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The 7 Best Bulova Chronographs (Exciting and Iconic Watches)

Posted on February 24 2021

Bulova Chronograph Watches

How many times have you been told to buy yourself a Swiss watch?

As soon as you start shopping for a watch, everyone screams “buy a Swiss one!”. I get it. Swiss watches are great.

But not all great watches are Swiss.

There are plenty of other amazing watches out there and some of them are proudly American.

Take Bulova. Their inspiration comes from Harley’s, Surfing, the Military and the Moon Landings. What's more American than that?

How about I take you through the best Chronographs that Bulova produce? It’s where they’re strongest and it’s where you’ll find their most famous watch.

The Best Bulova Chronograph Watches


I’m not even American and I get swept along with Bulova’s fascinating history. I’ve seen their watches in movies. I’ve seen them recommended by soldiers. I’ve even been tempted by a watch from their Frank Sinatra line.

Where they really got me though was with their cool vintage surf watches.

The Bulova range is eclectic and that’s why I like it. Trust me, few companies can get their watches used by the US Army and NASA and also find fans among young surfers.

They’ve collaborated with and referenced America’s cultural icons. For a guy living in Northern England, that’s fun.

So I have a soft spot for Bulova. Like Timex, they represent America at its best. If I wanted an American watch, I’d start here. And I’d start with a Bulova chronograph.

Bulova Harley Davidson Watch

When two iconic brands collaborate the result can be great. I’d argue that this Bulova chronograph is a successful example. Two heritage companies creating a watch that is quintessentially American.

Bulova has taken Harley’s brand colours and B&S logo and worked them into the design of a heavy-duty watch.

And it is a heavy-duty watch. I assume the idea is that a big bike and rider need a big watch. This model comes in at nearly 47mm - that could be a dealbreaker for some.

But if you like chunky watches, then this is an attractive piece. Obviously, the Harley branding catches the eye first, as do the overlapping sub-dials. Then you can begin to take in the details.

It’s a busy design, but the dial isn’t cluttered. I’m not normally a fan of overcomplicated designs, but this works for me. Because of the Harley Davidson input, what may have seemed messy now looks mechanical.

You don’t ride a Harley because you’re into minimalism and quiet contemplation. You ride a Harley because it’s brash and dramatic.

Brash and dramatic? Yes, that sums up this watch.

Bulova Harley Davidson Vintage B&S 76B186

  • 46.5mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 



Bulova Lunar Pilot Watch

This watch is a legend. It’s Bulova’s most famous creation and has a place in watchmaking history. One of these watches sold for over $1m at auction!

That’s not because of an innovation or a groundbreaking design. This watch is famous because it’s one of a select group worn in space. What makes the story even better, is that it wasn’t meant to be there.

On a lunar walk during 1971’s Apollo 15 mission Dave Scott damaged his official Omega Speedmaster. During his next moonwalk, he wore a backup Bulova chronograph. It was a prototype that he’d agreed to test for a friend.

The moon landings are a high-point of 20th century American history so Bulova released this quartz remake of Scott’s watch. And yes, it was his original that sold for over a million!

This chunky 45mm watch is a very affordable remake. It’s significantly cheaper than Omega’s current version of their moon watch. And it’s American.

The styling is the same as the watch Scott wore - as pictured when he saluted the American flag. It is large and legible with a quirky asymmetrical case.

As you’d expect from a military-style watch, the colouring is plain and functional. Let’s not forget that this watch was designed as a tool to be used in space. It’s not a fashion piece.

If you want the most iconic Bulova watch, this is it.

Bulova Lunar Pilot 96B258

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

 



Bulova Special Edition Chronograph

Known as Chronograph C, this watch is from Bulova’s archive collection. It’s another stunning remake from their back catalogue. The original was nicknamed the ‘stars and stripes’.

The charm of this watch is obvious. It’s an affordable vintage-inspired piece that appeals to patriotism.

The price tag is important too. Large and colourful vintage watches aren’t cheap - making inexpensive reissues very desirable. It’s worked well for the Lunar Pilot and Bulova have released more archive models.

It’s an exciting watch. Full of colour, contrasts and bold features. The case is large and distinctive. The dial is colourful and 1970s influenced. And the hands are unconventional. Even the logo is the same as the one used by Bulova back in the 70s.

Overall, it’s an attractive watch. The first of two retro models that I want to show you.

Bulova Special Edition 96K101

  • 46mm Diameter
  • 13.8mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance



Bulova Marine Star Chronograph

Bulova’s Marine Star collection can be a little hit or miss. There are a fair few watches that don’t move me at all. But since I picked up a Marine Star homage to the Rolex Daytona, I’ve been keeping a closer eye on the line.

And some Marine Star watches are worth a closer look. Take this model for an example.

It’s a beauty. A white dial chronograph with a dive watch aesthetic. The dial has a pleasing symmetry and the colouring is on point. Neither too bland nor too colourful. There are white, silver and a touch of red.

