WATCH REVIEW

Hell of a Comeback: Reviewing the Bulova Oceanographer Special Edition “Devil Diver”


Bulova’s reissue of the “Devil Diver,” the 666-foot water-resistant Oceanographer Snorkel, is currently one of the more affordable options for those looking for a new watch with a retro design. We got our hands on one of the first pieces sold in the U.S. when it hit the market in autumn of 2018.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - reclining
Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel, aka “Devil Diver”

Bulova has been successfully reintroducing watches based on a vintage design for the last few years. The company’s latest release, the Oceanographer Devil Diver from the ’70s, comes both as a limited, more historically accurate 41-mm version with an orange dial, and as a non-limited 44-mm model with a black dial.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - front
The 2018-introduced Oceanographer “Devil Diver” reissue is based on a watch from 1972.
Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - date CU
The box sapphire crystal has a square internal date magnifier.

Unlike the reissue of the Lunar Pilot Chronograph that went to space, Bulova’s Oceanographer didn’t exactly become famous for being used during dangerous underwater missions. Neither was the model prominently worn by legendary divers, nor did it set new records in diving history or introduce a new mechanical invention to the world of underwater timekeeping. Bulova itself even advertised it with the desk diver in mind. “Not everybody who wears the Snorkel is an aquanaut. It just makes you feel like one. It’s that kind of a watch.” – was one of the messages used in ads during the ’70s. On top of that, snorkeling, or the snorkel itself, is definitely not the most exciting piece of diving equipment or the most glamorous aspect of underwater exploration. In other words, the Oceanographer was a great watch, but so were many others during that time. What made this particular model stand out, however, was the simple fact that Bulova decided to print “666 feet” on the dial (which was not only slightly more than most of its 600-foot-water-resistant competitors had to offer, but it also led to the nickname “Devil Diver,” which – if you think about it – sounds much more exciting than “Snorkel”). In combination with a rotating bezel with black and red sections, applied tubes filled with luminous material and a case design often found in dive watches from that period, the “Devil Diver” earned itself a bit of a cult following for its alter ego and its more affordable price. And, thankfully, Bulova also used other messages to sell the watch, for example, “This Bulova Oceanographer was designed for the man who is very brave. Or slightly crazy.”

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - indices CU
Bulova has even replicated the applied indexes that come as transparent cylinders filled with lume.
Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - crown CU
The watch measures 14.55 mm in height and is equipped with a screw-in crown.

The new Oceanographer “Devil Diver” is based on the 1972 version. It features a black dial with crosshairs and modern upgrades like a 44-mm case, a box-shaped sapphire crystal with blue anti-reflective coating and a double-press folding clasp on the bracelet. The watch is also equipped with a stainless-steel screw-back case with a screw-down crown. Inside, Bulova went with a Caliber 821D from Miyota (Miyota is, like Bulova, part of the Citizen group of companies), a 26-mm automatic movement with 21 jewels, 21,600 vph and a 42-hour power reserve. Miyota claims that the non-hacking caliber offers an accuracy of -20 /+40 seconds per day, and while the choice of what’s usually described as a “workhorse” movement makes absolute sense for a watch like the Oceanographer, the Miyota 9015 would perhaps have been a slightly more modern choice. In short, expect a reliable, simple automatic movement that has been successfully on the market for quite some time. Don’t expect a nicely finished, modern movement performing within chronometer specifications. As an alternative, the limited edition uses the same vintage-style steel case shape, but comes with a black-and-white unidirectional diving bezel to frame a bright orange dial and has a snake-head minutes hand. Within the 666-foot (200-meter) water-resistant case is the Sellita SW220-1 automatic movement, offering a 38-hour power reserve, hacking and bidirectional winding. This model is limited to – appropriately for its namesake – 666 pieces, but is priced at $1,495, of which 30 pieces are engraved with the Analog/Shift logo on the caseback to commemorate the vintage watch dealer’s assistance in selecting the watch via online survey.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - flat
Even with an increased case diameter, the hands are still comparatively short, due to the tall indexes.
Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - Dial CU 666
The “666 feet” printed on the dial ultimately led to the nickname “Devil Diver.”

