The name “Devil Diver” might not mean much to your average Joe, but say that around a watch geek, and you’ll see their ears perk up. The Bulova Devil Diver isn’t an iconic watch in the way that maybe a Rolex Sub, or an Omega Speedmaster is. But to the enthusiast crowd, it’s well-known as both 1) an idiosyncratic — thanks to its depth resistance listed out in “666 feet,” rather than “200 meters” — and ubiquitous dive watch from the ’60s and ’70s, and 2) a relative bargain on the vintage watch market, even today, as prices steadily grow for such things.
Given the popularity of vintage watches (and old divers in particular), it’d only make sense that Bulova would capitalize upon this with a reissue of the original Oceanographer “Devil Diver.” And the brand essentially did this twice; once with a limited, spot-on recreation of a vintage reference with the help of the vintage watch nuts at Analog/Shift, and a second time with a slightly less accurate (though cheaper) mainstream model that most enthusiasts will actually end up getting their hands on. The watch here is the latter, and while Bulova had to make some design compromises, it’s still a watch worth gawking at.
The Good: What’s astounding about this watch is that, despite its low price point, it does not skimp on detailed design work, and much of it will be to the delight of vintage watch enthusiasts. It’s the small vintage cues that make the difference, notably the elements on the dial and the feel of the bracelet. Factor in the fact that the watch runs an automatic movement, and you have a hell of a lot of dive watch for just under $800.
Who They’re For: That said, you can get a decent example of a vintage Devil Diver for around the same price as the reissue, so what’s the benefit of getting this one? Well, you can actually dive with it, for one. So those who like the vintage look want to actually use the watch in some capacity, even if its just a dip in the pool, can wear the new model with confidence. Outside the water, it’s as eye-catching as any tool watch you can get under a grand, so you can feel good about “desk diving” with it, too.
Watch Out For: Arguably the biggest drawback with the mainstream version compared to the limited edition is the ballooning in size to 44mm, compared to 40mm, which was the size of the original watch. This may deter some purists, but fortunately, the cushion case wears relatively small, though it’s still a noticeably large watch. Other than that, I have a quibble with the placement of the spring bars. If you decide to swap in a Nato — as one usually does at some point with a dive watch — you’re gonna have to swap out the “fat” spring bars that come with the watch for narrower ones just to get the Nato to slide through. And even then it’s a tight squeeze, necessitating a little bending of the spring bar to accommodate a strap, especially if it’s a thicker “seatbelt” type.
One more thing: because this watch uses a Miyota 812A — which uses an “indirect” seconds hand — the seconds hand will pause or “stutter” when the watch is shaken or undergoes any sudden movement. There’s nothing wrong with the watch and, according to Worn & Wound this doesn’t affect accuracy — it’s merely a small, aesthetic oddity.
Alternatives: If you want a cheaper option but the Bulova’s basic aesthetic, Seiko’s beloved “Turtle” reissue is a good alternative, as it features the same type of cushion case and a much lower price ($495). That said, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the Bulova’s finer vintage details. If you don’t mind paying a bit more, Zodiac’s Super Sea Wolf 53 ($1,095+) is another accurate recreation of a vintage dive watch icon, and at 40mm it’ll wear much smaller if you’re put off by the Devil Diver’s rotund proportions.
Review: A watch is just one of those things you can’t truly appreciate until you see it in person, but that goes doubly so for the Bulova Devil Diver. This is a watch that, more than pretty much any other dive watch in its price range, seems to put details above all else. Start, for instance with the dial: the most prominent elements here are the applied hour indices that are comprised of clear plots filled with lume, and held on by tiny pegs at the bottom. There are much simpler ways to apply lume to a dial, but if Bulova went that route, it wouldn’t look like a reproduction of the original, and we wouldn’t be here talking about it.
The same could be said about the applied Bulova logo at the 12 o’clock position which, in a similarly retro move, appears to be cut from one piece of metal rather than from separate letters. This sits on a matte black dial which, in certain light, casts an almost navy blue-like hue. This is adorned with red crosshairs (matching the red on the bezel), and the text at six o’clock is convincingly old-school. Even the font on the date wheel — an element that could easily be phoned in — looks like Bulova pulled it from the original model (and the wheel utilizes a date magnifier, a design facet rarely seen on modern watches.
Given how much attention was paid to these details, it feels like a bit of a letdown that the watch comes in at 44mm, presumably to appease most of the watch market that tends to prefer larger-sized timepieces. Fortunately, the watch wears somewhat smaller than the actual measurements would suggest thanks to a cushion case design, which wears comfortably, but the watch still has a significant wrist presence. Also aiding in comfort is the bracelet, which unlike many modern watch bracelets feels thin, light and flexible. This means it not only conforms to the wrist well, but it’s also a great update of the Devil Diver’s old bracelet design.
Inside the watch is a Miyota 821-D automatic. This may be another turn-off for enthusiasts who’d prefer to see the Swiss-made Sellita used in the Limited Edition used in the mainstream model, but considering that Miyota, like Bulova, is owned by Citizen, it’s one of the reasons the brand can make these watches in larger quantities at a lower price. Given everything else you get for the money, there’s not a damn thing wrong with that at all.
Verdict: At the end of the day, the Devil Diver is another entrant in the ever-expanding field of sub-$1,000 dive watches. We have an incredible amount of choice in this area, so one has to ask exactly why you’d go with the Bulova. You’d be hard-pressed to find a diver at the Devil Diver’s price that so accurately recreates past vintage cues, and this is enough to make it stand out amongst its cohorts. For those of us intrigued by vintage design but who don’t have the patience to deal with an actual vintage watch, the Devil Diver occupies an excellent middle ground.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The heritage field is pretty crowded these days, and it’s getting more so with every passing year…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. ” — Christopher McNeill, Worn & Wound
Movement: Miyota 821-D
Case size: 44mm
Water resistance: 666ft (200 meters)
Functions: Time and date
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