I’m usually cold on quartz because it lacks the whiz-bang micro-mechanized intricacy of a mechanical movement. On the other hand, Bulova’s quartz-powered revival of Astronaut David Scott’s Apollo 15 prototype works on a few levels. First, it tells a lost chapter in the tale of watches and rockets that has been dominated by the Speedmaster for decades. It also works as an affordable homage to the Speedmaster—not because this watch is based on the Omega, but because the original Bulova prototype was meant as a replacement for the Speedy. That gives it a provenance that most homages lack. And even leaving all that lunar lore aside, it works as a retro-futuristic piece in its own right.
Let’s get the movement out of the way up front. Aesthetically, this watch matches the one Dave Scott wore when he walked on the Moon during the Apollo 15 mission. The only moon watch to go on the auction block, it sold for $1.625 million after it resurfaced in 2015. (Those NASA Speedmasters still belong to NASA.) But under the hood, the new Bulova has nothing in common with its predecessor. As explained in Hung Doan’s excellent piece over at Worn & Wound, the Bulova moon watch was born in 1972 when the Americans made a run at Omega’s NASA contract.
Lacking its own chronograph, Bulova sourced the movement from its new Swiss acquisition: Universal Genève. Bulova never got the contract but it produced at least 16 prototypes, including Col. Scott’s watch. Through some impressive internet sleuthing, Doan discovered that the Dave Scott Bulova most likely used a Valjoux 72—the same manual, column wheel, lateral clutch chrono used in (among others) UG’s Space Compax. He sleuthed that out by locating a second Bulova prototype that sold at auction (without the moon watch provenance) for a mere $3,000 in 1994. Today, the beautiful UG movement is replaced by Bulova’s Precisionist quartz.
It would have been epic if Bulova had used a replica of the original movement, but the Precisionist is no run of the mill quartz. Bulova calls its flagship movement the most accurate in the world, owing to its thermo-regulated three-prong quartz crystal that produces a 262.144 kHz vibration frequency—eight times greater than a conventional two-prong crystal. That keeps the time to within 10 seconds per year, which is Grand Seiko quartz territory. On some other watches, it powers a sweep second hand, but not here. The subdial at 6:00 ticks gently every second until the battery dies. But the 1/10 second dial at 3:00 moves smoothly, as does the chrono second hand in the center.
The subdial configuration echoes the original, but they are rearranged and repurposed. In the original you had (left to right starting at 9): running second, 12-hour chrono, and 30-minute chrono. Here, the 9:00 dial counts 60 minutes, running second is at the bottom, and the rightmost 1/10 second dial whirs rapidly for thirty seconds before it pauses; when you stop the chrono it jumps to the proper reading. Everything glides back home when you reset.
The chrono pushers and crown are all in their usual places; but the pushers are unique slender blades, matte on top and polished on the sides. They click really nicely, almost audibly, and help give the quartz chrono some character.
Stylistically, it’s a dead ringer for the Dave Scott prototype. Everything is black or white and—except for the spear-shaped chronograph second hand—straight. The applied hour markers and everything in between sit on a plateau above the minute register and the tachymeter juts above all that. Unlike the Speedmaster, the Bulova’s tachymeter is under the sapphire crystal. A thin bezel sits below the flat crystal and so this watch is all dial. The setup gives it a very flat side profile that adds to the retro charm (and matches the original). The date at 4:30 is anachronistic but unobtrusive. The big thick hands and those applied markers keep things legible, although the lume is anemic.
The case is a bit sneaky. Its matte finish looks like aluminum, but it’s really a hefty slab of 316L stainless. From the side, it looks fairly flat, but flip it over and the lugs curve down aggressively, culminating in sharp points. This is only perceptible off the wrist; day-to-day I never noticed the lugs, but they could double as a weapon if Apollo 18 comes to pass. It’s a wide case (45 mm) and thick (13.5 mm); I found it to be on the large end of wearable on my 7″ wrist. Lug-to-lug it is just a touch too big for me at 53 mm, but I’m picky about that. So don’t let the numbers scare you.
The leather strap added to the wearability, but I worry about its longevity. After less than a week it was showing signs of wear at the adjustment holes. If I did need to change the strap, I’d keep the buckle. It’s such a small detail, but the tubular shape looks straight out of the NASA parts bin.
That perfect replica buckle sums up my feelings about the Bulova moon watch: it’s an aesthetically pleasing reissue of a lost classic. It hits all the visual cues of the original, but it still works as a modern chronograph. The quartz movement is as good as you can get without a mainspring, and the crisp pushers make it a tactile delight. I’ve heard people ask why you need a chronograph these days; what are you supposed to time with it? But that question misses the point that this watch drives home. Like a mechanical watch, the question is not “why do you need it?” but “why is it interesting?” Clicking the second hand into motion and watching the 1/10 hand fly is like a nerdy animated dial. It’s not necessarily functional, but it’s absolutely cool. And there’s nothing cooler than a chronograph that’s been to the Moon. bulova.com
Bulova Special Edition Moon Chronograph (96B251)
- Price: $550USD (leather); $650USD (stainless)
- Who’s it for? No moon watch collection is complete without it.
- Would I buy it? It’s a bit too big, but I’m tempted.
- What I’d change?A Valjoux 72 version would sell out instantly.
- Standout feature? The story: it’s the lost moon watch.
- Movement: Precisionist Quartz
- Case size: 45 mm x 13.5 mm; 53 mm lug-to-lug.
- Lug width: 20 mm
- Case material: 316L stainless steel
- Crystal: flat, anti-reflective sapphire
- Straps: textured leather with (cool) pin buckle; nylon NATO (not tested); stainless bracelet (not tested)
- Claimed water resistance: 5 ATM (50 m)
- Warranty: 3 Years