Today, there are a plethora of gorgeous contemporary timepieces in the market, with new models being released every year, not just by renowned and prestigious Swiss companies, but also by famous brands from Japan, America, Germany, and more. Although stylish modern watches are popular in their own right, there is and has always been, a great demand for vintage timekeepers in the watch community. This is largely due to the rich heritage, legacies, and quintessential, nostalgia-invoking designs that vintage pieces offer.
The American brand Bulova, in particular, is highly acclaimed for its expertise in crafting classic watches with impressive, state-of-the-art features. In fact, there is even a so-called “vintage Bulova obsession” in the horology community, with many watch collectors eager to get their hands on the brand’s funky watches from the 60s-80s. Out of Bulova’s entire catalog, one vintage model that is especially of note is the Bulova Royal Oak. Controversial yet frequently discussed, the Bulova Royal Oak has an interesting, storied history that matches its eye-catching design.
In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the vintage Bulova Royal Oak, including its colorful past, its specifications and features, and everything it has to offer.
History of the Bulova Royal Oak
The history behind the Bulova Royal Oak is a contentious one, closely tied to the history of another similarly-named, similarly-designed timepiece — the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Somehow, over the years, an interesting myth emerged regarding the origins of the Bulova Royal Oak, fascinating watch collectors and casual fans alike.
The story of the Royal Oak begins with a legendary watchmaker, Gerald Genta. Genta is famous for having worked with the most significant brands in the watchmaking scene, producing trailblazing timepieces like the Patek Philippe Nautilus and the Bulgari Bulgari. As the legend goes, Genta was working for Bulova in the late 1960s when he was tasked to design a new timepiece, one that had to be classically designed and attractive at the same time. With this in mind, Genta made the first Royal Oak. However, when Genta introduced this new design to his bosses at Bulova, his ideas were turned down.
Following this rejection, Genta left Bulova, moving to Audemars Piguet. The Swiss brand was amazed by Genta’s design and would launch it at the 1972 BaselFair under the moniker “Audemars Piguet Royal Oak”. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak was such a hit that Bulova quickly revisited Genta’s original design, forging it into the watch we know of today as the Bulova Royal Oak.
In reality, however, this myth of the Bulova Royal Oak is an invention. While Genta did work at Bulova for some time, he only developed the Royal Oak when he was already working under Audemars Piguet. According to Genta himself, the director of Audemars Piguet had reached out to him directly, requesting that he design a sports watch made entirely from steel. Genta promptly went to work, coming up with the design for the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak overnight.
Although the myth of the relationship between the Audemars Piguet and Bulova Royal Oaks was false, it was nevertheless hugely influential. The association between the two timepieces was very beneficial for Bulova, raising the profile of its Royal Oak significantly. Indeed, this was a major factor that led to the popularity of the Bulova Royal Oak.
Up Close with Bulova Royal Oak
Case and Bracelet
Even at first glance, the Bulova Royal Oak is instantly recognizable with the sharp, geometric features of its exterior. Its slender 36mm stainless steel case is cleanly beveled, with hooded lugs that bear sharp, angular edges. On the right side of the case is a mid-sized steel crown in the shape of a hexagon. This crown has finely grooved edges, which provide wearers with a better grip so they can more easily pinch and turn the crown. If you flip the watch over, you can find a monogram engraving of a ballerina on the stainless steel caseback, which adds to the exquisite sophistication of this Bulova piece.
The star of this watch, of course, is its fixed bezel, which is reminiscent of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak’s own iconic bezel. Crafted from stainless steel, this bezel is shaped like an octagon, fitted with eight screws and carefully beveled, well-defined sloping sides that give off an impression of precision and class. On top of the bezel is a layer of domed mineral crystal that protects the watch face from any scratches or impacts.
The Bulova Royal Oak is also paired with a sleek stainless steel bracelet. This professional-looking bracelet comes with 18 links and a signed deployant clasp that keeps the watch firmly secured on your wrist. On the whole, the watch’s unpolished finish offers a simple yet elegant aesthetic.
To perfectly complement its striking and well-defined stainless steel case and bracelet, Bulova pairs its Royal Oak with a gorgeous white honeycomb dial. This straightforward dial boasts a flawless and timeless look, with a minimalistic layout consisting of slender stainless steel indices, thin stick hands, and an outlined date window at 3 o’clock.
