I remember the first time I saw the vintage Bulova Chronograph C (picture below, courtesy of our friends at Fratello Watches), also known as the “Stars & Stripes.” It was summer 2015 and I was meandering through an online sales forum, where I saw this giant hunk of steel, red, white, and blue staring up at me from the computer screen for $1,800. “This has to be a fake,” I told myself. “There’s no way Bulova would have produced this watch.” And so I moved on, checking out a few more listings before moving on with my day.
A few weeks later I was attending a midsummer get together of “watch guys” in New York; it was a casual lunch, with each patron bringing a watch or two to show off, a chance to trade some knowledge and drink a beer together. Soon after we sat down, one of the men sitting across from me pulls back his cuff and reveals the very same watch I spotted online the few weeks prior. “Is that the Bulova ‘Stars & Stripes?’” He said it was. “Did you get that off this forum not long ago?” He said he did. “That’s a real watch, as in, Bulova produced it?” He said they did, in 1970 — for only a single year, to be exact.
If you’re curious, that same-model watch, in a decent condition, now lists at lowest for $4,000. This price inflation not only surprised me — someone who passed on the piece only to be later proven wrong — but it seems to have also surprised Bulova, this major increase in interest in what historically was a small and unsuccessful production run. But these are strange times in the world of watches, and so the brand saw this major spike in intrigue, and correspondingly re-issued the piece at this year’s Baselworld. – now with a slightly larger case, modern finishing, a quartz movement, and — most significantly— a competitive price point.
The modern watch, even though it’s a re-issue of an historical predecessor, is still today an incredibly funky-looking piece. At 46 mm (3 mm larger than the vintage model) on a mesh bracelet, the steel chronograph comes with a lug-less design, simple pump pushers, a thick, barrel crown, and a notched bezel. Its dial, where even more of its unique aspects lie, hosts the red, white, and blue details from where the piece gained its nickname “Stars & Stripes,” and which many have interpreted as an homage to the American flag. Here you’ll find an outer blue tachymetric scale with inner white-detailed hour markers, then more blue detailing towards the center of the dial with a vintage “Bulova” logo printed toward the 12 o’clock mark.
Printed over this backdrop are three subdials with red triangular hands for chronograph minutes at 9 o’clock, running seconds at 6 o’clock, and a split-seconds counter at 3 o’clock. The hour and minute hands are in a simple pointer construction, with red triangular tips, and the chronograph seconds hand is an enlarged red triangular pointer like the subdial indicators. Powering the watch is a Bulova “High-Performance” 262-kHz quartz chronograph movement, the same movement used in the brand’s Moon Watch. Currently available at retailers worldwide, the Chronograph C is listed by the brand at $750.
Comparing the modern version to the original piece, it’s obvious that Bulova has made a clear effort to remain as faithful to the latter as possible. While the case is slightly larger at 46-mm, this increase is likely due to the wider quartz movement used compared to the vintage model’s manually-wound Valjoux 7736. The different movement has also altered the subdial configuration, changing the original running seconds at the 9, 12-hour counter towards the bottom of the dial, and 30-minute counter towards the 3 o’clock position to what is currently observed. The final changes come in the form of modern finishing and manufacturing; the contemporary watch seems overall more refined in terms of the crispness of the dial and in the polishing and brushing of the wide, steel case.
The Chronograph C comes on the heels of the widely popular Bulova Moon Watch, and was released alongside the 2.0 version of that piece. Both are a part of Bulova’s growing “Archive” collection, and the release of the “Stars & Stripes” (vintage ad for the original pictured below) seems to be signaling a growing willingness by Bulova to venture into the highly-popular vintage reproduction market. Depending on the success of this new watch — one very competitively priced and representing a good value, even if some purists take issue with its quartz movement— the brand may well release some more vintage Bulova favorites, perhaps even including a piece from its historically popular “666” diving heritage. I know I’ll be watching closely.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare the Rado Hyperchrome Captain Cook to its historical predecessor, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first learning about 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.