First Look: Bulova Archive Series Oceanographer Devil Diver and Oceanographer Devil Diver Limited Edition

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As an avid vintage watch collector, I have always been a fan of Bulova. The brand has had a long and rich horological history (which they explored in a recent book, and which we reviewed here). But like many brands reeling in the aftermath of the Quartz Crisis, Bulova lost its way for a while. However, in recent years, Bulova has had a bit of a renaissance.

Part of that renaissance comes from Bulova’s wholehearted embrace of its storied past. In 2015, Bulova unveiled the Archive Series, a collection intended to house reissues of some of Bulova’s most iconic vintage models. There was, of course, the awesome Lunar Chronograph, which is now available in two versions. And last year, Bulova released the Stars and Stripes Chronograph C, which was based on a rare, ’70s-era piece with a now-iconic red, white, and blue dial (hence the name).

The “Devil Diver” moniker came from the fact that Bulova famously put the depth rating on the dial as “666 feet” instead of “200 meters.”

For 2018, Bulova teamed up with Analog/Shift to have fans and collectors vote for the next watch in the Archive Series. There were three possibilities on the ballot: a 1970s Bullhead Chronograph, a 1970s Surfboard Chronograph (it was my favorite of the bunch, to be honest), and a 1972 Oceanographer Devil Diver. The winner, as you may have guessed, was the Devil Diver, and Bulova’s delivery was on point with the release of not one, but two versions of this classic design.

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The two versions of the watch are the black-dialed Oceanographer Devil Diver and the orange-dialed Devil Diver Limited Edition. While they are both fantastic, the Limited Edition is definitely a cut above.

Both versions feature a recognizable cushion-case design and a flat-top sapphire crystal (with AR). Both also feature a cross-hair dial adorned with tall, raised markers, now a defining feature that’s made the original very popular with collectors. Trust me when I say this—there is no other diver with markers quite like these. And the best part of this year’s release is that both watches will feature automatic mechanical movements! It is such a relief that a company with Bulova’s heritage has gone back to mechanical calibers for this pair.

Those hour markers!

The Limited Edition is true to vintage size with a 40-millimeter case, which in my opinion is absolutely perfect. This one has a bright-orange dial, with day and date at three o’clock. The bezel insert is white for the first quarter, and it’s black for the rest. This version is extremely faithful to the original, right down to the applied metal “Bulova” branding below 12 and the font used for the “Snorkel” text above six. And of course, the “666 feet” is right where it belongs.

The movement will be a Swiss Sellita SW220 automatic caliber, which clinches it for me. As appealing as this watch is aesthetically, a quartz movement would have been a letdown.

The vintage model is fairly scarce, and so it’s fitting that this will be limited to 666 pieces. Paired with a jubilee-style bracelet, the Limited Edition will retail for  $1,495.

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The regular edition Oceanographer has a matte-black dial with sword hands that are framed in white and filled with luminous paint. Once again, Bulova has made a (relatively) faithful reproduction of the vintage original, with the notable exception of its size. The modern take gets a bump up to 44 millimeters, which quite frankly is a bit larger than I would have preferred. Now, I know that big watches are still “in” and sizing is subjective most of the time, but the same 40-millimeter case would have been ideal in my book. Even 42 millimeters would have been a nice middle ground.

The bezel, like the original, is red for the first quarter and black for the rest. True to its heritage, this model has a date-only window at three, and the box sapphire crystal has a square internal date magnifier. This is a great vintage touch. Again, the dial is a dead ringer for that of the original, and it includes the requisite “666 feet.”

The movement is still mechanical, but differs from the LE in that it’s a Japanese Miyota automatic caliber, which helps bring the price down (remember, both Bulova and Miyota are under the Citizen umbrella). The bracelet is a perfect rendition of the original “bullet” bracelet, nicknamed as such due to its round links. At $795, this one offers a reasonable value if your wrist can handle the case size.

40 millimeters on a seven-inch wrist.

The heritage field is pretty crowded these days, and it’s getting more so with every passing year. I, for one, love it, and I’m always eager to see what new vintage pieces will be re-imagined. Companies like Longines, Seiko, Omega, and Tudor have been killing it for years now, and I am so pleased to see a company like Bulova entering the fray and really hitting a home run with the Devil Diver series. I am especially happy with the level of faithfulness to their vintage roots, as well as the return to mechanical movements. Now I’ll be looking forward to next year’s releases with even more anticipation. Well done. Bulova

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Christoph (Instagram’s @vintagediver) is a long time collector and lover of all things vintage, starting with comic books when he was a kid (he still collects them). His passion for watches began in 1997 when he was gifted a family heirloom vintage Omega Genève by his step-father. That started him on the watch collecting path—buying and selling vintage watches of all sorts, with a special appreciation for vintage dive watches and Seiko.
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