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Are Bulova Watches Good? A Closer Look at the Best Models

Posted on September 17 2020

The story of Bulova watches is a story of innovation. Created in the late 1800s, Bulova was there at the birth of flight and collaborated with NASA on the moon landings (see more about space watches here). Bulova was an industry leader with a reputation for innovative solutions. Their watches have proven themselves in ocean depths and in space. There’s is a story of world-firsts and cutting-edge designs.

Why are Bulova watches good?

To answer this question we need to go back to the brand’s beginnings. To the 1870s - a time of progress, risk-taking and opportunity. In this environment, Joseph Bulova opened his watch shop in downtown New York. From the outset, Bulova strived for mechanical perfection and by 1912 he had a Swiss factory mass-producing watches - a standardised practice new to watchmaking.

The notable creations and advancements came thick and fast. The 1920s saw Bulova air the first-ever radio advert. A year later they produced a watch with Charles A. Lindbergh to celebrate his solo crossing of the Atlantic.

 

Bulova Accutron Advert

 


The 30s saw the introduction of their popular rectangular watches and another world first when they ran a TV advert on the day commercial advertising was permitted. Progress continued as they created clocks for sports arenas and watchmaking schools for injured veterans.

Bulova’s two biggest innovations were to follow. The Accutron watch and the Lunar Pilot.

Launched in 1960, the Accutron was an electronic watch that used a tuning fork to regulate the time - it was far more accurate than the mechanical watches currently available.

This is where we pick up the story. I’d like to share a selection of my favourite Bulova watches, with a strong emphasis on the historically significant models. Importantly, I’ve stuck with models that are currently in production - pieces of history that you can have on your wrist today.

 

Bulova Lunar Pilot Watch

 

Of all the Bulova range, this for many is the brand’s high-point.

1971’s Apollo 15 mission was interesting for Bulova fans because the mission’s commander Dave Scott damaged his officially supplied Omega Speedmaster during EVA-2, a lunar walk (more on the Speedmaster here). During EVA-3 he wore a backup Bulova chronograph prototype that he’d agreed to test out for a friend. This was the only privately owned watch to reach the moon’s surface and it subsequently sold at auction for $1.6m.

Bulova released a quartz remake of this watch and it’s been a big hit. It’s a chunky watch, with a diameter of 45mm. The styling is like that of the watch Scott wore - as pictured when he saluted the American flag.

It’s an authentic recreation of a classic space watch, available for a fraction of the price of its Omega rival.

  • Lunar Pilot 96B258
  • 45mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

Bulova Fly Me to the Moon


In direct contrast to the Lunar Pilot, I’ve chosen to highlight a watch from the companies recent releases. A model from the diverse Frank Sinatra line. Rather than demonstrating Bulova’s prowess in producing affordable tool watches, I wanted to show the other side of the coin. The artistic side of the brand.

Bulova has a history with Sinatra, having sponsored his TV show and this collection references that golden period of the 1950s and 1960s. Each watch is named after a Sinatra song, with the Fly Me to the Moon and The Best is Yet to Come being my personal favourites.

This model is a classically styled dress watch, with a decidedly vintage aesthetic. Of the case and dial options, this black and stainless steel combination works best for me. Powered by a Miyota automatic movement and with a lizard grain strap, this version has an attractively textured dial with Sinatra’s signature on the lower half.

Nice touches include the exhibition case back and the Fedora Hat etched on the crown.

  • Fly Me to the Moon
  • 39mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

Bulova Hack Watch

 

Bulova has a longstanding relationship with the US military. Not just as a watch supplier, but as we noted earlier, they also ran a watchmaking school to help retrain injured veterans (read more here).

The Hack is a remake of a classic Bulova military watch (see more about reissued watches here). With that in mind, the design is very much as expected. It’s a mid-sized, mechanical watch with no unnecessary design features.

It’s legible, has a 12/24hr dial and an easily replaceable leather strap.

There’s nothing I don’t like about this watch. It’s authentic, has good specs and is sized to be practical and unobtrusive

  • Hack 96A246
  • 38mm Diameter
  • 13.5mm Thick
  • 18mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Domed Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

Oceanographer Devil Diver Watch

 

When Bulova pushed the limits of a divers watch to 666ft, the Devil Diver was born.

Described by Bulova as a tribute to their 1970s Oceonographer this is a slightly modern twist on the watch dubbed the Devil Diver. Like the Lunar Pilot, it’s another chunky workhorse of a watch - albeit with more colour and flair. There are three variations available, each with distinctive colouring.

With the retro cushion case and dial this ticks the boxes for a reissue. The sapphire crystal has a box magnifying lens over the date window which isn’t a common feature. The same can be said of the lume filled tubes that are used for the hour markers. Both are nice features that catch the eye.

Whilst not a unique design, it’s great at what it was set out to achieve. An affordable retro-styled diver with a colourful back story.

  • Oceanographer Devil Diver 96B321
  • 44mm Diameter
  • 15mm Thick
  • 19mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 

Bulova Surveyor Watch

 

This next model has neither an interesting back story nor any groundbreaking features. Indeed, it is something of a Rolex Day-Date homage that I previously included in my article here. Even the name lacks something when compared to the ‘Devil Diver’. Surveyor just doesn’t quite sound as exciting.

So why have I selected this watch?

For two reasons. Firstly, I really like the design. It may not be original, but it is a classic style and this plainer version of the day-date is a tried and tested look.
Bulova has done it very well.

Secondly, it demonstrates the variety in the Bulova catalogue. This is a list of the best Bulova watches based on my tastes. I’ve included nothing from the Curv, Futuro, Marine Star and Precisionist lines. I want to show what Bulova can do when producing a dress watch.

Like the classic styling, the sizing is also as we’d expect. It’s 39mm - a nice mid-size that keeps the watch with a foot in both the modern and vintage camps. It’s a quartz watch with a very simple design - this silver version being among the plainest of the colour options.

The Surveyor is a good place to start with the brand.

  • Surveyor 96C127
  • 39mm Diameter
  • 10.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

Bulova A-15 Pilot Watch

 

This model has previously featured in my piece on Super Compressor divers watches (more here).

Like some of Bulova’s most memorable models, the A-15 is a military watch. Rather than being a divers watch, like the Super Compressors, the A-15 Pilot is inspired by the 1944 Military Issue A-15 ‘Elapsed Time Watch’.
Super Compressors are known for their dual crown design, but there are actually three crowns on the Bulova - two of which control inner rings. One for time elapsed and one for an additional time zone.

At a glance though, it’s a similar style to those divers watch. It’s still vintage-styled, with a rotating inner bezel and crowns at two and four o’clock. And it’s still functional, but this time, without being sporty. Powered by a mechanical movement, and 42mm in diameter, the watch has decent specs. There’s also the addition of a domed sapphire crystal.

  • A-15 Pilot 96A245
  • 42mm Diameter
  • 14.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

 Conclusion

I’ve mentioned in previous articles that Bulova crept up on me. I didn’t mean to become a fan. But I noticed a pattern where I was back on the website. Just checking one more detail or having a second look at a model that had caught my eye.

Although now owned by Citizen, this brand have a long history, much of it intertwined with American culture. The first trans-Atlantic flights, the space race, 20th Century conflict - Bulova watches were there. Often at the forefront of innovation. There’s a lot more to the brand than the models I’ve selected, so have a dig a little deeper yourself.

As ever, please add your own thoughts below.

 

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