New Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver”

They DO Make Them Like They Used To: Introducing The New Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver”

The new tribute to the 1970s Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver” provides the quirky joy of vintage divers in an affordable watch that can get wet and take a beating.

By Thomas Hendricks

Vintage tribute divers are having a moment lately, much to the delight of brands and watch enthusiasts. Models - like the Bulova Oceanographer that we’ll look at today - offer a wealth of collector capital for the money and save buyers the potential uncertainties of vintage watch shopping. 

Bulova Then And Now

Joseph Bulova founded his eponymous brand in New York City in 1875, nearly 150 years ago. The brand flourished throughout much of the 20th century making elegant Art Deco timepieces, Mid-Century dress watches, and 1970’s divers, to name a few. Now owned by Japan’s Citizen Group, Bulova maintains its original character, promoting distinctly American design cues from their corporate offices in the Empire State Building. 

Like many watch brands, Bulova struggled to define itself during the Quartz Crisis. And like many watch brands, Bulova is finding a new groove by reviving some of the great watches from its past. Beginning with the launch of its Archive Series in 2015, the brand has introduced stellar recreations including the Lunar Pilot, Chronograph C, Regatta series, and the fun and funky Computron.

In 2018, Bulova polled fans and collectors to determine the next installment of the Archive Series. Voters were given three options to choose from: a 1970s Surfboard Chronograph, a 1970s Bullhead Chronograph, and 1972’s Oceanographer “Devil Diver.” With the Oceanographer emerging as the favorite, Bulova teamed with the vintage watch experts at Analog/Shift to faithfully recreate the “Devil Diver” in a striking orange-dial limited edition.

Now in 2019, Bulova is reissuing the Oceanographer tribute at a more accessible price point with an outsourced movement and expanded colorways but with the same retro charm. The Americana history behind the famed “Devil Diver” gives the contemporary watches a storied backbone and separates Bulova divers from similarly priced options from Seiko, Citizen, and the like. 

The New “Devil Diver” In The Metal

There’s a popular phrase that says “the devil is in the details.” This slice of old-school wisdom is meant to warn of troubles hidden just below the surface. Thankfully for potential buyers of this “Devil Diver,” the details are some of the most praiseworthy aspects of this watch.

Of course, the defining feature of the “Devil Diver” is the 666 ft. water-resistance marking on the dial. This is a playful departure from the standard metric marking of 200m that gives the watch a distinctly American flavor and its devious nickname. 

The case, measuring 44mm wide by 15mm thick, makes for a prominent wrist presence. To its credit though, the sloping shape of the case not only provides instant nostalgia but keeps the weight of the watch closer to the wrist to minimize any top-heavy unwieldiness.

The visual weight, plus the actual physical heft of the watch, feels somewhat reminiscent of driving a vintage Cadillac, with the sleek lines of modern design exchanged for the sturdy bravado of decades past.

Looking at the dial, we see that many of the strong features that might overpower a simpler piece feel right at home here. The hour markers, for example, are luminous cylinders jutting out from the dial, made all the more three-dimensional by the sapphire box crystal. Likewise, the chunky hands match the weight of the markers and the case and provide superb luminosity.

The rotating bezel, while a little stiff, has a contrasting color block that plays nicely with the crosshair detail on the dial. And the colorways of Blue/Orange and Sea Green/Black are a welcome risk for a brand that could’ve played it safe.

Finally, the watch is powered by a Japanese Miyota Caliber 821D. The automatic movement beats at a rate of 21,600 vph, less than the typical rate of 28,800 vph, and features a power reserve of 42 hours. The movement is nothing to write home about, but it does keep the price point low and doesn’t significantly impact a watch whose value is rooted in aesthetic appeal.

Deep History Without Deep Pockets

This Oceanographer sticks close to the look and feel of the original and provides much of the same joy as owning a real-deal vintage piece. And what one loses in pure age, he gains in savings, durability, and functionality. After all, not many vintage divers are still suited to actually go underwater.

Bulova has a reputation for two main things in watch geek circles: affordable prices and charming vintage pieces from the brand’s heyday. This piece corners both categories and provides more peace of mind than an eBay find. 

For vintage enthusiasts on smaller budgets - whether you’re getting started out or are looking for an impulse buy - the Bulova Oceanographer offers a lot of watch for the money.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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