Right off the bat, Bulova is terrible at marketing. We’ve beat this subject to death in articles or on the Podcast but when it comes to brands who attempt to hearken to their past or release reissues, you’d have a better chance signaling the International Space Station with a flashlight in your yard than you would hearing about new model watches from Bulova. Most of the time, with the exception of the Oceanographer or the Lunar Pilot, I discover new Bulova releases just by visiting the website.
This watch really wasn’t any different. Now, as I’ve stated before, Bulova has been on a real tear with releasing watches that call-back back to their heritage since Citizen bought them a decade ago. However, these releases seem to fall into the obscurity of the website if they aren’t part of the Archive Series. The Bulova Marine Star Chronograph ref. 98B301 is one of those watches.
How I Got This Bulova
The Marine Star Collection has been around for decades, and while they offer automatic and quartz offerings, the combination of fake screws, AP wannabe looks, open hearts, and 100M water resistance tend to turn watch enthusiasts away. Last year they quietly released a trio of Marine Star Chronos that actually appeared to be inspired by more classic diving watches and even have a hint of vintage on the dial.
Released to little-to-no fan fair, it’s hard to even find a YouTube video covering this handsome watch. I, myself, stuck it in my Amazon wish list and never could make myself pull the trigger. I’ve found it harder to spend money on watches “just to try” as I get older. Nevertheless, my wife had to go to Florida back in the winter for work, and being the most interesting person in the world that she is, bought me this watch from my wish list, “just in case she never came back.”
She also then told me she didn’t care if I sold it. I wore it the week she was gone and have gone back to it a several times.
The Two Tone Case and 120-Click Bezel
With the watch in hand, you can absolutely tell that this is a more conservative design from Bulova with the unfortunate DNA of the dreaded mall watch. The watch case size is 45mm in diameter with a thickness of 15. That’s Omega Planet Ocean Chrono size without the automatic chronograph movement. In fact, I think my Steinhart Racetimer with the 7750 might be a millimeter smaller in width. The Lunar Pilot looks smaller when placed side by side.
So, now that we’ve established that it’s a big watch, let me just say that the combo of stainless and gold with the blue dial and bezel are extremely handsome. While the watch is a simple round case with a more classic flare, the angles on the lugs and the shoulders are indicative of modern Bulova watches.
Another feature found on modern Bulovas is the combination of brushed and polished surfaces. Face on, they did a great job of trying to imitate the sport dress watch/tool watch look but turning the watch to view the left side and Bulova’s 80 grit sandpaper brushing stands out like a sore thumb.
Why do they do that? While the brushed surface is paired with a polished bevel to keep the side from looking thicker than a snicker, the brushing is awful. It’s almost as if it was an afterthought. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it and it most certainly won’t be the last, I fear.
Something that Bulova did well on this model was the combination of stainless and gold. It’s classy. You get some nice gold pop with the bezel, crown, and pushers. It’s not gaudy. And if you don’t like gold, but want to have a more jewelry look, it’s a great combination. Speaking of the bezel, the insert is acrylic which gives it that three-dimensional look that’s a design call-back to bakelite bezels found on vintage divers.
Let’s not forget that this is a Marine Star, Bulova’s more dive-ish collection.To go along with the unidirectional diver’s bezel is a screw down crown and 200M of water resistance. Most of the other Marine Stars are only 100M. Again, a feature someone might find interesting that kind of came and went in the night.
The coin edge provides the 120 click bezel with good grip and the bezel overall is easily manipulated with very little play. The same goes for the crown, that screws in and out with very little issue. Finally, the case back has Bulova’s standard radial brushed, blank surface with some of the info printed around the edge leaving a big field you can have engraved. If that’s still something people do.
The “Blue” Dial
According to Bulova, the dial is listed simply as “Blue.” But it’s a little better than that, and probably one of the better dials that Bulova has in their line-up. The gorgeous Navy Blue sunburst dial has two chronograph dials and a running seconds dial. The “Bulova” and “Marine Star” logos are printed in stark white below the applied tuning fork logo at 12. White marks signify different timing all around the dial and on the record pattern chrono subdails which count minutes elapsed and 1/20th of a second.
The running second subdial is a throwback to old crosshair dials of days gone by. I, for one, am happy to see the crosshairs come back on some Bulova watches. All indices are applied and painted with white lume paint, surrounded in gold, and recessed into the beveled chapter ring which makes the dial look smaller that it actually is.
All the watch hands are gold, with the hour and minute hand having a black stripe run through the center with white lume. What Bulova does right here is painting the chrono second hand white so that it stands out against the darker dial.
Any other color and it may have gotten lost against it (a la the second hand on the Dan Henry 1964 evil panda). While I don’t mind the date window at 6, it’s not the window being there that bothers me, it’s the date wheel itself. It looks cheap and can sometimes be a little off center.
Hold No Hope For The Bracelet
Let’s face it, the actual value of a Bulova is determined by whoever sells it at the cheapest price, and the bracelet makes you think that they know that. Bulova bracelets are notoriously cheap and this is no exception. Even though it has solid links throughout, it feels like a table saw would reveal that they are hollow. They also have a tinny sound and feel. It doesn’t feel like steel. And even though it has subtle accents of gold that don’t overwhelm, that can’t save it from the junky feel, and the bland, stamped steel clasp.
