A Car Designer’s Accidental Movie Icon – Giugiaro’s “Ripley” Watch.

People Culture

It's not just beautiful cars that have been designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Giorgetto Giugiaro is one of the most respected automotive designers in the world. The Italian has been responsible for the Lotus Esprit, Maserati Ghibli, Merak and Bora, the Alfasud, Golf MK1 and the Fiat Dino Coupe amongst others.

Giugiaro Golf

However, Giugiaro is not just a car designer and has also put his hand to various other designs, such as camera bodies for Nikon, a new pasta shape “Marille” and even a very special commission from the Japanese watch manufacturer, Seiko.

Giugiaro sketching

Seiko have a long tradition of watch making and are respected for producing ultra-reliable timepieces for diving, sports and leisure. Seiko realised they had a gap in their range and commissioned Giugiaro to design a serious watch for motor sport usage. He immediately went for a chronograph movement and dial as the perfect design for this purpose. However, often the buttons for a chronograph are set on the case at a 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock position with the watch crown between them.

Giugiaro came at this from a different angle and decided to move the Chrono buttons to a block on the side of the case. To match Seiko’s design brief the Italian also made them chunky, so a race driver could start the chronograph more easily, whilst wearing race gloves; and also to prevent the buttons being accidently pushed during vigorous driving. This gave the watch design a unique look.

Seiko by Giugiaro

The timepiece also needed a hardwearing aspect to it and this was achieved by using a Teflon coating on the case and bracelet; it was the first time this technique had ever been used by Seiko. The result was a beautiful and almost futuristic matt look to the watch.

The Seiko 7a28-7000 designed by Giugiaro, was finally launched to the public in 1983 as part of the Speedmaster line and filled the motorsport gap in Seiko’s watch range. What happened next is somewhat lost in the folklore of Hollywood.

Seiko watches have featured in many iconic films such as Commando and The Running Man (Arnie’s Seiko H558), Predator (Seiko H558-5000), Back to the Future (Doc’s A826) Apocalypse Now (Martin Sheen’s Seiko 6105), Ghostbusters (Seiko Voice Note) and many of the Roger Moore era Bond films such as Octopussy (the Seiko TV watch).

James Cameron, the Canadian director, screenwriter and producer, had been offered the follow up to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 film Alien, based upon a cracking script being produced and 20th Century Fox seeing excellent box office figures for The Terminator. The Arnold Schwarzenegger epic was released in 1984 to great acclaim and Fox green lit the Aliens project.

The Aliens world was hugely shaped by Cameron’s directorial vision, with Syd Mead helping on the early concept art, having also worked on Blade Runner and Tron in 1982. Cameron is well known for his love of watches and, at some point, the Seiko 7a28-7000 designed by Giugiaro, was spotted as a fantastic match to the look and feel of the world Cameron was creating.

Ripley watch

In researching this article I contacted Seiko’s PR department in Japan who did some enquiries on my behalf with some long serving members of staff. Apparently nobody could give a clear answer on how the watches ended up in the hands of the Aliens production crew. Seiko said that in the 1980’s media exposure of their brand was not recorded as well as it is now. The filming of Aliens took place in Pinewood Studios and a decommissioned power plant in Acton, London; so could the watches have been ordered through a local watch shop near Pinewood or Acton?

Ripley's Seiko watch

The number of watches purchased by the team is also unknown; however a matt silver version of the Giugiaro Seiko was worn by Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the 1986 film and is now fondly known in watch collecting circles as the “Ripley”. There is also a black version which many say was worn by the android Bishop in the film.

So the Seiko 7a28-7000 – originally designed by Giugiaro as a specialist watch for motor sport – suddenly overnight became one of the most iconic film watches of 1986. It has since become a highly prized and desirable item for watch and film buffs, with original era watches, in good condition selling for several thousands of pounds.

Aliens movie poster

With thanks to “The Urban Gentry” watch YouTube channel and Seiko PR