Although this dial does not contain any luminous material, the indices and hands are all highlighted with black lacquer. This gives the indices and hands a stronger contrast against the white backdrop, allowing for better legibility in poor lighting conditions. At 12 o’clock, you can find an emblem of the dial replacing the hour index, marking this as a uniquely Bulova piece.
Another prominent feature of the Bulova Royal Oak that stirred the hearts of many watch collectors and enthusiasts is the impressive automatic caliber that powers this vintage timepiece: the ETA 2892 movement. This is a quintessential watch caliber that is used in many other famous timepieces, such as the Omega Speedmaster 300 and the IWC Pilot Mark XVIII.
The ETA 2892 caliber measures a relatively slim 3.6mm in thickness. Held together by 21 jewels, it has a frequency of 28,800 vibrations per hour and a substantial 50-hour power reserve. Equipped with this reliable caliber, it is no surprise why Bulova remains a favorite amongst the masses.
As a rare timepiece released in the 1970s, the Bulova Royal Oak has since been discontinued. Along with its distinctive appearance and constant buzz, it is only expected that the Bulova Royal Oak has a fairly expensive price tag. Today, the Bulova Royal Oak is only available on the second-hand market and it will cost you at least $2,999 USD to get your hands on a piece of this watch. Of course, this price might differ slightly depending on the seller that you find and the exact condition the watch is in.
How to Spot a Fake Bulova Royal Oak?
The status of the Bulova Royal Oak as a buzzy, frequent topic of conversation and a popular watch collector choice means that it is often victim to counterfeits. As such, it is crucial to know what features to check so you can differentiate between an authentic Bulova Royal Oak and a fake replica. Here are five essential elements that you should inspect that can help you avoid spending money on a fake Bulova Royal Oak.
1. Check the Watch Face
First off, you should double-check the whole face of the Bulova Royal Oak. Make sure that the text printed on the dial of the Royal Oak is correct, as counterfeits sometimes mess that up. Under the 12 o’clock marker, you should find a simple print of the brand’s name and nothing else. If you find one that is engraved with “Bulova Accuracy” or “Bulova Movement”, you can be sure that it is a counterfeit.
The Bulova Royal Oak is also furnished with a layer of scratch-resistant mineral glass, so make sure to check on this feature as well. If the watch crystal is too run-down or covered in scratches, then you might be looking at a replica. In addition, on the right of the case, there should be a hexagonal crown with sharply cut, geometric details. Inspect the watch to make sure that the crown has those fine edges. If your Bulova Royal Oak’s crown is dulled, uneven, or not hexagonal, then it is likely to be fake.
2. Research the Watch Serial Number
Before setting foot into any watch retailer or jewelry store, it is crucial to do some research, specifically by checking the serial number of the watch you want to purchase. The exact serial numbers of every Bulova Royal Oak piece are listed on the brand’s official website, so make sure to check those out and validate whether the watch you are about to purchase is authentic or not.
3. Check the Case Back
As was previously mentioned, the caseback of the Bulova Royal Oak is engraved with the Bulova symbol and the image of an elegant ballerina. The serial number, as well as the date of manufacture, can also be found on the caseback. Check meticulously to ensure that the manufacture date and serial number both match the numbers found on the warranty card.
4. Check the Weight
Another important thing to check is the Bulova Royal Oak’s weight. Remember that authentic Bulova Royal Oak models are crafted entirely from stainless steel and therefore have a good, substantial heft to them, unlike counterfeits, which tend to be made from cheaper, lighter materials.
5. Check the Price
Lastly, do not fall for prices that seem too good to be true. Remember that a vintage Bulova Royal Oak still comes at a relatively high price of at least a few thousand dollars, considering the unique style and rich heritage it offers. Familiarize yourself with the price range of a vintage Bulova Royal Oak so you can compare it against the price provided to you and do not be too easily duped by what looks like a good bargain.
