Bulova isn’t a brand that needs much introduction. One of the original American watchmakers, their history and significance is well known having developed many innovations in its 100+ year life. Now owned by Citizen, the brand still continues to develop interesting and unique lines of watches. One such line that was first introduced in 2010, but seems to go a bit under the radar, is the Precisionist line.
Featuring a very unique movement, the Precisionists are unlike any other quartz watches you’ve ever seen. Incredibly accurate and with a smooth sweeping seconds, you’ll double take the first time you see them in action. While a smooth sweeping seconds quartz might be enough to set these apart already, Bulova went and created a chronograph version with precision up to a thousandth of a second. Needless to say, we had to get our hands on one to see what they were all about and Bulova was kind enough to lend us a Precisionist Champlain Chronograph for this review. Coming in at $799, it’s very expensive for a quartz watch, granted it has many special features.
Case: St Steel
Movement: Bulova Precisionist Quartz
Water Res.: 300M
Dimensions: 46.4 x 54.6mm
Thickness: 17.9 mm
Lug Width: 24 mm
Crown: 7 x 4 mm
Warranty: 3 year
Bulova left subtlety at the door when they went about designing the case of the Champlain Precisionist Chronograph. Measuring 46.5 x 54.6 x 17.9mm, this is one of the biggest watches we’ve come across. An aggressive and geometrical design further increases the sheer massiveness of the watch, which also weighs 260g, belying the quartz movement inside. There is also a lot going on from textures to finishes to raised areas, screws, facets, etc… This creates a case that is less a housing for a movement than a veritable fortress.
On top of central area is a tall, fixed bezel that appears to be held in place by four tall hex head bolts. Emulating a bit of the style of luxury sport watches such as Hublot or Audemars Piguet, the bolts add a nice industrial detail to the design that speaks the overall racing aesthetic of the watch. From directly overhead it is perhaps hard to see, but the bezel and mineral crystal actually curve. One of the more unique manufacturing details of the watch, the curved cyrstal creates some interesting distortion of the dial at oblique angles.
On the right side of the case are two low and wide chrono-pushers at 2 and 4. Between them is a screw down crown that is completely shrouded by large guards. The crown has spiraling grooves, giving it a dramatic look and an easily graspable texture. That said, considering the watch is accurate to within 10/sec a year, you are not likely to be adjusting the crown often. On the left side of the watch at 8 is another pusher, being used to convert the watch from time mode to chronograph mode.
All in all, the case is both unique and well made, albeit somewhat brutal in design. They were really going for an aggressive and masculine, oversized look, which they achieved hands-down. Having said that, the size and massiveness doesn’t serve any particular purpose and limits wearability.
The dial of the Precionist Chronograph continues the over-the-top design with a multitude of textures, materials and colors. The base surface consists of an inner area with a carbon fiber texture and an outer ring of silvery steel with a perlage pattern. Both textures reflect light in interesting and dynamic, but very different ways. On top of the bottom surface is a lattice of grained blue metal, which is detailed with two small screws as though they are holding it down.
On top of the blue lattice is the primary hour index, which consists of large applied steel markers of various lengths with lume fill. Elevated well above the rest of the dial is a tachymeter chapter ring, which frames the whole dial and adds some technical details. The sense of depth in the dial is tremendous, as though it sits several millimeters below the mineral crystal. The various surface treatments, especially the carbon fiber and perlage, emphasize this by having a faux, holographic effect.
Within the center of the dial are four sub-dials (well, five technically) that pertain to the chronograph function. At 9 and 3 you have 60-minute and 12-hour totalizers respectively. At 12 is a set of stacked sub-dials for 1/10 and 1/100 second accuracy, each with their own hand. Though stacked, they are easy to read. At 6, mirroring the sub-dial at 12, is 1/1000 second index, which is a small arc rather than a full circle. The design of the sub-dials and their respective indexes is well done. Despite adding a lot of information and visual elements to the dial, everything is clear and legible, with some interesting detailing. I quite like that they put an emphasis of maintaining symmetry, though the date window between 4 and 5 does disrupt this somewhat.
The hour and minute hands have a skeletonized sword/fence post design with lumed tips that suits the dial well. The sub-dials all have triangular hands of the same design in either white or yellow, with the stacked register having both for clarity. The primary seconds hand/chrono seconds is a long thin yellow stick with a Precisionist figure 8 logo on its end.
The star of this watch is the Precisionist Quartz movement inside. There are several things that make this movement interesting, starting with the most obvious, the smooth sweeping seconds hand. Typically, quartz watches, as you well know, tick once per second while mechanical watches, due to the oscillation frequency of the balance wheel, have a smooth sweep (some smoother than others, such as the Zodiac SST 36000 hi-beat). The Precisionist move utilizes a unique 3-pronged crystal, rather than the typical 2-pronged variety, to achieve a frequency 8 times greater than a standard quartz.
This allows the second hand to move incredibly smoothly and grants the Precisionist with an incredible accuracy of within 10/sec… a year! To put this in perspective, COSC Chronometer grade mechanical keeps time with -4/+6 seconds a day (which is 99.9% accurate). That’s a very big difference in accuracy.
