Baselworld 2019: Bulova Revives The Computron, And It’s Damn Cool!
Bringing back retro-futurism with a very cool digital driving watch.
Every year at Baselworld, there is that one retro watch that the internet has willed into existence, and Bulova's Computron is the 2019 version. Bulova is no stranger to consulting with vintage collectors for its Archive Series. The Devil Diver reissue, for example, was the result of an online poll.
But the revival of this digital driving watch feels particularly inspired. It may be the first time an LED watch has been revived, making it a bit of a bold move. But if it’s a hit outside of the collector community, it might also go a long way in reviving the reputation of electronic timekeeping.
There’s a line in the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that defines Earthlings as people who think digital watches are a neat idea. And back in the day, electronic watches that showed the time with light emitting diode
(LED) displays were about as innovative as anything you could get at the time.
The pop cultural equivalent of this kind of watchmaking was TV shows like “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Bionic Woman” and even “Knight Rider.”
The technology also coincided with a very inventive era of watch design. Asymmetrical cases, brushed surfaces, and atypical bracelets resulted in what had been best described as "chunks of funk."
At the time, this technology and this futuristic style were considered forward-thinking, but by the 1980s, both were deemed to be tacky 1970's relics. The red-hot LED display had been replaced by cool grey LCD numbers. And the rugged macho man cases disappeared in favor of sleeker, status seeking Guccis and Piaget Polos.
There were also many practical reasons for the demise of LED watches. The main thing is that the battery that powered it had a very short shelf life. Plus, to activate it, you had to maneuver a series of buttons. While the angled display of the trapezoidal case theoretically made it ideal for glancing at the time while driving, but problematic when you had to take your hands off the wheel to press a bunch of buttons.
Over time, 1970s design has attracted the attention of more and more vintage collectors, but old electronic and quartz powered timepieces have languished as a nostalgic niche community, mostly because of issues like finding batteries and service.
One of the reasons reissues are so popular for brands like Bulova is because they appeal to the consumer who is not necessarily a collector. A buyer who doesn’t want the baggage that a previously enjoyed watch brings.
Which is why an LED revival is inspired! The new Computron can address issues like battery drain with of-the-moment technology. It now also features more functions like a dual time zone. And all can be accessed more easily — pressing a single button reveals the time, date and dual time zone sequentially.
Bulova has also tweaked the look of the Computron to make it feel more in step with 2019. The shape is essentially the same, but it is now available in all gold-plated case and bracelet with a red LED display, a black IP version with a rubber strap and a stainless steel model with a blue LED display.
It will be interesting to see if the new Computron takes off as more than a novelty. I would love to see brands dip into the archives and reintroduce some vintage quartz timepieces (there are some undervalued Patek Philippes and Omega Super Quartz Constellation for example). After all, everything that comes around goes around. The best part? The price! The new Bulova Computron starts at $295 on a rubber strap and $395 on the metal bracelet.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)