It does come with a dive extension, but I’ve seen better bracelets on an $80 Invicta. Such a shame. If you want to feel frisky and make the watch stand out a little, I suggest putting an Uncle Seiko Tropic strap on it (Read Henry’s strap review here). “A nice tropic on a cheap watch, you say?” Trust me. It’s actually kind of cool looking.
The Quartz Movement
Unless powered by the UHF movement, Bulova is always mum about the movements in their watches. They pretty much describe them as “quartz” or “automatic.” Well, this watch is a quartz, and using the power of observation, I can say with almost all certainty that this watch is powered by the Miyota 6S20 or a similar movement from that family as it operates exactly like the Dan Henry 1963.
It’s pretty much what you would expect, +-20 seconds a month, a 1/20th hand that spins like a whirling dervish until 30 seconds have elapsed, and the standard swing back to home when reset. The good thing is, you get a great feeling and audible click when the chrono is activated and deactivated. Also, the main chrono second hand sweeps at 4 ticks per second rather than just the dull one tick per second. So, at minimum, it kind of feels like a vintage chrono.
However, that also makes the 1/20th of a second hand counter null and void, which is always something I don’t like. This watch would have been a great candidate for the UHF chrono movement that is in the Lunar Pilot and Chronograph C. Why is it not here?
Closing Remarks on the Bulova Marine Star Chronograph
This release came and went. It’s still on Bulova’s site for the low, low price of $460.00. Expect to find it under $300 on wholesale sites. While I like a lot of the things this watch represents, it’s still awash in Bulova’s cheap mall-watch DNA. Why? It had so much potential and could have been an original release from Bulova that took the watch world by storm… well, maybe at least a light gale, but instead lives in the back of the store, barely noticed.
It’s literally one of the best looking watches to wear the Marine Star name in recent years if not a decade. Also, as far as dive watches go, it has the most water resistance of any watch with Marine Star on it’s dial as of late. Only the UHF powered Sea King had more at 300M, and it’s been discontinued.
It’s such a shame that someone designed something so nice only to have its execution fall just short and end up collecting dust on a shelf because absolutely no one knew it existed. I’m not hating on Bulova, far from it. I like Bulova quite a bit, as it was the choice of my Grandfather. I also know what they are capable of.
And while I know my wife is reading this, and I have ABSOLUTELY NO DESIRE TO SELL IT, I just wish that Bulova could put the many years of innovation and beautiful designs in a package they would at least act proud of. I like this watch. But it’s not even close to what some brands are putting out at similar price points. That’s the true shame of it.
Baird is an avid motoring enthusiast and a self taught hobbyist watchmaker from Bristol, TN. He has a love for all things mechanical and has an affinity for the style late 60s and 70s Chronographs and Dive watches. Baird views watches as engineering marvels and tools for everyday life rather than just jewelry. His writing style is inspired by certain “British automotive journalists” and his own experiences growing up and living in a blue-collar society.
6 thoughts on “Bulova Marine Star Review: The Mall Chronograph You’ve Never Heard Of”
I read your review, could a polishing/brushing rom a jeweler save this watch? Also, I’d say the band would have to go in favor of a crocodile blue leather strap. What would you say about this watch vs an homage 98b230?
Crocodile blue might look really good on this watch for sure!
Re: Bulova 8136 UHF (aka Precisionist) movement:
If they did put the 8136 UHF movement inside it, you’d still be getting a zero jewel Miyota 6S20, amped up to a 262 kHz oscillator frequency with a reprogrammed divider counter using three more flip-flops and the same stepper motors. It would still be a 1/20th sec chrono, with a 1-second ticking running seconds, and the same tick rate of the chrono seconds, but it would eat the battery faster. You wouldn’t be getting much more than you’ve got already, if anything, beyond more frequent battery replacement. The increase in accuracy with the 262 kHz oscillator isn’t nearly what Bulova originally claimed it would be. Indeed, Bulova has been silent in advertising or publishing the specs on their watches. When pressed earlier this year with direct correspondence on the matter, I got a response that it’s sixty seconds per year. Better than a 32 kHz oscillator in mfr. specs but not in practical performance in which many of my 32 kHz watches are just as accurate, performing within a minute per year.
The most accurate watch I own was made in Finland. A Suunto Vector. More than ten years old and still going strong.
The second most accurate is a…. Swatch.
My Bulova Curv is not quite HAQ territory, it still returns a respectable +16s per year, in a country that gets very hot in summer. I have no problem with this performance.
Citizen have made an effort to increase the quality of a few models, but we must remember that we don’t know how much profit from how many sales they generate from their Mall Watches.
As WIS we want to see watches we can be proud of, we want to be proud of a company with such a history. We want to “rescue” Bulova from Walmart et Al. But nobody in Burger King is talking about going upmarket. It seems that the management of Bulova feel the same.
I really wish this watch had a sapphire crystal
And an automatic movement