 20, 2011 08:39AM
Much of what I'm writing here was first contained in a response to a question on the WatchuSeek board, but since the Tianjin/Sea-Gull watch company currently manufactures a full one-quarter of all the world's mechanical and automatic watch movements, and since the ST-5 movement watches are the most common---and most reliable--of the available vintage pieces from Tianjin/Sea-Gull, I'm hoping people here at PMWF will find the information useful.

Also: the Sea-Gull brand was Tianjin's (and China's) first export brand which is why most (almost all) Sea-Gull watches have English on the dial. In other words, these ST-5 watches mark the beginning of the advance of Chinese watchmakers into the world market.

Current prices on Ebay and Taobao vary from roughly $40 to for an ST-5a (no date) to...well, up to a $200 or $300 for a ST5-D full automatic in great shape...and that's up markedly from only a year ago. A year ago, full true vintage ST-5Ds were not common, but they were available for under $100 even on Ebay and much less on Taobao. But pricing on Taobao has risen due to increased interest and activity from North American and European buyers.

The good news is that on Taobao or Ebay, good and apparently legitimate NOS ST-5a (mechanical/no-date) or ST-5b (mechanical/slow date) watches are still available for roughly $50.00 and although they lack the water resistance of, say, a Vostok, they're still excellent quality watches: accurate and very durable and easily matching or beating the quality of many of the entry and lower-mid level watches available from, say, Switzerland of the same era.

The bad news is that fully legitimate ST5 watches are getting harder to find at good prices and, just as has happened with Soviet watches, there are greater numbers of frankens, refits and refurbs coming to market to fill market demand, so the following is my best effort at describing what to look for, as well as pointers to other resources to bring yourself up to speed.

And I'll also ask that you not think of fakes and franken vintage pieces as a primarily Chinese problem. As I've mentioned---and as experienced buyers already know---the same issues exist in vintage pieces from Russia certainly, but also exist everywhere in the vintage watch market.

I'll deal in order with parts and condition...then wrap up.

The general problem is that it can be very hard to tell unless you take the time to become familiar...
  • which pieces are even possibly entirely legitimate (and there are some which look totally correct to me),
  • which are instead entirely cobbled together from spare parts or
  • which are refurbished (and a sometimes entertaining and attractive) mix of both.
...and that means it's unfortunately very hard for me to say for sure if any of these "are great true collector pieces" even when and if I like them for other reasons. If you ask me about a specific piece I will happily provide an opinion, but I accept no responsibility. As a personal policy, I never bid on pieces I am asked about and will let you know immediately if I already have before being asked.

First, dials:
  • I think the Sea-Gull dials are _mostly _ legitimate NOS, especially if they are white or black.

ST-5a dials...

ST-5b dial

  • If they are coloured, it's possible (but not certain) they're legitimate from the 80s as many Chinese brands were trying similar dial treatments and especially the iridescent (sorta striped coloured pearlish) dials are just not that cheap an option to fake. In any case, I have a couple of them and like them just because they're colourful and fun.

ST-5a coloured dial...

  • The Sea-Gull "to serve the people/为人民服务" are, in my opinion, not at all real. Instead, I am quite convinced the 为人民服务 has been added later, both because of brightness and because I think it highly unlikely that anybody in the 70s/early 80s thought a classic Maoist slogan would be a great idea on a watch intended for export primarily to an English North American market, even allowing for a subtle sense of humour.
  • (As an aside, I have seen a couple of what I think are very legitimate DongFeng with the slogan, but the red was faded almost to non-existence, and started off being---in my view---a much thinner more delicate printing anyways...and the slogan was historically current for the production times and appropriate to the overall condition of the DongFeng).

ST-5d automatic dial...

  • Very recently I have seen a couple of dials with extra Dongfeng, Tianjin or Sea-Gull logos additional and below the hands to where I would normally see the classic "enclosed wings" logo at the top. My opinion: avoid.

Second, crowns:

I won't buy any VCM Sea-Gull or DongFeng or Tianjin watches without signed crowns if I'm considering them as a collector's pieces unless I think the watches are rare enough to justify looking for a replacement crown. If the seller doesn't show the crown, assume there's a reason.

Sea-Gull crown shot...

Third, case backs:

Sea-Gull case backs should be the classic and beautiful Sea-Gull design. And on a Sea-Gull, it should be Sea-Gull and not Tianjin or DongFeng characters. (In my opinion, on a DongFeng it should be Dongfeng characters, and on Tianjin: nothing or Tianjin, depending on stuff we won't cover here).

Sea-Gull ST-5 casebacks...

Note that mechanical and automatic case backs are somewhat different. Automatic case backs generally need a small bulge to enclose the larger rotor mechanism. If a watch has a larger bulging caseback but it's not automatic, check the movement for a missing rotor assembly. Some sellers clearly note this discrepancy and in those cases there is some suggestion these were actually released from the factory as such.

ST-5d automatic caseback...

Fourth, movements:

There are three main movement types in the Sea-Gull ST-5 family. Most are decorated by hand (striped) and they are all produced fully in-house.
  • ST-5a (mechanical/no-date/19 jewel---should be striped)

  • ST-5b (mechanical/slow-date/19 jewel---should be striped)

  • ST-5d (automatic/date/29 jewel---should have rotor) ...also called a "c" according to normal Chinese nomenclature, but Sea-Gull always (as far as I know) referred to it as D.

