Bulova has been gradually entering the “new vintage” trend of horology for the last few years. The company’s newest release, the Oceanographer Devil Diver— which comes in the forms of both a limited-edition, more historically accurate 40-mm orange piece, and of a non-limited, more modernly designed 44-mm model — is its most recent addition to its growing Archive Series. You might recall this series as also including the Chronograph C “Stars & Stripes” watch and the Moon Watch, both big hits among “new vintage” circles these past few years.
The “Devil Diver” watches, so nicknamed according to Bulova for the 666-ft depth rating written on their dials, find direct influence from the 1972 Bulova Oceanographer (vintage ad, via Watchsteez, pictured below). This watch was a part of a larger series of Bulova watches, which included the 1960s and ‘70s Oceanographer Snorkel series of deep-sea and skin-diver watches, and also some others outside of the diving realm, notably some water-resistant pieces more akin to a Rolex Datejust than the purpose-driven Snorkel.
The first of the two pieces we’ll look at is the 40-mm limited-edition model. This watch uses a vintage-style steel case shape, with a thick crown sans-crown guard, and a black-and-white unidirectional diving bezel to frame to popping orange dial. On the face you’ll find an array of unique attributes recalling the original piece, like its outer black circling and crosshairs; the unique applied hour markers, metal Bulova logo, and printed watch descriptors; the vintage day-and-date window; and the arrowhead minute hand. Within the 666-ft (200-meter) water-resistant case is the Sellita SW 220 automatic movement, hosting a 38-hour power reserve. This model will be limited to — appropriately for its namesake — 666 editions at $1,495, 30 of which will be engraved with the Analog/Shift logo on the caseback to commemorate that vintage watch dealer’s assistance in selecting and releasing the watch via a popular global survey.
The second of the two is the 44-mm non-limited model, heavily influenced by the vintage Oceanographer with some clear modern shifts. The case, 4 mm larger, is of a similar style to the limited edition, but features a “Coke” bezel (so named for the red and black coloring) rather than the black and white of the orange-dialed piece. The dial outlined within is a sunburst black with the series’ signature hour markers, Bulova logo, and various descriptors. It also uses a red outer circling and crosshairs, baton-style hour and minute hands, and a magnified date window absent an additional day indicator. Within this model, also water resistant to 666 ft, is a Miyota automatic caliber capable of a 40-hour power reserve. It is likely due to this Miyota movement, whose specific model is undisclosed (Miyota, like Bulova is also owned by the Japan-based Citizen Group), that the price of the non-limited model begins less expensively, at $795.
Overall, through sizing and style, the limited-edition watch is a solid, modern reissue of the vintage model. Between the contemporary and vintage models, the aesthetic differences are minuscule: the steel case is better produced and finished, the coloration and luminescence will likely last longer, and the movement is a modern Sellita compared to a vintage Bulova caliber. The brand clearly wanted to offer fans a special piece in homage to the rare and historical orange “Devil Diver,” and this reissue accomplishes just that.
In the non-limited model, in which the object was homage but not strict re-creation, we see a number of contemporary differences, though they are still framed within the historical design. These are prominently seen in the red crosshairs, the sunburst dial, and the larger case shape— all traits present in the lineage of the Oceanographer Snorkel, differentiating the watch in the modern market of purpose-built divers. Despite these changes, the non-limited model still shares plenty of features with the historical model, including some vintage traits not even seen on the orange-dial edition, like the coke bezel, baton hands, and square magnified date window (vintage model picture below, courtesy of Analog/Shift).
The two watches together mark an expansion of Bulova’s Archive Series, and show how the brand is beginning to move into move exclusive territory with its “new vintage” watches. Bulova’s previous historical homages have been more cheaply priced and used quartz movements, whereas now the brand has released not one, but two mechanical models, one of which is a limited release in cooperation with a well-respected vintage watch dealer. Time will now tell if Bulova continues this expansion, most likely with another vintage chronograph up next.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Longines Heritage Skin Diver to its historical predecessor, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.