Why I Bought Bruce Lee’s Watch

Bruce Lee during a press conference, September 1971.South China Morning Post / Getty Images

There’s a lot you can speculate about Bruce Lee from his choice of Seiko: Ferrell points out that the 6139 was far from a cheap watch—it would’ve retailed for around $200 in the early ‘70s, roughly the same price as a Rolex Submariner in that era. Eschewing typical Western status symbols in favor of a timepiece designed and built entirely in Asia, then, might’ve been a pointed statement as Bruce struggled to gain traction as a leading man in Hollywood. There’s no question, though, why so many Asian Americans are chasing the 6139-6010 today.

“We truly only had one person,” says Will Yun Lee, whose father competed at martial arts tournaments alongside Bruce in the late ‘60s. “At that time, Bruce was the one Asian figure brave enough and bold enough to not follow in anyone’s footsteps. What takes him to another level of icondom, much like Muhammad Ali, is that he was the full package: a cinematic hero, a philosophical hero, a style hero. And growing up, I wanted to imitate him in every possible way.”

Yang-Yi’s personal Seiko 6139-6010 Automatic ChronographCourtesy of Yang-Yi Goh
Yang-Yi’s personal Seiko 6139-6010 Automatic ChronographCourtesy of Yang-Yi Goh

For Ronny Chieng, wearing his Seiko onstage is a way to channel some of that energy in a marginally subtler way than “frickin’ dressing like Kill Bill,” he joked. “It really gives me an extra swagger,” Chieng says. “It reminds me of Bruce Lee’s struggle to express himself authentically, which is the goal of stand-up comedy. You want to get to the truth of the matter, express yourself unfiltered and honestly, and bring joy to people—which I think is what he was trying to do, too. That’s something anybody can take inspiration from. But then as a Chinese person in America? As a Chinese creative, a Chinese performer in America? It’s too much. It’s too much. You just wear it and you get it.”

I do get it. Last autumn, I pulled the trigger on a pristine Seiko 6139-6010 from Ferrell’s stable, complete with a very similar rally strap to Bruce’s own—the back-up, in fact, to the bracelet Ferrell had sourced for Daniel Dae Kim. For the first time in my life, I understood the appeal of wearing a serious timepiece: the weight of it, the precise engineering, that stark but striking dial. It snaps all of my looks sharply into focus—my fits instantly feel a touch more considered, more finished, more grown-up. At a time when being Asian in America has never felt more fraught or complicated, that connection to Bruce Lee’s unwavering, unrelenting self-belief really does give me a jolt every time I slip it on. I stand a little taller and feel a little braver. It reminds me that I belong exactly where I am and that nobody can tell me otherwise. I feel powerful. And it’s proof, above all, of that greatest of all truths: Mom always knows best.

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