To some, the smooth sweep is sort of masking the quartz nature of the watch. Sure, you could make that claim, but in reality this is a logical improvement on the quartz watch. I don’t know about you, but when I pick up a quartz and find that the second hand is ticking, but not lining up with the markers (which is always), I get quite frustrated. This overcomes that by way of increased accuracy. Plus, it’s so smooth that it’s beyond the sweep of a mechanical. Interestingly, there are some very fine mechanical watches with “dead stop seconds”, such as the Gronefeld 1hz, which feature second hands that jump rather than sweep.
Increasing both the function and versatility of the Precisionist is the 1/1000-second chronograph built in. In order to use the chronograph, one first must press the button at 8. This sends the second hand around to 0 or the origin. Since this is neither mechanical nor mecha-quartz, the second hand takes some time to travel, especially if it’s just past the origin. This can be an inconvenience if you are looking to time something all of the sudden.
Once setup, the chronograph is initiated in the typical fashion with the pusher at 2. Immediately you will notice 2 interesting things. 1, the second hand is no longer sweeping, but rather jumping in very measured steps, second by second. 2, the 1/10 and 1/100 hands are spinning wildly. Once 30 seconds have elapsed, the 1/10 and 1/100 hands reset and all that is in motion is the seconds counter. This disappointed me as the quickly spinning hands are novel, and a typically quartz only function (yes, the Tag Heuer Mikrographs are an exception). I assume this is to conserve energy, but it does take away from the spectacle and pulls back the curtain on the movement a bit. That is to say, that is becomes very clear that the movement is calculating internally with a computer rather than with an active stopwatch.
Upon pausing the movement with the pusher at 2, the 1/10, 1/100 and 1/1000 hands all suddenly jump into place, indicating the elapsed time to absurd precision. Knowing that something happened in 1 hour, 5 minutes and 43.864 seconds might not be the most useful knowledge, especially since the reaction time of your thumb is far slower than a thousandth of a second, but it is cool. If you then start the chronograph again, the 1/10 and 1/100 hands will spin for another 30 seconds. If you restart, the sub-dials reset, and the seconds hand takes a trip back to the origin.
Strap and Wearability
The Precisionist Champlain chronograph features a solid steel bracelet that stands up to the oversized case, and is perhaps a bit more refined. The bracelet starts with a massive, solid 24mm end link that integrates with the lug design. The links of the bracelet taper slightly down to 22mm, but still seem genuinely massive. Each link consists of three parts, 2 sides and a central panel. The central panel has a unique canted design that angles it to raise above the side areas. The links are also heavily finished, with brushing, lines of polished steel and a groove that appears to be matte. Topping this off is a relatively simple, but secure clasp with dive extension. It’s quite a beautiful bracelet and I was very glad to see it was a unique design for the watch.
You might have gotten the picture already, but this watch is huge. Until you put in on your wrist, you’re not aware of just how immense it is. The 46.5 diameter is nothing to scoff at, nor is the towering 17.9mm height, but what drives the watch over the edge (literally) is the distance from end-link to end-link. At 62mm, these protrusions from the central case extended well past the edges of my 7″ wrist, which is where I personally draw the line. That said, for dudes with big wrists or those who are into the oversized look, this will probably be just fine.
The look itself is well thought out and achieved. The watch immediately brings racing and automotive design to mind as well as touches upon louder and more ostentatious watch trends. This isn’t a watch you wear to be stealth, on the contrary you wear it hoping people will notice it. If the sheer scale of it doesn’t garner attention, the glimmering reflections from the textured dial will. The yellow accent hands add some needed color and style.
I imagine for the right person this is a versatile design. It’s aggressive, sporty and overtly masculine, but has some elegant finishing and details. Clearly it would work with shorts and t-shirt, or business attire. It’s comparable to a Hummer or other “luxury” SUV in that it can go off road, but also looks appropriate parked outside of a club.
What makes the Bulova Precisionist Champlain Chronograph an interesting watch is the innovative movement inside. Sweep seconds, unparalleled accuracy and a 1/1000 chronograph combine to make an altogether unique quartz experience. The watch itself while quite over the top, is well made, decently finished and has some quality components, such as the curved crystal (wish it was sapphire though) and a great bracelet. That said, at $799 MSRP (other models start at less) this is a lot to pay for quartz watch. In my opinion, any quartz that costs over a couple of hundred dollars has to offer something really special. Clearly, the Bulova Precisionist does, but whether or not it’s worth $799 is debatable. The same case with an automatic and a sapphire wouldn’t be questioned, and this is a proprietary movement.
That said, I do think that while the design is successful as an oversized, über-masculine watch, it is inherently limiting. It’s not appealing to those who prefer understated designs, and is uncomfortable on people with even medium sized wrists. They clearly tried to make a unique and consistent language for the Precisionist line, 3-handers and chronos, but in designing such an extreme look, perhaps undermined the most important feature, the movement. The idea of a classic, versatile casual watch, maybe 40mm, with a movement that is accurate to within 10 seconds a year sounds like a win to me. If they just put it in the Commemorative Hack watch (knocked a few hundred off the price) they’d have a cult favorite.
By Zach Weiss
Review unit supplied by Bulova