I think what attracts many to the world of watches, nearly as much as the watches themselves, is the history behind them. In many ways, watch history is history — at least as far as the past hundred-odd years are concerned — and so the watches we read about or acquire seem as much a part of the great odyssey of human experience as the people who originally wore them. From the countless military watches adorned by warring factions, to the pieces that, through pure determination and willpower, were worn to the highest and lowest points on Earth, to the watches associated with the pinnacle of human accomplishment: landing on the moon and returning to tell the tale. The intricate stories watches tell often reveal fascinating details you wouldn’t find in a history textbook, and it is this reservoir of knowledge that keeps us coming back for more.
One of the more interesting of these stories in the past few years has been that of the Bulova Moon Watch. This watch is a vintage re-creation based upon a 1971 Bulova prototype (pictured above) worn by astronaut Dave Scott during the Apollo 15 space mission. As the legend goes, Scott brought the Bulova as a back-up in case his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster malfunctioned — which it then did, requiring him to wear the prototype chronograph in its place. He went on to use this watch during his lunar journeys as part of the Apollo 15 mission, making it one of the few non-Speedmaster and non-government-owned pieces to be used on the moon. After the mission, Scott kept the watch for many years, until he eventually sold it at auction for 1.6 million dollars, vastly overshooting the originally projected $50,000.
This modern re-creation (above) channels the style of the original chronograph, but now in a contemporary package meant to provide it with a broader market appeal. Released in 2016, the piece has a large, 45-mm case with a thick, signed crown and rounded chronograph pushers. On its black dial — one clearly reminiscent of Speedmaster Moonwatches— is an outer tachymetric scale, rectangular hour markers, and a 4:30 date window. It also features three subdials — split-seconds at the 3 o’clock position, running seconds at 6 o’clock, and a chronograph minute counter at 9 o’clock — as well as sword-shaped hour and minute hands, and an arrow-style chronograph seconds hand. Powering the watch is the Bulova “High-Performance” 262-kHz quartz chronograph movement, which the brand purports as having an extreme accuracy due to its high frequency. The watch is currently available at retailers around the world, and is priced by Bulova at $550 on a leather strap and $675 for a steel bracelet.
Compared with the original, the vintage influences on this modern piece are obvious. With its rounded case shape and unusual pushers, to its rectangular hour markers and hands, to its monochromatic dial. Bulova set out to create a historically inspired watch, and the company certainly succeeded in this feat. However, some changes still exist between the contemporary and vintage pieces. Notably, the original had a smaller case, an outer tachymetric scale, and subdials for 12 hours, 60 minutes, and running seconds; contrast these with the contemporary version’s slightly enlarged case, inner tachymetric scale, and differently dedicated subdials. In addition, the modern variation now features a subtle date window not seen on the original, and a number of small “luxury” alterations, as with its higher-quality movement, steel case, and finishing.
Overall, while some changes exist between the original and the modern edition, it should be noted that the vintage piece was only a prototype — a watch unique to a single space explorer, and one that never touched the mass market before today. For this reason, the changes seem more like efforts made by Bulova to create a “final draft” of the prototype piece, as compared to simply re-issuing an older design for the sake of re-issue alone. This explains the absence of faux patina quite common on historically inspired watches, the championing of the new high-precision movement, and the use of the modern corporate signature on the dial as compared to the vintage version. These design decisions have thus produced, in the end, a uniquely modern watch: one poised at a relatively accessible price — especially in relation to the Omega Speedmaster — but also one with much of the intrigue and lunar pedigree that makes it indisputably a real “moon watch.” Now we can only hope this watch is simply a taste of what the Bulova brand has to offer from its historically rich archives, as many of us eagerly await the release of more such vintage-inspired pieces in the years to come.
For our most recent article, in which I compare the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Calendar to its historical inspiration, 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.