Welcome to Watches You Should Know, a biweekly column highlighting important or little-known watches with interesting backstories and unexpected influence. This week: the Bulova Lunar Pilot.
There’s the Moonwatch, and then there’s the other Moonwatch. The famous Omega Speedmaster’s story has been told and retold, but a lesser-known chronograph made by Bulova that also went to the Moon on a NASA mission offers a cool and unique link to that iconic adventure. The Lunar Pilot is the modern version of that watch, and it offers a genuine “Moonwatch” experience for just a few hundred bucks.
Unlike the case with Speedmasters, you won’t really find vintage variations of the Bulova Lunar Pilot very easily. That’s because it was produced only as a prototype and all but unknown until relatively recently — and much about its story remains murky and contested. What we do know is that an original surfaced in 2015 for auction by the astronaut who wore it himself.
Dave Scott was among three crew members aboard the Apollo 15 in 1971 — just two years following the first and most famous lunar mission of 1969. After a second round of NASA trials for watch candidates, the Speedmaster was selected again and issued to all astronauts. The crew was allowed to bring some personal effects, however, and it’s well established that Scott wore his Bulova-provided backup watch on the Moon after the crystal popped off his issued Speedmaster.
When Scott put his Bulova up for auction, it created a lot of excitement in part because it was the only known privately owned watch that had been on the Moon. The actual Omega Speedmasters astronauts wore were issued by NASA and so are considered government property. Scott’s Bulova was auctioned for a final price of no less than $1,625,000 in 2015, and Bulova released its modern remake of it the same year, naming it the Lunar Pilot.
It’s likely no coincidence that the dials and bezels of the Speedmaster and Bulova Lunar Pilot look similar. Each watch company competed for the honor and marketing value of making the Moonwatch to NASA’s requirements and specifications. Omega’s successful 1969 design even beat the now luxurious Rolex Daytona and no doubt influenced Bulova as well. Not only its story, but even its looks make the Lunar Pilot a solid affordable alternative to the Omega Speedmaster.
While the original Bulova watch would have had a mechanical movement like the Valjoux 72 inside, the brand’s modern version is equipped with a quartz movement which could be considered a descendent of its Accutron technology. Bulova’s High Performance Quartz even outdoes the famous reliability and precision of standard quartz — which itself beats mechanical watch movements by miles. However cool and fun mechanical watches are, a superior movement operating at 262Hz, as Bulova’s does, is practical and appropriate for a watch as technical in nature as space-bound equipment should be.
The Bulova watch that’s now recreated as the Lunar Pilot wasn’t selected by NASA for use, but it’s still a watch that was actually made for NASA’s requirements — and one that did find its way onto the Moon and into pictures of a spacesuited astronaut in action. Bulova, however, also played a notable role in NASA projects in other ways. According to the brand, its Accutron technology was used in 46 missions from the mid-1950s to the 1970s “in all instrument panel clocks and timekeeping mechanisms.”
You just can’t beat the allure of a watch made for actual space missions, and there are but a handful such watches in existence. For a few hundred bucks, the modern Lunar Pilot must be one of the most compelling modern homage watches available today.