Important note: If the ST-5D movement has two small holes that serve no purpose on the triangular train bridge it's an automatic with a missing rotor assembly (and the listing sometimes sorta alludes to that). Evidently, some of these watches may have---may have---originated from the factory like that, but the jury is still out.

  • If the movement is partially striped and partially not striped, I think it's a refurbish or piece-together.

a cobbled/mixed parts movement for comparison:

The gist of it is that the change to striped Sea-Gull mechanical movements seems to have occurred slightly before Sea-Gull became a brand...in other words, some of the more familiar people on the forums think the change to striped happened during the later DongFeng (but pre Sea-Gull) period along with a change in beat rate. Un-striped Dongfeng ST5s are generally etched/signed with the DongFeng characters (see the threads) but there may have been some factory cross-over during the transition period.


For ST-5 dials, cases, hands and so on, also check these fine links at MicMicMor (Joel Chan's groundbreaking research website):

Also check this informative thread with clear photos from WUS forum poster TO_ARCH, and WUS forum poster Martin_B for more details on these watches.

Overall condition:

NOS: may not be a complete NOS watch. may instead be made from NOS parts of varying and sometimes even reject quality. This is not generally a problem with ST-5 models but it is a big problem with ST-7s (separate subject but still, worth a warning).


Note: There is one very dominant seller of ST5s on Ebay right now. I have watches from this seller that run beautifully, and yet I have heard of watches from this seller (especially apparent ST-7 cobbles) that are just plain poor.

That said, speaking only for myself, every ST-5 I have received from the seller was a decent runner and was well within normal operating specs that I'd expect from a useful NOS or vintage mechanical Sea-Gull. But that doesn't mean it's true NOS, and/or it doesn't mean it's a truly complete legitimate vintage piece...it only means it runs quite well and looks good. In other words, it seems to me that his ST-5s have quite decent (but not perfect) overall quality control and there are a number I think are fully legit.

All my dealings with the seller have been very friendly, timely and co-operative but I have had no experience with refunds, exchanges or badly working pieces so I just can't speak to how that would go. Also, I expect the seller and I could diplomatically come to an arrangement if I was personally unhappy but, again, I don't know for sure. So...caveat emptor, and Ebay has its own dispute processes and protections that exist but I haven't used them.

So...I generally see this seller's ST5 pieces as all-Chinese and as Sea-Gull conversation pieces but not always as "collector's pieces". That's because, given what I see as inconsistencies, I can't verify them as complete and accurate even though I think a substantial sub-section of what he sells are exactly what he says.

I will say this: in my experience with the watches sold by any Ebay and Taobao sellers I have encountered, the photos _are_ the watch you get. That's a good thing.

Your mileage, however, may vary. So check the photos carefully...and I always save the actual listings as a complete HTML page (file/save page as complete) when I buy so I can make a claim if what I receive is not what was pictured.


Note: if two watches look quite identical but have differing prices,it's only reasonable to assume some difference in overall quality or condition. Examine very carefully.


  1. NOS...may or may not be. Be careful. Overall quality, however, will likely be good and these pieces may even be preferable as daily wearers.
  2. Pre-owned...much safer for future collector's value but that means condition can vary and condition always impacts future value. Judge as you would any normal vintage piece. May need servicing but the quality can be astonishing.

I look forward to what other ST-5 buyers have to add.

Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 06/20/2011 04:04PM by AlbertaTime.

Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches Jpeg Attachments URL

Ron Good11302June 20, 2011 08:39AM

Re: Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches

WilliamCabrera90October 11, 2013 06:48AM

I don't know. It was gift from another collector Frowning, Sad (n/t)

Anonymous User60October 11, 2013 05:48PM

Re: Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches

WilliamCabrera103July 27, 2013 06:44AM

Thank you! (n/t)

Anonymous User65July 29, 2013 12:33AM

Re: Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches

Anonymous User121February 05, 2013 05:23AM

That's what got me interested in the first place smile I can't resist shooting my own mouth off though LOL! (n/t)

Ed Brandwein267March 08, 2012 04:00PM

I hoped it might help your article!! smile Go for it...I look forward. (n/t)

Anonymous User233March 08, 2012 09:37PM

Re: Sticky Post Identifying legitimate ST-5 movement Sea-Gull watches Jpeg Attachments

Anonymous User335October 16, 2011 06:08AM

Awesome, thanks a lot >>>

Need_Omega221October 11, 2011 09:08PM

Wonderful!...they're very reliable pieces. (n/t)

Anonymous User302October 12, 2011 02:39AM

A very good topic, helpful and interesting!Thumbs up!Smile (n/t)

IF276June 21, 2011 01:14PM

Thumbs up! This is the best post I have ever read...

saskwatch336June 20, 2011 03:48PM

+1 clapping Way to go Ron Thumbs Up (n/t)

Reto266June 21, 2011 04:07AM

Re: your two "Tianjin" ST-5s... (Additional info on Tianjin-branded ST-5 models) URL

Anonymous User410June 20, 2011 07:00PM

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