I must admit that my taste in watches is usually pretty reserved. I prefer more understated pieces which I’m sure some would probably find dull. However, I recently came across a piece that’s so delightfully… well, funky, that I had to get one.
I am of course talking about the Bulova Oceanographer, a retro reissue of their original model from the 1970’s. It’s completely different to what I’d normally wear. It’s bright, big, and bold, and that’s why I love it.
The original Oceanographer has gained quite the following amongst vintage watch collectors, and has become quite iconic. With that in mind, can this new Oceanographer live up to the hype of its predecessor? After all Bulova is not the same company as it was. Now it’s a high street brand that makes mostly fashion pieces.
The Oceanographer’s case is a whopping 44mm. When I bought the watch online I was afraid that it would overpower my 6.75 inch wrists. Fortunately, it wears small for its size thanks to the cushion-shaped case and short lug to lug length.
Bulova went with a completely polished case finish on the Oceanographer. I would have liked to have seen a mixture of finishing on the case, but despite that the overall look is pretty clean.
The bezel is 120 click has a little bit of play, but doesn’t feel cheap. It also has a sapphire insert, which mimics the original’s plastic insert. The bold orange on there between zero and fifteen minutes is vibrant and funky, oozing the ambience of the era of the original Oceanographer.
Naturally the Oceanographer has a screw-down crown- a must have on a true dive watch. It’s stamped with the retro Bulova logo, a touch that’s always nice to see on reissue pieces such as this one.
Bulova’s Oceanographer is ISO rated to 200m. I like that Bulova bothered to actually get the Oceanographer ISO certified, especially as it’s what people are berating the new Seiko 5KX for not having. 200m is also a decent depth rating for a diver, not to mention it’s in line with the 666ft depth rating on the original, which gave the Oceaongrapher the nickname “the Devil Diver”.
As seems to be the norm for watches I review these days, the Oceanographer has a boxed sapphire crystal. But what’s really cool about this one is that Bulova have copied the internal date magnifier of the acrylic crystal of the original Oceanographer. Whilst it’s a neat vintage touch, it doesn’t magnify the date window to the extent that it is really necessary. On the flip side, the crystal also has an anti-reflective coating, making the dial nice and legible most of the time.
The face of the Oceanographer is simply a joy to behold. It’s got so many quirky features I don’t quite know where to start. The hour markers are perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the dial. They’re acrylic cylinders mounted on metal bases, with lume underneath the plastic of course. Such a design is unique to the Oceanographer, and it creates an effect of striking depth.
Speaking of striking features- it’s hard not to notice that the Bulova logo is applied, exactly like on the original. Whilst I commend Bulova for sticking with the original logo, I’ve seen it attract plenty of criticism for the awkward way the letters are joined together.
Apart from that there’s a lot more to love here. The Oceanographer has a crosshair dial, nicely framed date window at 3 o’clock, and a minute track placed somewhat unusually inside the hour markers.
The hands are fairly standard. Bold and heavily lumed, with thick white paint. This keeps them nice and legible, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Everything you see comes together to produce a wonderfully original layout that delights from every angle, and personally I think it’s one of the nicest diver designs out there.
Bulova don’t mention what type of lume they use on the Oceanographer, but it’s pretty good for a low to mid-tier high street brand. I wouldn’t say the Oceanographer has Seiko levels of lume, but it charges easily during daily wear, and is easily legible in the dark. I have a feeling that the iconic hour markers aid visibility in some mysterious way, but at the very least they produce a cool effect in the dark.
The Miyota cal. 821A is the biggest let down of the Oceanographer for me. Sure, it’s a perfectly reliable movement, with a decent 42 hours power reserve, but it doesn’t hack. It also has a low beat rate of 21,600 bph, and suffers from a noticeable stuttering seconds hand thanks to its indirect drive mechanism. For a watch costing £500 at full RRP I’d like to see a nicer movement used. For this price range Bulova could have gone with a Miyota 9015, or one of the Swiss ETA 2824 derivatives. That said, the 821A will serve reliably, so I can’t whinge too much.
I’ve got to be honest, and admit that I’m not a fan of the president-style bracelet. It’s not that there’s really anything wrong with the quality, though the clasp is just a cheap generic foldover. The end links are solid, and the bracelet is pretty comfortable. It just looks too dressy for the Oceanographer in my opinion. It’s sort of the opposite of putting your dress watch on a NATO – just plain wrong. In fact, a NATO is what I prefer to wear the Oceanographer on, though there isn’t much room for one between the spring bars and the case. Despite that, I think a NATO suits the Bulova to a tee, given the functional nature of the watch.
There are a hell of a lot of dive watches available to buy today, but few are as quirky and colourful as the Bulova. I think the Oceanographer is a great option for those wanting something a bit different, or something with heritage. It’s got a brilliantly executed original design and is certainly well built. There are four colourways available in total too, so there’s plenty for you to choose from.
Of course, that’s not to say it is perfect. I’d like to see a nicer movement in the watch, given its £499 price tag, and as I mentioned earlier I’m personally not fond of the bracelet. However, as reissues go this is a very nice example, and one which will make a great everyday beater watch. You can also find it available for a hefty discount online, so if you’re put off from the price then that certainly tips the balance back in the Oceanographer’s favour.
You can check out the full specs for the Oceanographer on Bulova’s website here.