There’s no doubt that mechanical still reigns supreme in enthusiast circles. However, there’s a dedicated and growing fanbase in the watch community centered around high-tech quartz movements as well. Be it the dependable thermo-compensated accuracy of movements like Breitling’s Superquartz or the intriguing blend of quartz and mechanical technology behind Seiko’s Spring Drive series, high-tech quartz is taking pride of place among more die-hard enthusiasts’ collections than at any point in recent memory. Bulova has long been a dark horse in this exotic quartz arms race, but its ultra-high-frequency quartz movement series has largely been confined to the aggressive, polarizing Precisionist series (at least in its three-hand guise). For 2023, however, Bulova aims to bring this impressive movement technology to a design with broader appeal. With a handsomely compact stance on the wrist and an ethos pulled right from its 1973 namesake, the new Bulova Jet Star series seems tailor-made to be the sort of crowd-pleaser the brand needs to spread the Precisionist movement family to a wider audience. Beyond its impressive movement for the price, the Bulova Jet Star is dripping with vintage charisma and thoughtful visual details, resulting in a deeply charming grab-and-go timepiece that should be poised to bring high-accuracy quartz to a broader enthusiast base than ever before.
Although the gold-tone stainless steel case of the Bulova Jet Star measures in at 40mm wide on paper, in practice the watch wears closer to 38mm wide thanks to relatively short lugs. Also available in bare stainless steel, this form straddles a line between gentle sloping curves and broad angular planes. The overall outline is vaguely octagonal (as opposed to the continuous circular curve of the 1973 original, but octagonal case design crops up everywhere these days), with each of the vertically brushed case sides divided up into three distinct facets. Above this, the upper case surfaces and lugs are shaped by broad, abruptly flaring polished planes, which provide a prominent, brightly reflective surface to showcase the warmth and luster of the gold-tone case material. Bulova looks beyond these large elements, however, and pours impressively thoughtful detail into the finer points of the Jet Star’s design. The most impressive of these sits just beneath the sloping polished bezel. Rather than a simple brushed or polished finish, the slender ring of material between the bezel and the polished upper case surface chamfers is topped with unique sunburst brushing, which echoes the sunburst patter of the dial in direct light for a unified feel. For better or worse, Bulova takes a faithfully old-school approach to the Jet Star’s caseback, which features light, simple engravings and a somewhat under-gunned 50 meters of water resistance.
While the Bulova Jet Star’s dial layout may be relatively straightforward, it’s the execution of this simple design that allows the dial to stand out. Stainless steel models are available in either a deep merlot red or limited edition silver, but our gold-tone review model is fitted with the rich, funky “Butterscotch” dial colorway. Far from the traditional bright yellow-gold hue, this lightly textured sunburst dial begins with an almost amber tone close to the color of pure honey. Thanks to the dégradé effect of the dial, this fades to a deep chocolate brown for the outer minutes scale, leading to a delicious spectrum of warm tones across the dial. It’s far from subtle, and about as ‘70s as a polyester suit on Barry Gibb, but that brings its own brand of eye-catching charisma. The simple striped baton hands and matching brown-coated applied indices keep this look from straying into over-complication, and firmly root it in the context of its ‘70s ancestor alongside the old-school printed Bulova logo at 12 o’clock. Some purists may cry foul over the use of a white date wheel for the 3 o’clock window, but this is largely period-correct as well. What does throw off the feel of the dial slightly is the red needle seconds hand. This hand’s buttery smooth 16-beats-per-second sweep is an intriguing change of pace from the usual once-a-second stuttering of quartz seconds hands, but the red tone is arguably both too bright and too subdued to really fit the design. While a black or dark brown seconds hand would have tied into the overall color palette cleanly, the red Bulova uses is a touch too dark and muted to really be an effective punch of contrast. A more vibrant scarlet may well solve this conundrum while keeping the current style intact.
Bulova powers the Jet Star with its in-house HPQ Precisionist high-accuracy quartz movement. Its ultra-high 262,144 Hz frequency — eight times higher than the standard frequency of a quartz powerplant — allows both the gliding sweep of its seconds hand and superior accuracy. Bulova claims the HPQ Precisionist is accurate to within +5/-5 seconds per month, which may fall short of some of its far more expensive competitors in the high-accuracy quartz arms race, but is still several times more accurate than more traditional quartz offerings.
While stainless steel-cased Bulova Jet Star models are offered with both a stainless steel multi-link bracelet and a strap option, the gold tone variant is limited to a rally-style strap in mahogany brown calf leather. It’s a strap that fits the vintage ethos of the Jet Star well, with its yellow accent stitching and warm undertones, but the leather itself can come across a touch uniform. A strap with a bit more texture and character to the leather might suit the dial better, but as it sits it’s a solid strap for the price.
Bulova is far from a newcomer to the world of high-accuracy quartz movements, but the new Bulova Jet Star truly comes across as a watershed moment for its efforts in this field. Handsome, well-proportioned, dramatically finished, and above all both capable and solidly affordable, the Jet Star could easily become the exotic quartz on-ramp for a broad swath of enthusiasts still skeptical of anything not powered by springs and gears. The Bulova Jet Star line is available now through authorized dealers. Starting MSRP for this watch stands at $595 USD as of press time. For more details, please visit the brand’s website.
>Model: Jet Star
>Price: $595 USD
>When reviewer would personally wear it: As a fun and funky daily wear, or as an accurate long-term backup to a predominantly mechanical collection.
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: ‘70s design fans who want to channel the decade on the wrist without high-end prices or high-accuracy quartz geeks looking for an affordable and wearable option.
>Best characteristic of watch: Incredible movement performance; captivating “butterscotch” fumé dial.
>Worst characteristic of watch: Red seconds hand feels out of place; strap material lacks the texture to match the case and dial.