United States Navy’s Bureau of Ships “Water-Tightness Specifications for MIL-SHIPS-W-2181,” named after the American watch brand Bulova Bringing back two variants of the US Navy prototype dive watch from the 1950s, we take a closer look today in our latest visit to the Watchtime archives.
The latest addition to Bulova’s “Archive Series” is a reissue based on the design of one of the brand’s rarest pieces, a hand-wound military dive watch from the late 1950s that never went into production. Watchtime managed to get hold of both variants of the MIL-SHIPS for an editorial morning roll call ahead of their 2021 launch.
The original version from 1957 was destined to become the standard diving watch for the US Navy. According to the official diving manual of the time, the task was clear: “A scuba diver needs a pressure-proof wrist watch for computing dive time, controlling the rate of descent and ascent, and performing various activities. […] A pressure-proof, non-magnetic, wrist watch has some desirable features that are not available in existing watches. The watch will probably be available for service test in 1958. And it really is.
Completion of basic training in 1958
According to unclassified reports, on February 5, 1958, representatives of the United States Navy Bureau of Ships (Buships) “code 565, hand-delivered, three Bulova submersible wrist watches (preproduction samples) for testing under contract NObs 73016.” Three watches. Designed and developed in accordance with ‘Bureau of Ships Contract Specification, Wrist Watch, Submersible,’ SHIPS-W-2181 dated 5 December 1955, which include requirements for water resistance, humidity indicator and legibility, bezel “to be rotated and set by hand without tools Designed” and “protected against unintended movements caused by friction, shock and vibration.”
Bulova offered three dive watches earlier in the year, all of which had to be returned to the manufacturer after they were found to be “leaking at depth”. Although the following “three clocks are evaluated […] Certainly more water-resistant than the watches originally submitted in May 1957,” the moisture still registered the case, “albeit to a smaller, and perhaps, much smaller magnitude,” stated the final report of the US Navy Experimental Diving Unit from March 10, 1958. More precisely, “MIL -Evaluated three pre-production prototypes of the Bulova Submersible Wrist Watch manufactured under the BuShips contract under SHIPS-W-2181.
Watertightness, readability-in-darkness and various subjective tests are reported. The specified test depth is 392 feet (175 psi), conducted for one hour. A moisture color-indicator and control color patch on the watch face and change in color was also used as an acceptance criterion for watertightness. Two of the three watches indicated humidity, one during the test and the other several days after the test. No water or moisture detected in the case. In the dark, the readability of the watch underwater is satisfactory, the second hand is too thin to see. A number of physical improvements were recommended for acceptance as it did not meet the specified watertightness test.” The report also recommended improving the “second hand more widely.” [shorter] A strap is fitted, and more “protection” is provided [for] stem.” Finally, the evaluation report concluded that “the watch’s outer, rotatable ring” had a tendency to “clog and malfunction when operating in sand or silt.” In short, it recommended that “the watch not be accepted until it is absolutely certain that no water or moisture has entered the case.”
Therefore, on April 3, 1958, representatives of BuShips delivered codes 538 and 565 and five other “Bulova Submersible Wrist Watches” to the Bulova Corporation “with minor modifications for final acceptance.” And, according to a subsequent evaluation report dated May 7, 1958, this batch of watches appears to have performed significantly better. “One of the three watches tested failed, with that positive indication recorded on the color indicator. However, the failed watch continued to run and showed no evidence of moisture, fogging or drops on the bottom or face of the crystal. A failed watch is watertight and the indicator is suspected to be faulty.
Despite the positive result, the American watchmaker decided not to continue production of its “submersible wrist watch” and instead “focus on the development of The Accutron”. The United States Navy provided the blueprint for the modern dive watch in 1953 with the Fifty Fathoms (the US Navy was unable to purchase Swiss watches directly due to the 1933 “Buy American Act”, so the Allen V. Torneck Co., then Blancpain’s importer, became Blancpain’s American supplier to the US Navy).