The “Devil Diver” is currently one of two options launched in 2018 by established brands that have a list price below $1,000 (and let’s not forget the even less expensive Turtle that was brought back by Seiko in 2015). The other one would be the Certina DS PH200M, a descendant of the PH200M from 1967 that also debuted in 2018 and is powered by the Powermatic 80. The Bulova offers a more “chunky” ’70s design and the bezel (60 clicks) with an additional glass insert adds more depth and style to the overall appearance. On top of that, the Bulova is equipped with a sapphire crystal (compared to the mineral on the Certina) and comes with a metal bracelet that looks and feels as ’70s as it can get. Which means, don’t expect a massive folding clasp, but enjoy the almost liquid feel of the bracelet. On the dial, Bulova also kept the look of the original intact: transparent plastic cylinders filled with luminous material still create a rather unique look, especially at night. Unfortunately, the tall, applied indexes still require a comparatively short set of hands. In summary, the watch wears smaller than its 44-mm diameter might indicate, mostly due to the tapered case and the short hands.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - lume
The dial, fully charged, at night
Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver Caliber CU
The “Devil Diver” is powered by the Miyota 821D with 21,600 vph (3Hz).

Overall, we especially liked that Bulova seemed to be, pardon the pun, hell-bent on preserving the original look of the Oceanographer. The result is a watch that does stand out, partly because of its unique black-and-red color combination, but also since there aren’t that many watches currently available with a case shaped like this. For a price of $795, buyers can travel back in time and get a mechanical watch with a three-year warranty that feels substantial on the wrist. Of course, a more exclusive movement would have been the icing on the cake, but it’s fair to say that a price like this would certainly no longer have been possible. What’s interesting is that Bulova decided not to print the country of origin on the dial. The one thing we’d wish for, after having worn the watch for a couple of weeks, was a different execution of the applied logo on the dial: the connecting parts between the letters occasionally appear more dominant than the letters themselves. But overall, Bulova has once again introduced a faithful reproduction of a vintage original and has proven that a fun watch with a mechanical movement doesn’t need to break your bank. And this time, you certainly don’t have to be “brave” or “crazy” to buy one.

Bulova Oceanographer Devil Diver - bracelet
The Bulova Oceanographer from 2018 comes with a stainless-steel bracelet with a folding clasp.

SPECS:
Manufacturer: Bulova Corporation, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10118
Reference number: 98B320
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and date
Movement: Self-winding (unidirectional) mechanical Caliber Miyota 821D, 21,600 vph (3Hz), approx. 42-hour power reserve, diameter = 26 mm, height = 5.67 mm
Case: Stainless-steel case with solid caseback, screw-in crown, sapphire crystal with blue anti-reflective coating, water resistant to 200 m
Bracelet and cla­­sp: Stainless-steel bracelet with folding clasp
Dimensions: Diameter = 44 mm, height = 14.55 mm
Price: $795

This article originally appeared in the March-April 2019 issue of WatchTime.

8 Responses to “Hell of a Comeback: Reviewing the Bulova Oceanographer Special Edition “Devil Diver””

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  1. Stephen

    A bit pathetic, you’d hope for a Bulova in house movement and they fob you off with a Miyota!

    Reply
  2. Using that movement is a joke in this price range.
    The Certina PH200M has an acrylic crystal.

    Reply
    • Indeed, the 821X are low end basic movements. Also known to have second hand stutter as the second hand is not direct drive.
      I would at least expect a 9015, and even then the price is still to high. Shame, because the design is quite nice.

      Reply
  3. Jeff Clemen' t

    I’ve had Bulova watches from the get go,one is the accutron 666 diver from 1971 and it’s still going .Wish I could get the new one,but I still have a good one!.

    Reply
  4. Cool watch, especially at the typical street price. It does wear smaller than 44mm, sort of like the Turtle. It’s nice to have options.

    Reply
  5. Walker Copley

    I started my watchmaking career in 1973 and serviced many snorkels. It was a great watch then and Bulova has done a very good job with this one. The dial logo immediately caught my eye as well, it is just like the original.

    Reply
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