The applied indices give the dial a feeling of depth, and the rings on the sub-dials are applied too.

There are two reasons that this watch stands out. First, it has a rotating inner bezel. So you get the functionality of that feature and an extra crown at 10 o’clock. Second, and somewhat related, it has chunky crown guards on both sides of the case.

It alters the look just enough that this dressy chronograph still works at a sports watch.

Try this on a leather rally strap and enjoy the transformation.

Bulova Marine Star 96B255

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 



Bulova Classic 98B326 Chronograph Watch
If you’re after a classic diving chronograph, then this is a contender. Other than being solar powered it’s a straightforward recognisable design.

I’m always a fan of watches that do the basics well and this watch is a good example. There’s no real flair - the colour palette is a simple black and stainless steel combination. But the small accents - the orange chronograph hand and the minutes on the chapter ring - add just enough colour.

And the dial. I really like the dial. It’s textured, with a wave effect. The sub-dials are textured too. The effect is pleasing to the eye and adds a finesse that isn’t apparent at first glance.

The rest of the watch is similar. It’s recognisable as a dive watch, with each feature well-executed. At 44m it’s slightly larger than would be my ideal, but that’s a personal preference.

I see this is an ideal desk diver. A sporty looking model, just as comfortable in the office. There’s a valuable versatility.

Bulova Classic 98B326

  • 44mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Solar Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 100M Water Resistance

 


Bulova Curv Chronograph 96A185

How comfortable do you want your watch to be? It’s a serious question. What if a watch was designed with comfort being the priority.

That’s what the Bulova Curv collection is all about. And it makes for some great innovation.

The idea is simple. This watch is curved. If you look at it from the side you can see that the case is shaped to compliment your wrist. The execution isn’t so simple.

A curved case means that this watch is powered by the world’s first curved chronograph movement. The sapphire crystal is curved too. Oh, and there’s no central second hand - that wouldn’t really work with all the curves.

So what you have is a watch that outwardly looks like a handsome chronograph. On closer inspection, you can see that it hugs the wrist. Particularly the models with a bracelet. There’s a nice integration that helps maintain the curve.

The case is barrel-shaped and has a rich blue sunburst dial. Again, the beauty is in the simplicity and functional colouring.

This is definitely the most wearable watch on this list. It’s all about comfort.

Bulova Curv Chronograph 96A185

  • 43mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug Width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Sapphire Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 



Bulova Archive Surhboard Watch

I’m a big fan of surf watches. The vintage ones. Not modern smartwatches that check the tides. I’m a fan of the watches that take me from the streets of England to the beaches of California.

This is another from the Archive Series and is known as Chronograph A or the Surfboard.

It takes design cues from the Bulova dive watches of the 1970s. The Surfboard name is due to the surfboard shape in the centre of the dial.

Like the Special Edition, it’s a distinctive watch. It also successfully marries the vintage aesthetic with contemporary tastes.

That means a 40mm case - larger than a vintage piece. And rather than a mechanical movement the watch has a modern reliable Japanese quartz engine.

But the case is retro. It’s barrel shaped. The dial, hands and bezel all faithfully recreate a 1970s sports watch so you get the best of both worlds.

The curved sapphire crystal enhances the vintage style, again using a material favoured by today’s watch fans. With 200M of water resistance and a silicone strap, this is a legit watersports watch.

If retro-cool is your thing. This is an excellent watch.

Bulova Archive Surfboard 98A252

  • 40.5mm Diameter
  • 14.5mm Thick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Curved Sapphire Box Crystal
  • 200M Water Resistance

 

Are Bulova Watches Any Good?


From the seven watches that I’ve highlighted, I’m confident in saying ‘yes, Bulova watches are good”. But it’s also worth looking into the backstory of the brand.

It began in the 1870s when Joseph Bulova opened his watch shop in downtown New York. From the outset, Bulova strived for mechanical perfection. By 1912 he had a Swiss factory mass-producing watches.

This standardised practice was new to watchmaking.

Other 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.

The 30s saw the introduction of their popular rectangular watches. Then 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 that I included on this list.

Launched in 1960, the Accutron was an electronic watch that used a tuning fork to regulate time. It was far more accurate than the mechanical watches currently available. The tuning fork is the basis for the current Bulova logo.

Bulova is a brand with a story. Along with this heritage, it has a history of innovation. Of being at the forefront of American watchmaking.

Conclusion


Not all of the great watches come from Switzerland.

America has its own brands, it’s own innovations and it’s own classic models. What I wanted to do in this piece was to single out Bulova - specifically their chronographs.

Bulova was there when the army needed watches. When surfers wanted stylish watches, Bulova created them. And when one of NASA’s astronauts needed a replacement watch for a moonwalk Bulova already had a prototype ready.

There are a load of great stories behind Bulova’s chronographs and I hope that I’ve piqued your interest. I’d love to hear your thoughs below.



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