I’m staring at the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph and, frankly, I’m lost. This watch has to be the most polarizing vintage watch that I own. It defines strange, but I see an almost elemental beauty in its simplicity. That being said, what the hell is this thing?!?! Where did it come from and why had I neither seen nor heard of this watch prior to just a few weeks ago? In this week’s #TBT, I’m going to do my best to share with you as much as I’ve been able to find about this seemingly rare chronograph and in what has proven to be an even greater challenge, I’ve done my best to photograph this impossible beast. Let’s reverse plunge off the gunwale into the murkiness with the decidedly different Bulova Sea Hunter!
The Bulova Sea Hunter Chronograph was an Unknown
It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself beset by what I can honestly say was the worst head cold I’ve experienced in the last ten years. Thankfully, the good folks at Watches of Knightsbridge prescribed a massive watch auction that I was able to stream – they and other in-person attendees can send their thanks for my home viewing as I was originally planning to fly over and pop in to watch for a bit. It was a fun and varied auction, but one piece truly stood out to me and that was the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph as pictured above. In an auction that was up and down as far as activity, the Bulova actually sold for more than its predicted range at 1400 GBP’s. After fees, this was roughly $2,250. Now, I certainly don’t consider myself as one who has seen every type of vintage chronograph, but I was flummoxed, as this watch was an absolute mystery to me. It was time to open up a second browser window and get to work.
Locating the Bulova Sea Hunter was a Stroke of Luck
Coming straight out of the “Department of This Stuff Never Happens to Me Department”, I miraculously found one Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph for sale exactly like the model that had just sold at auction. To give you an idea of how lucky the find was, I dug fairly deeply that weekend to find out more information and even deeper since then and I’ve unearthed about 5-6 examples of this watch on various for sale sites and forums.
The watch I found was listed by Amsterdam Watch Company, a Dutch dealer with a stylish shop in the equally hip Jordaan district of the well-known city. I contacted them, went though some negotiations, and the deal was done at what I felt was a reasonable level. I stress the last part because I literally had one result to go off of as the other listings I found were either so dated or were for slightly different watches with white dials, gold bezels or some combination of the two. And then, I waited…
A week or so later, the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph arrived at my office. It’s times like this that I chuckle a bit about this hobby because, aside from buying old watches that could literally break down at any point, it’s typically the case that I buy something that I really have no clue as to whether I’ll love or not when I finally see it in the metal. Well, I shouldn’t have held any concern as the Sea Hunter was exactly what I had hoped for – bold, stark and downright weird.
The Bulova Sea Hunter is a true “Statement Watch”
Let’s lay out some particulars for the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph because I’m guessing it’s not well known. The case, which features a design that I can only describe as Aquastar or Squale, is big, fully stainless and runs about 42mm in diameter. It features an easy 20mm lug width that makes strap fitting a breeze. The screw down case back proudly repeats the model name and tells us that this watch is good for 200M of water resistance.
This capability is further reinforced by a screw-down crown but weakened by cap pushers that are likely not useable once submerged. Flipping the watch topside is where it gets interesting because this watch contains one of the craziest crystals I’ve ever seen.
The Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph features a ridiculously domed acryclic crystal that could only be described as a bubble. In fact aside from the Corum that gets its name from the shape of its lens, the vintage Super Squale divers featured the same style of aperture. It’s an amazing detail that immediately adds a vintage/kitschy feel to the Sea Hunter while giving it a very purposeful look. Oh, and it makes the damn thing nearly impossible to photograph without either reflecting massively or distorting or obscuring the dial details.
And then there’s that massive polished stainless steel bezel. It provides some serious lateral protection for the big crystal while looking like a ship’s porthole.
It also reminds me a lot of certain Panerai Mare Nostrum chronographs with their plain bezels. Again, it’s a cool bold feature, but it does little to help a diver measure time underwater.
