June 10, 2021
As a veteran watch collector, it can be easy to forget at times that the core of this hobby is really about having fun. Enthusiasts can occasionally get so caught up in chasing the “correct watch” for a collection that they forget to wear what makes them happy, and that sometimes a dose of fun can be every bit as satisfying as all the provenance and pedigree in the world. The new Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver” is a textbook example of this, bringing both a surprisingly faithful revival of the original 1972 Bulova Oceanographer diver and a vibrant playfulness to the table.
While the current Oceanographer line was first released in 2018, the case designs up to this point have been sized at a thoroughly modern 44mm. For this new revision, however, Bulova has compacted the stainless steel form down to a more ‘70s-accurate 41mm. Even at this more moderate size, the brightly polished C-case of the Oceanographer “Devil Diver” still carries plenty of wrist presence. The nearly full polish catches the light at every angle, and even with the sloping curve of the case around the wrist, the vertical case sides have a pleasingly solid visual weight. Likewise, the coin-edge bezel feels robust and substantial, with a satisfyingly heavy and precise feel through each of its 120 clicks. The acrylic bezel insert gives the Oceanographer “Devil Diver” an extra injection of vintage style, with a glossy finish and a vibrant orange and black scale. Bulova tops off this highly vertical design with a double domed box sapphire crystal that gives the dial just a hint of old-school distortion at oblique angles. Like previous Oceanographer models, Bulova opts for a cyclops magnifier above the 3 o’clock date window, but in practice, the lens doesn’t seem to have a major effect. The screw-down pillbox crown is simple and functional, topped with the brand’s throwback text logo, and helps this diver deliver a respectable 200 meters of water resistance.
Naturally, when talking about the dial of this particular Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver,” there’s something of an elephant in the room. With the tall sloping C-case, short wide handset, and vibrant orange crosshair dial, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the classic Doxa Sub 300 Professional here. While orange dial vintage-inspired dive watches are admittedly a narrow niche, there is certainly room for more than one model in this space, and Bulova has a history of professional-oriented orange dial divers of its own dating back to the ‘70s. In practice, the “Devil Diver” gives a markedly different and flashier interpretation of this formula, starting with the matte orange tone of the dial itself. This is a vivid, traffic-cone, almost DayGlo orange tone, a color that stands out even when seen across a room. On a larger watch, this might be overwhelming, but with a relatively small dial for its 41mm diameter, the “Devil Diver” comes off as bold and playful rather than garish.
The sector dial design and applied Bulova logo at 12 o’clock are both carried over from the ‘70s original, as is the namesake “666 Feet” dial text at 6 o’clock. While so many vintage-inspired designs compromise with a more modern typeface, here the printed black text is crisp and period-correct with a touch of vintage personality shining through in the italic “snorkel” text. Perhaps the most intriguing vintage carryovers, however, are the unique applied indices. Rather than simple printed lume plots or polished metal markers, the indices of the “Devil Diver” use a miniature crystal cylinder mounted in a metal frame almost like a diamond setting with lume at the bottom of the cylinder. These indices have been an Oceanographer hallmark since the line’s introduction, and the end result is fascinating, adding miles of visual depth to the dial to match the verticality of the case. The crystal covers do little to dim the performance of the lume as well, as both the indices and the stout baton hands shine vigorously with solid longevity.
Bulova powers the Oceanographer “Devil Diver” with the Miyota 821D automatic movement. While accuracy is impressive, averaging +8.4 seconds per day across the review period, some of the 821D’s specifications may be contentious with enthusiasts. The beat rate is a relatively low 21,600 bph with a respectable power reserve of 42 hours, while the movement sometimes shows a vintage style “hesitating seconds” due to its indirect drive layout. Lastly, the 821D does not hack. While these features may prove divisive, they also add to the vintage wearing experience in a way, delivering a more authentic early ‘70s feel than a modern ETA or Sellita powerplant.
The Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver” comes equipped with a curved-end rubber strap in black. While this strap flows almost seamlessly into the case and features a nicely executed crosshatch texture insert, the thickness of this strap changes the wearing experience of the watch substantially. Although the case itself curves dramatically downward, the strap projects outward noticeably before wrapping around the wrist. This leads the relatively compact case to feel longer on the wrist. The rubber itself might be supple and comfortable, but this projection and the curved ends detract slightly from the vintage feel of the rest of the watch. That said, this would be a prime candidate for a tropic strap or Milanese bracelet to drive home the early ’70s diver ethos.
Combining both faithful vintage reproduction and fun into a single dive-ready package, the new 41mm Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver” stands as both a playful summer statement piece and a willful counterpoint to much of its competition. Where many players at this price point soften their vintage-inspired dive watch designs with modern reimaginings, Bulova sticks to its guns to deliver a far more authentically vintage experience than its direct competitors. For that reason alone, this should be a genuine contender, and the sheer amount of joy in this design makes it a difficult one to beat. The updated Bulova Oceanographer “Devil Diver” is available now through authorized dealers and online at an MSRP of $750. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Oceanographer “Devil Diver”
>Price: $750 USD
>Size: 41mm-wide, 14.5mm-thick
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a summer-wear vintage statement piece for vacations or dive trips.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: A ‘70s vintage style enthusiast, or a diver buff looking for a Doxa alternative.
>Best characteristic of watch: Vibrant color and extremely faithful reproduction of the original ‘70s dial and bezel, unique indices.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Thick rubber strap disrupts the stance on the wrist, old-school movement specs may be a turn-off for some.