As rare as hen’s teeth
Based on data provided by the US Navy, it appears that Bulova produced no more than a few prototype watches during the evaluation phase (the number was between five and 11, depending on how many identical watches were submitted for testing. , based on cited reports). And in the last 64 years there have been even fewer of those who have survived. For example, on March 10, 2010, Antiquorum Bulova announced the “Prototype Divers Wristwatch, no. UDT 21 0182” bid for $14,400 (Lot 280). According to Antiquorum, this particular model was “intended for the navy as a replacement for the obsolete Elgin ‘Canteen’ diver’s watch. The watch features a unique two-piece water-resistant case back, a thick brass anti-magnetic case holder and a newly designed movement – the 17 Jewel Manual Wind 10 BPCHN. The unique movement has a clutch mechanism that prevents the watch from over-winding.
In short, and considering the current hysteria in the vintage-watch market, the presence of Bulova’s latest re-edition does not affect the few pieces available on the vintage market, but rather floods a large number of pieces previously unknown unless the re-edition launches. Instead, it will finally be officially available.
The MIL-SHIPS is the latest release in Bulova’s recently expanded list of historic watches, including the Military Collection pieces launched in 2020. It also comes on other vintage-inspired Bulova models. , such as the Oceanographer Snorkel, Computron LED, Chronograph C “Stars & Stripes” and, most notably, the Bulova Lunar Pilot “Moon Watch” chronograph in 2015.
Bulova has decided to offer the MIL-SHIPS re-edition in two variants. The more expensive version (reference 98A265) is limited to 1,000 pieces; A significantly less expensive counterpart (reference 98A266) will be part of the brand’s regular production.
Both share an almost identical design with a humidity indicator at 6 o’clock, a 41-mm case with a sandblasted finish and 200 meters of water resistance, a domed sapphire crystal, cathedral-style hands, a screw-in crown, and a two-piece screw-down caseback with an engraved central piece. Allows the diving helmet to be perfectly aligned. The limited edition comes with more detailed engraving (and a personal number), while the unlimited version features a much simpler, engraved version of the diving helmet. Regardless, both caseback versions are partially covered by a textile strap (black for the limited edition, blue for the unlimited version).
More importantly, the limited edition offers more luminescent material on both the dial and bezel (which can only be rotated when pushed down), a “Swiss Made” label on the dial, and the Sellita SW200-1, which results in a price tag. $1,990. On the other hand, the unlimited version costs $895 and is powered by a Miota 82S0 movement.
From a purist’s point of view, both movements offer little novelty to spice up the collection. Therefore, a hand-wound, possibly more exclusive limited edition (next to the Miota-powered version) fitted with a sterile caseback may have excited collectors more than the Sellita-powered version. Visually, however, both re-editions undoubtedly offer a vintage dive watch theme that’s unexpected in today’s environment, thanks largely to the hands (derived from a vintage MIL-W-3818-A military model) and unusually narrow lugs. It’s a very surprising finish, given the original design it was based on, and the Swiss dive watch it once had to compete with. In short, fans of modern re-editions of vintage designs can easily stand by and enjoy the fact that this piece of Bulova’s incredible history is now, for the first time, officially available and that this version would have gone beyond the evaluation stage. With flying colors. removed.
Manufacturer: Bulova Corporation, Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10118
Reference Number: 98A265
Duties: Hours, minutes, seconds
Movement: Self-winding mechanical caliber Cellita SW 200-1, 26 jewels, 28,800 vph (4Hz), approx. 41-hour power reserve, diameter = 25.6 mm, height = 4.6 mm
Case: Stainless-steel case with two-piece screw-down caseback, screw-in
Crown, domed sapphire crystal, water resistance to 200 meters, push-down locking top ring, Super-LumiNova markers and hands, waterproof
Indicator strip on the dial
Strap and clasp: Black cloth belt with buckle
Dimensions: Diameter = 41.00 mm, Height = 15.42 mm, Length = 50 mm
(Lug to Lug)
Variations: Ref. 98A266 Miyota 82S0 with automatic movement and blue
Cloth strap ($895)
Limited edition of 1,000 pieces
This article originally appeared in the September-October 2021 issue of Watchtime.