Dial-wise, the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph is gloriously simple. It’s gloss black with copper colored, ringed subregisters. Sub register hands are black with gold pinions. The watch features applied hour registers that are gold and filed with a stripe of greenish tritium. Writing on the dial, such as the name and the outer minutes track is printed in bronze color that almost looks gilt. A word about this – I love the font used for the model name, but it is mounted awfully high above center. The main hands are done in gold and ape the Submariner’s with a Mercedes style hour hand. The central chrono hand is a lollipop filled with lume. Setting this hand somewhere along the dial, by the way, seems to be the only way for a diver to mark his or her entry into the water.
Little is Known about the Production Date or Figures
Working yeoman-like inside the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph is the ubiquitous Valjoux 7736. It’s a manual movement that winds smoothly, runs like a workhorse and is still easy to service. Now, looking at the watch in its entirety, taking into account its case style, acrylic crystal and manual wind movement, I’d ask you to guess this Bulova’s production date. One more hint – the 7736 was supposedly produced until 1978. To be clear, the exact date of production is still a mystery but the few sites I’ve seen point to roughly 1980. So, if I had to fathom a guess we’re probably talking about a watch that was built in relatively low numbers and was using up stocks of parts on hand. Want more intrigue? I have no proof here, but the fact that 95% of the old sales ads and forum discussions I see are based out of Italy, I have to wonder if the Sea Hunter was an “Italian market only” watch. This wouldn’t be unheard of – during this time, Hamilton seemed to sell 7750-powered chronographs in Italy with some very similar color combinations. As always, if anyone knows of more info, I’d be happy to hear it.
Oddly Enough, the Bulova Sea Hunter Wears Well
I’ve been wearing the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph consistently since I’ve picked it up because it is so different to anything else I own. It’s heavy, feels substantial, but it’s extremely comfortable. It’s a great casual Friday watch that pairs really well with jeans. When the watch was for sale it was paired with a really nice looking black strap with saddle stitching. I like this, but wanted something to bring out the gold on the dial, so I asked for another strap as part of the deal. Amsterdam Watch Co. was good enough to throw in a couple more straps for me to review. I’ve mounted the Sea Hunter on a really nice brown “short nap” suede out of the shop’s new “vintage collection” of straps and I’ve thrown one of my Tudor Subs on a really wild distressed brown leather piece. The suede fits the Bulova perfectly and I think it actually ups the Panerai-esque resemblance even more! They’re Italian made, beautifully crafted, and at roughly 89 Euros, they’re in the sweet spot of most handmade straps. I’d advise you to check out their strap section to see the large assortment (30+ colors in 20mm) – do note that they even fit my wimpy little wrist.
Coming back to the Bulova Sea Hunter chronograph and finding one, good luck! As mentioned, I’ve seen this watch with a gold bezel and stainless.
I’ve seen a white dialed version with bronze subregisters with either a gold or a stainless bezel. Adding yet another variation, there exists a chronograph version with a turning outer bezel – that bezel is turned by pulling a small crown out and rotating it. The crown sits at 9:00, which just adds to the weird, weird, weird! And then there are the non-chronograph versions that are stylistically similar case wise but feature different dials. These watches are water resistant to 1000M and feature the same blank bezel or a turning outer bezel operable by a second crown at 2:00. Value-wise, it’s very hard to assess these. I gave you a figure above from a couple weeks ago at auction, so I’d assume this is fairly relevant give or take. For the divers, I’d assume slightly less, but perhaps that’s not the case! On these, I’d say that you’d be well out of luck should any pieces be missing, but movements are thankfully easy to service.
The Bulova Sea Hunter is easily one of the most interesting watches I own. It’s also a good example of how once I think I’ve seen everything there is to see, I absolutely haven’t. It’s not unlike the story of the Nivada Datomaster and that became one of my favorite stories. As stated earlier, I’d love to learn more about this Bulova – it’s a kooky piece, but I thought it was worth sharing here as it’s simply too neat to hide. Until next week…