Bulova shows a new edition of the “666” Devil Diver Oceanographer in a stunning orange-red dial. We had one on loan for a week for wear testing, and here is our comprehensive report.
Bulova and diving watches
The story of Bulova and their diving watches have a long history. Most collectors probably do not know of their early involvement or have forgotten. But the brand started to make dive watches in 1961. They were late into the game, as the leaders in dive watches like Rolex, Omega and Blancpain have already had about a decade’s experience by then. However, perhaps not too late, as the Japanese were just coming on-stream with their dive watches. Citizen introduced the Parawater in 1959, which is not technically a dive watch, but the first water resistant watch which is made in Japan. It was Seiko who made the first dive watch, rated to 150m, with the 6217 (62MAS) (1965). Citizen followed suit with their Auto Dater 200m, a special edition of the Parawater rated to 200m, and also known as the Skin Diver a short while later.
Interestingly, and absolutely a coincidence of history, Citizen is the current owner of the Bulova brand, though at that time, they were completely independent of each other. As mentioned Bulova introduced their first dive watch in 1961, but had made their “Compressor” case which were supplied by the Swiss company Ervin Piquerez SA. This case style, used by several watch companies in the 1960s, was designed to seal more tightly as water pressure increased. While the standard Compressor case was rated to 600 feet (about 182m), Bulova was able to push its limit to 666 feet (203m), a very clever marketing ploy. And called their diver the Devil Diver, in reference to 666 being the number of the Beast.
Review: Bulova Oceanographer 96B350 Men’s Archive Series
The Bulova Oceanographer 96B350 is a design tribute to Bulova’s acclaimed ‘70’s Oceanographer diver watch, and carries much of the DNA over.
Retail price is SGD 1,048.60 inclusive of GST or USD 750.
The case, dial and hands
The stainless steel case is no longer the compressor type, though it retains the shape and water resistant rating. The case is ISO rated to 200m. The case is nominally 41mm in diameter, which is a nod to the 1970s original case size and is finished in a high polish. A large diameter, fluted screw down crown completes the case.
The hands are suitably large and arrow shaped, with good lume infill. The seconds hand is centrally mounted, and is a slim number, featuring a lollipop design carrying a round blob also filled with lume. These design elements result in a superbly legible dial, visible in the light as well as in the dark depths, an absolute requirement for a dive watch.
The dial is unmistakable. The bright orange hue is eye catching and calls attention to itself. And that too is period correct to one of the original Scuba models in the 1970s. The crosshair motif on the dial is retained, as are the prominent and spectacular appliqué indices. And the bezel, now in a bi-colour orange and black instead of white and black, is made with an inlay of acrylic instead of resin in the original. Acrylic is probably more durable and resistant to cracking than resin. The bezel feels very smooth to the touch and the uni-directional ratchet system works flawlessly with a good precision feel. The date is displayed in a aperture on the dial and magnified by a rectangular cyclops which is glued to the underside of the sapphire crystal. The crystal is box shaped and is treated with a blue anti-reflective coating.
The signature indices are cylindrical sapphire appliqués and treated with SuperLuminova to have a bright glow in the dark. As seen in the photograph below, the 4 second exposure (the lolipop of the seconds hands is seen as a streak 4s long), the glow is bright enough to illuminate the portion of the dial below the hands to give a hint of the orange. The shot was taken at f/8.
The watch is equipped with a rubber/silicon strap which we note to be very supple and comfortable.
The movement: Miyota’s 821D-21B
As with almost all dive watches, the Oceanographer is equipped with a closed case back. Some original Oceanographer Snorkels had a Bulova Tuning Fork movement like the one used in the Accutron Spaceview within. Must have been real cool to dive with one. Wonder what the buzzing sound made by the Tuning Fork movement does to the undersea creatures. The re-edition is equipped with a standard, workhorse Miyota movement. The movement in the watch is the Miyota 821D-21B. Miyota is made in Japan by Citizen, and runs at 21,600 bph for an autonomy of 42 hours. Typical workhorse movement used in many modestly priced watches.
The movement wins no prizes for any decoration or performance specifications. The photographs we saw on-line of similar versions of the caliber 821 show a very plain, barely finished movement, which is shocking to haute horlogerie eyes. However, it is not worse than most of the competition pitched at this price level and will be tough enough to perform sufficiently well for the daily use and abuse. In the week it was with us, it ran flawlessly, and within a reasonable accuracy. The movement does not hack, but we had it on various states of wind, and moved the hands at will for photography. Our estimate is that in the week, it gained probably a total of 30 seconds. And running accuracy can be managed by resting the watch in a position which loses the time it gained over the working day.
In the landscape of 200m dive watches is littered with many competitors. But at a modest pricing of below SGD 1.2k, the field narrows to either the Japanese, or to watches with quartz movements.
Citizen Promaster Fugu series is perhaps a good starting point for a comparative study. The case is rated to a similar 200m, and uses a similar Miyota automatic movement. The retail price is SGD 555, undercuts its American sister. The Bulova feels a bit better finished, with edges which are smooth and polished for a more premium feel, perhaps justifying the premium over its sibling.
Another competing sibling might the be the more traditional looking, black and red dive watch – the Bulova Oceanographer 98B320 Special Edition Devil Diver with the same retail price. Exactly the same watch but in a larger case (44mm), but without the brilliant orange dial and touches.
See also the Competitive Landscape of the Fugu series for other inhabitants in this field.
Doxa SUB 300 Black Lung has a higher depth rating of 300m, but sports a case shape which is similar. It is priced at a considerably higher price of USD 2,590 and is a limited edition of 300 pieces, released in late 2017, so likely already sold out.
Overall, the Bulova Oceanographer 96B350 is a standout. Partly because the brilliant orange dial with the black and orange accented bezel is a stunning visual. But also the index appliques which look like pearls sticking out from the dial. Or the beautiful turtle style case and the very supple rubber strap. And even that the 41mm case is a good size, and wears very comfortably.
Add to those, the period correct design elements allows one to travel back in time to the heyday of the mechanical watch of the 1970s, before the great disruption of the Quartz Crisis. A nicer movement, perhaps the new Accutron Spaceview 2020 might be better, but will no doubt increase both the case size and wearability, and the retail price. As it is, the Bulova Oceanographer sits in a nice place, with premium look and feel. And a period correct vintage vibe.