A lifetime ago – back in late February – we revealed that Bulova was having a moment. We also predicted that the current public health crisis – along with Apple’s giant killer smartwatch – will likely disappear some well-known watch brands. Do Bulova’s new products have enough swagger to survive? The vintage-inspired Bulova Hack tells the tale . . .
The Bulova Hack (reference 98A255) is a field watch, Bulova’s modern interpretation of the watches they supplied to the US Army during WWII. Back then the Army decided that small, easy-to-read watches were an essential piece of a soldier’s kit.
The originals included easily legible 12 and 24 hour tracks and an utterly essential timekeeping feature that we now take for granted: hacking seconds. The ability to stop (or “hack”) the seconds hand allowed soldiers to synchronize their timepieces to the second. It revolutionized the Army’s ability to conduct efficient operations.
Bulova’s modern Hack is housed in a 38mm stainless steel, PVD-coated case. A thin, tapered bezel holds a scratch resistant mineral crystal with anti-reflective coating. The Hack is 13.44mm thick. In all the watches I’ve owned, I’ve never known one that feels both pleasantly compact and solidly substantial. The words “brick shit house” spring to mind
If you went to elementary school anytime before 1990 you probably learned to tell time on a clock that looks a lot like the Hack. Large, luminous Arabic numerals make up the 12 hour track, with smaller red numbers providing the inner 24 hour time. For nighttime legibility, Bulova placed luminous hour plots along the outer edge of the dial.
The Hack’s Cathedral-style hands are filled with lume. There’s no date window, or any other extraneous elements. The dial is clean, uncluttered and legible at a glance. In other words, perfect.
The Hack’s powered by a Miyota 82S0 automatic. Bulova doesn’t make any accuracy claims, but the Japanese manufacturer promises a -20～＋40 sec per day variation and a 42-hour power reserve.
It’s a simple and widely used engine, so don’t worry about getting your Hack fixed down the road. It’ll likely never break anyway. In the distant future, alien archaeologists will marvel over working Japanese automatic movements.
Bulova ships the Hack 98A255 with a dark green leather strap styled to look like a NATO but attached with spring bars. Though it’s neither padded nor particularly thick, it looks great and is exceedingly comfortable.
I’ve quickly discarded the appalling stock straps attached to much more expensive watches. Call me crazy, but I like leather straps that actually feel like leather. Humble little Bulova got it right with the 98A255.
That brings us back around to my question about the post-COVID, post-Apple Watch future of brands like Bulova. Leave aside the fact that the Apple Watch is ephemeral, Chinese-made trash. TTAW has cataloged, at length, it’s shocking impact on the sales of low- and mid-priced watches.
This will surely continue. But both Apple and this Bulova Hack both point to one truism that will save the “traditional” watch industry: the product is all that matters. As far as I’m concerned this has always been true, and always will be true.
I’m shocked by how frequently product focus gets pushed aside, insulted or simply forgotten. Multiple manufacturers across multiple industries have made this mistake, from Henry Ford’s Model T to Apple’s iPhone. You can spend unlimited amounts of money on advertising and pay
prostitutes useful idiots to blow skies full of smoke but you can’t fool the customer forever. Crap is crap.
But…if you put careful thought into a product, if you find new ways to satisfy customers, if you do the grueling work necessary to push the product through all the bean counting and egotistical, MBA-driven bullshit that “professional management” brings to corporate culture, you will have accomplished something amazing.
You’ll have a hit on your hands that makes (someone) a lot of money. You’ll also have made something with real value and meaning. Something that people love, care for, treasure and don’t consign to the bottom of a junk drawer.
The market for modestly priced mechanical watches will continue to shrink. Changes in tastes and the way we live and work will continue to transition the traditional watch from a necessity to a personal statement.
The watch companies that survive will do so by putting out stylish, functional and long-lasting products that stand out from the sea of Mainland trash. After all, an heirloom watch needn’t cost as much as a Mercedes Benz.
The Bulova Hack is already living in the future. The Citizen-owned watchmaker looked into the brand’s history and built something that has a story, looks great and fulfills its intended purpose flawlessly. Leveraging proven components and technology, Bulova delivered the Hack at an MSRP of $450. They’ll still be making money when lucky consumers buy them in stores and online for $250 or less.
In 1978, the science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick warned us about holding onto idealized, false versions of the past:
Do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life.
The watch market of the past is gone. A new world is being born – a market for traditional watches where quality, durability and value can be the hallmarks at any price point. The Bulova Hack shows us the way.
Model: Bulova Hack 98A255
Diameter: 38 mm
Case: PVD-coated stainless steel with screw-down back, 13.45 mm thick
Movement: Miyota 82S0 automatic with hacking seconds
Crystal: Anti-reflective and scratch resistant mineral
Strap: Green pebble grain leather
Water resistance: 30 m (100 ft)
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Design * * * *
A classic field watch – unfussy, uncluttered and utilitarian.
Legibility * * * * *
As good as it gets for a classically styled timepiece.
Comfort * * * * *
A comfortable little tank of a watch with the world’s best stock leather strap.
Overall * * * * *
A watch that just might change your life – wear it daily and you’ll develop a deep appreciation for quality, value and fitness for purpose.