Alternatives to the Bulova Royal Oak
The Bulova Royal Oak is, without a doubt, a classy, timeless piece that deserves to be on your radar. But considering its status as a discontinued vintage watch, it can be difficult to even find pieces of this watch on the market. For those who have been facing such difficulties, do not worry. We have curated a list of the best alternatives to the Bulova Royal Oak available today. All of these watches share the same distinct, elegant vibe as the Bulova Royal Oak.
1. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Ref. 15500ST.OO.1220ST.04
Since the Bulova Royal Oak’s release, it has been consistently linked to the legendary Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. In fact, Audemars Piguet‘s Royal Oak watch is highly regarded for being the first-ever Royal Oak in the market. The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak offered a truly unique, memorable watch design, kicking off a trend of brands trying to produce their own “Royal Oak” watches with the signature octagonal bezels.
One great watch from Audemars Piguet is the Royal Oak Ref. 15500ST.OO.1220ST.04. Like Bulova’s Royal Oak, this watch exudes effortless elegance with its clean face and finely-polished exterior. This timepiece comes in a 41mm case and bracelet both made out of stainless steel, paired with the highly recognizable, perfectly angular octagonal stainless steel bezel with eight screws. The sharp white dial shows off the collection’s iconic Grande Tapisserie design and has a simple layout, furnished with just silver-tone stick hands, slim hour indices, and a compact date window at 3 o’clock. It also has a layer of scratch-resistant sapphire crystal to protect the dial.
Powering this gorgeous timepiece is the brand’s impressive in-house Caliber 4302. Held together by 32 jewels, this watch has an excellent 70-hour power reserve and a depth rating of 50 meters, which is more than enough for a dress watch. If you want a more luxurious, reliable alternative to the Bulova Royal Oak, you can get your hands on this Audemars Piguet watch for approximately $55,699 USD.
2. Bvlgari Octo Ref. 10196
Looking for a more casual alternative to the Bulova Royal Oak? Then you should definitely take a look at the Bvlgari Octo Ref. 101964. This watch is a simple stunner, with its striking black-and-white build. It comes with a 41mm stainless steel case with sharply cut edges that give it a very refined look, along with a handsome alligator leather strap in black. Like the Bulova Royal Oak, this timepiece has an octagon-shaped face. However, it differentiates itself from the Royal Oak watches by having a thicker bezel without the cleanly beveled sides, giving it a more rugged look.
The dial of this Bvlgari watch also comes in jet-black and is delightfully contrasted against rectangular hour indices, silver Arabic numeral markers, skeleton hands, and a minute yet highly legible date window at 3 o’clock. It is powered by an in-house BVL 193 Caliber, which you can observe through the watch’s transparent caseback. This movement possesses a 50-hour power reserve and a solid 100-meter water resistance capacity, so you could easily go for a dive with this watch.
This suave, versatile Bvlgari Octo watch retails at around $5,099 USD.
3. Girard-Perregaux Laureato Ref. 81005-11-231-11A
Another classic watch that serves as a great alternative to Bulova Royal Oak is the Girard-Perregaux Laureato Ref. 81005-11-231-11A. This timepiece features a slim 38mm stainless steel case, bracelet, and beveled octagonal bezel that go well with the stunning gray dial. This guilloche dial, which hearkens back to the honeycomb dial of the Bulova Royal Oak, is equipped with luminous hands and hour indices, along wth a grey-and-white date aperture located at 3 o’clock.
Equipped with an automatic GP03300-0130, this Girard-Perregaux Laureato watch has a frequency of 28,800 VpH whilst delivering a 46-hour power reserve. Moreover, it comes with a 30-meter depth rating, so it can easily handle any heavy downpours or even a trip to the shower. Just be prepared to shell out around $11,399 USD for this Girard-Perregaux timepiece.
On the whole, the Bulova Royal Oak is an exceptional vintage watch, albeit with a slightly muddy history. It is a fancy dress piece well-loved amongst watch connoisseurs, and for very good reason. While the Bulova Royal Oak would make an excellent addition to any collection, the fact that its production was discontinued years ago means that it can be difficult to find a genuine Bulova Royal Oak model. As such, if you have your heart set on this watch, just make sure you do your research and check carefully to ensure the Bulova Royal Oak model you are purchasing is authentic.
All images are from Watchshopping.com unless otherwise stated.
Featured image courtesy to u/LacksSenseOfHumor from Reddit.