The Bulova Stars and Stripes chronograph is the perfect thematic embodiment of what I like so much about vintage watches. Namely, it’s a watch unlike anything produced by the brand prior to its 1970 debut and when production ceased only a year later, Bulova never produced anything like it again. Call it a case of cold feet, a reflexive reaction to the automatic chronograph onslaught, or whatever, but the fact remains that this watch was a “one and done” from the brand that brought us innovation such as the Accutron. Still, though, I think you’ll soon agree that this watch is worth a discussion here on #TBT. Let’s check out the “rockets’ red glare” on what must be one of the most unique watches in my collection.
To be honest, I was under the impression for quite a while that “Bulova Stars and Stripes” was the given name for the subject of today’s article, but how wrong I was. In fact, this wildly colorful Bulova was given the, dare I say, bland – almost military skunkworks sounding – name of “Chronograph “C” ”. Really, Chronograph C, but the funny thing is that almost no one calls it by this name. The other misconception I held about this watch was that it was produced in 1976 for America’s 200th anniversary. This wouldn’t have been such a stretch, though, due to Bulova’s historic association with New York; Bulova’s headquarters were there and are now in the Empire State Building. Anyhow, I was wrong again because, as I mentioned above, the watch was made in 1970. Why did Bulova choose such a brightly colored patriotic theme for this watch?
I have no idea and the advertisement above (thanks to the link here) doesn’t seem to answer offer any clues other than explaining its chronograph capabilities.
Aside from the bright colors found on the dial of the Bulova Stars and Stripes, there’s a whole lot more going on with this model. First off, this watch is big. How big? How about a perfectly round 43mm? I held it next to one of my vintage Navitimers the other day and it’s definitely larger by a healthy stretch. You’ll see a picture later, but this ends up getting somewhat neutralized by an absolute lack of lugs.
Other oddities abound such as a front-loading stainless case in order to aid water resistance. It’s an odd choice for certain, but by the time I’m finished explaining this piece, it’s likely that almost nothing will sound strange. In order to access the movement, the “split stem” and the non-turning bezel (that looks as if it should turn) must be removed (a great link is here to show you this dissection).
The workman-like Valjoux 7736 movement powers the Bulova Stars and Stripes. This watch traces its roots back to the Venus 188 and is essentially the 3-register version of the 773x family. It uses a cam lever and contains 17 jewels. Amazingly, within the Bulova, it receives gold plating and is signed on the bridge.
The final detail I’ll mention is the bracelet. Whereas so many watches from the 60’s and early 70’s were delivered on either bracelet or strap, the Bulova came solely with the 20mm wide mesh bracelet you see on this page. The mesh is heavy gauge, very well made and attaches to a large, signed, snapping buckle. It’s a hallmark of this chronograph and an absolute must to own should you locate one of these watches.
You now know some of the odd features of the Bulova Stars and Stripes – the big size, the fact that it’s a front-loader, and only came on mesh, but what’s it like in the flesh? Well, it’s pretty incredible. The dial on this watch is simply like nothing else I own or have really seen for that matter. The colors are very “Evel Knievel” – this was definitely the era of his stuntmaking – and even somewhat psychedelic! But, damn, do they work! The dial itself is navy blue with white shapes that define the subregisters, tachymeter scale, and hour/minutes track. The actual hour markers are tritium that, like most I’ve seen, have held off from obtaining a dark patina. The dial is big – measurably so – as noted by the fact that the domed acrylic crystal has a diameter of 39mm itself! But what’s a dial without great hands? The hands on the Bulova are pretty remarkable as they bring the red onto the scene. The main hands are shaped like rocket fireworks and I’d like to think that this is what the designers had in mind. If it wasn’t for America’s upcoming festivities, perhaps it was meant to celebration the space feats? The other hands, such as those for the subregisters and central chrono counter, are boldly simple red triangles. It’s a stunning dial that looks even larger than life due to its flatness – there are no pie pans for the sub registers.
The case on the Bulova Stars and Stripes is also a real work of art. Note the vertical brushing on the case sides. The consistency is impressive as is the depth. Similarly, the notched bezel is also highly defined and is polished to high shine when viewing it from the dial side. Flipping over the Bulova shows some inscribing and circles that mock a traditionally opening case back. It’s here that you’ll also see that there are truly no lugs whatsoever and that the bracelet attaches directly to the underside of the case. A final peculiarity is the signed crown. It’s simply huge and protrudes far further than the comparatively small cap pushers.
A Bulova Stars and Stripes sat for a long time on my wanted list, but I either lost out on a couple auctions or the watches were sold by the time I returned from sleeping on the decision. The piece you see here actually came from eBay and the seller, from Boston, had it serviced recently. As you can see, it’s in great original condition and like so many of these pieces, it shows surprisingly little wear. Credit the lack of lugs or, more likely, the fact that most owners probably found these watches a little too bold for daily use for their good standing today. Anyhow, it was nice to receive a watch that simply needed a little Polywatch and nothing else.
Wearing the Bulova Stars and Stripes isn’t as massive an ordeal as one might think. Sure, it’s big, but it’s also pretty flat. Think of it like wearing a Seiko Tuna without the height and you’re on the right track. Here’s my problem though: the bracelet is just too damn big for me. The only opportunity to tighten the bracelet is to use the holes on the clasp and I cannot make it tight enough. So, I may end up trying to fit a strap to the watch or I’ll most likely buy a less expensive, more adjustable, mesh bracelet. Either way, I look forward to breaking the watch out for bbq’s and on holidays centric to my home country.
Values for the Bulova Stars and Stripes are a bit funny. I say that because, for the longest time, these were $1,500-1,750 pieces that maybe ticked up to roughly $2,000 on a good day. These prices have even held during the recent vintage chronograph boom – I actually found mine for less than the range above – until now. Recently, a noted seller, Watchsteez, had this piece for sale at roughly $4,000, it was featured by another blog, and presumably sold for roughly this price. Now, another piece has cropped up on eBay for roughly this sum. So, I suppose that this lovely, formerly attainable Bulova has hit new levels. When buying one of these big pieces, I do think that the bracelet is a must. Also, ensure that the crown is original because watchmakers who simply didn’t understand how to open these cases damaged many. Otherwise, as I stated, many of these pieces survived in great shape and, as a plus, their movements are highly serviceable.
Hopefully, you’ve been entertained by taking a look at the big, bad Bulova Stars and Stripes. Like I said, this is one unique looking watch that fits well into anyone’s vintage chronograph collection. The fact that Bulova never really followed this watch up with something else is a shame because they clearly had some creative juices. Happy hunting and until next week…
The original Bulova Stars and Stripes advertisement (thanks to crazywatches.pl for the picture)
Michael was born in South Florida in the USA. As a full-time role, he works in the Automotive Industry. He's lived and worked in many locations and when he's not cruising at 30,000 feet, he calls Germany home. Michael became... read more