Bulova Sea King Review

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Bulova Sea King Product Shot

Thanks to the interwebz, a huge range of new-in-box discontinued watches are available for the taking. I’ve discovered that hunting and killing dead models is even more satisfying than scarfing a new watch from an authorized watch dealer. The Lunar Pilot initiated me into the magical realm of Bulova. And then one of their discontinued models called to me: the Bulova Sea King . . .

It’s Good to be the King

Bulova Sea King and friend

No question: the Bulova Sea King is a colossus. With a case width of 49mm and lug-to-lug length of 55.5mm, the Sea King is to the [discontinued] Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 what the HUMMER is to the Jeep CJ. Thanks to its angled lugs, the small of wrist can wear the King. But testicular fortitude and imperviousness to small-minded naysayers is a prerequisite.

Exploring watch groups, forums and websites, I’ve discovered there are strong opinions about the ideal watch-to-wrist size ratio. “Any one less or more inch on wrist circumference will add/remove 2mm or one watch size on the scale,” timesticking.com advises, mathematically. I prefer the Outback Steak House X Nike approach: No rules. Just Do It! My seven inch wrist on display in these photos proves the point. Or not.

I can see clearly now

Bulova Sea King on leash

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the value of a healthy prostate and legible dials. The Sea King’s thick white hands and hour indices are outlined in orange; they stand out like creamsicles in space (i.e., the flat-black dial). If you can’t read the time with the Sea King it’s time to surrender your car keys to justifiably concerned relatives.

The Bulova Sea King’s anti-reflective coated sapphire crystal reduces reflections – if not the glare of disapproving vintage Bulova collectors (both the people and the watches). Given the amount of flat glass involved, Bulova’s attention to this detail is neither unwarranted or unappreciated.

Lumatics need apply

The Sea King is a lume monster. The large hands and indices are Super-LumiNovaed up the ying yang (to use the technical term). Freshly charged with a flashlight (or torch for our friends across the pond), it’s brighter than Taylor Mason.

Even ambient room light is enough to charge it. The glow lasts all night; I could easily read the time at 5am (aka “cat o’clock”) at my bedside.

A Date with Destiny

Bulova Sea King dial and caseback

The Sea King’s date window is oddly placed. I know: the 4:30 position seems to be in fashion recently. Look closely.

Bulova chose to wage asymmetrical war on the OCD crowd, by not centering the window between the 4 and 5 o’clock indices. Instead, it nuzzles the 5 o’clock index. We’ll call it 4:45 o’clock.

The Bulova Sea King – The tower of bezel

A beefy 120-click unidirectional bezel surrounds the Bulova Sea King’s 39mm dial. Coarse serrations on its polished perimeter and six faux hex (holy reverse alliteration Batman!) bolt heads enhance bezel grip.

The numbers and marks on the bezel face are deeply engraved and enameled. The bezel action has just the right amount of resistance and the ratcheting feels precise, without any play or slop.

The bezel’s face features a radially brushed finish.  My preference would have been to use brushed finishing on the bezel’s perimeter. By getting it backwards, Bulova managed to make metal look like cheap plastic.

Hefty, hefty, hefty!

The 154 gram Bulova Sea King is not for the wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. The watch comes with a strapping rubber strap contoured to fit against the case, between the 24-mm wide lugs. Like the chunky watch it supports, the strap is ample in size and appearance. Donning the beast reminds me of strapping on a scuba diving depth gauge – only soft and comfortable.

The machined and signed buckle is eye candy all by itself. With a heavy watch like this, you’ll find that securing the strap snugly is the only way to prevent the head from sliding or rotating on your wrist.

The long end of the strap has a “nubbin” that locks it behind the second keeper as additional retention security (not that I need that while desk diving). It works so well that getting it on and off is quite the pain in the ass. I’ve got another strap (Hirsch Black Robby) on the way.

You want a watch with a smooth hand

There are very few watches where a quartz movement deserves special mention (e.g., the Grand Seiko 60th Anniversary Quartz). Bulova has implemented some special quartz voodoo worthy of your time (so to speak).

Garden variety quartz movement crystals hum along at 32,768 vibrations per second (Hz). The quartz crystal in the Bulova Sea King screams along eight times as fast, or 262,144 Hz. The high beat rate enables a Michael-Jackson-moonwalking-smooth sweep of the second hand, a hypnotic circumnavigation that meets or beats the highest quality Swiss mechanical movements.

I mentioned the 262 kHz movement in my review of the Lunar Pilot. On that watch, the second hand’s smooth sweep is observable only when you activate the chronograph. With the Sea King, I can self-hypnotize all day.

The Bulova Sea King – Accuracy Counts

Bulova Sea King beauty shot

If geeking out over the Sea King’s mesmerizingly smooth second hand sweep wasn’t enough, consider that the 262 kHz quartz movement offers +/-10 seconds per year accuracy. That’s in the realm of HAQ (high accuracy quartz) watches which cost thousands.

For comparison, a pedestrian 32 kHz quartz movements’ accuracy clocks in at +/-15 to 20 seconds per month. After a week of tracking, my Sea King remained dead-nuts accurate compared to the atomic clock.

Bulova Sea King: a bargain basement bruiser

The Bulova’s Sea King’s original MSRP was $599. When the Sea King was a current model, they could be found for under $200. Considering the build quality and specs, it was quite the bargain. Right now they run about $450 (no commission on link).

I’ve worn the ginormous Bulova Sea King (like a boss) for a week-long shakedown cruise. While it has tremendous “wrist presence,” it’s been completely comfortable. Compensate much? Sure, if you say so. Compromise? Not at all.

Model: Bulova “Sea King” Model #96B228
Price paid: $450

SPECIFICATIONS:
Case: Stainless steel.
Crystal: AR-coated sapphire (flat).
Strap: Rubber.
Lume: Hands and hour indices.
Dimensions / weight: 49 x 55.5 x 14-mm / 154 grams.
Movement: 262 kHz (Ultra-High Frequency) quartz.
Accuracy: +/- 10 seconds per year.
Battery life: ~2-3 years.
Water resistance: 300 meters.  Screw-down crown.
Functions: Analog hours, minutes, seconds. Count-up unidirectional bezel.

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Design * * * *
The Bulova Sea King is a king-sized diver’s watch for far-sighted sailors. Star deducted for odd date window placement.

Legibility * * * * *
The large high contrast dial makes for easy reading in the day. The generous lume makes nighttime time-telling a breeze.

Comfort * * *
When you strap on this behemoth, you’ll know you’re wearing a watch… As will everyone else. It’s comfortable on the wrist, but will you be comfortable wearing such a large watch?

Overall * * * *
Bang for the buck-wise, it’s hard to beat the Bulova Sea King. It’s built like a tank, smooth as a fine Swiss timepiece and as precise as a fancy High Accuracy Quartz watch.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. There’s already an Air King, but no Land King? I like how they had to have the obligatory three lines of lower dial text, but they’re very short lines.

    As with lotsa G-SHOCK models, I don’t get fake screw heads. What would a rotating bezel bolt onto anyway? Similarly, I’m at a loss as to how they couldn’t center that date window. The wheel printing is radially aligned, so that’s not an issue.

    There is a similar mushroom-head nubbin on the (non-replaceable) band of the Marathon GPD, and it also creates a plunger-like drag during extraction.

    • One plausible defense of the fake screw heads on the bezel is that they offer grip for turning the bezel.

      I’ve got no idea or explanation for the off-center date window.

      Yeah… the nubbin creates a LOT of resistance going in and out. Then double that, for two keepers. PITA! My Hirsch strap should arrive tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing how that works out.

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