Regular readers know The Time Bum has a weakness for cheap vintage watches. This time, I have outdone myself by snapping up an oval case, 1970s Bulova President for the absurd price of $42. Granted, it has its share of patina, but it also has a quality movement and a quirky style is not that common these days. Best of all, there are plenty more floating around out there, and even the most pristine example won't break the bank.
The President name has been used on dozens of Bulovas through the years, but this particular model was a creature of the Nixon era, introduced a couple of years after the Omega Dynamic, another oval case automatic. Comparing the two, it appears Bulova took more than a little inspiration from the Dynamic as the case shape and dial designs are remarkably similar, although it had conventional lugs instead of the Omega's unique screw-back attachment system. It was also considerably less expensive. The Bulova cost between $65 and $85 depending on the model; the equivalent of $340-$450 in 2015 dollars. Indeed, it would have fallen well within The Time Bum's ideal price range had the Internet existed and the Bum not been too busy watching Sesame Street.
This particular watch was advertised as a 1973 model, and judging from contemporary magazine advertisements, that seems about right. The case back bears a personal inscription "Roger F. Miller, Love Evie, 8-12-77." Wait. Could this be Roger Miller of "King of the Road" hobo song fame? Nope. That would be Roger D. Miller. I looked it up.
At this stage in Bulova's history, the venerable American firm had been purchased by the Manufacture des Montres Universal Perret Frères of Geneva. They were very busy turning out innovative quartz movements, as well as quality mechanicals like the 23 jewel 11AOACB in this watch. It has a 40-hour power reserve and 21.6k bph oscillation rate. The rotor moves with a ratcheting sound as it winds, It is noticeable, but not unpleasant. The movement runs with a soft tick. I have no idea if it has ever been serviced but still keeps acceptable time, only losing about a minute a day.
The highlight of the movement is its day/date complication with a much-touted quick set date feature. You set the day by advancing the hands past 12 o'clock twice, and the date by pulling and pushing the crown, another similarity to the Omega. I wondered why this odd system had not remained in use - until I set it for the first time. The reason is because it is a pain in the behind. It is not a "quick" set so much as a "not-quite-as-slow-as-advancing-the-hands-all-morning" set. Hey, you buy an obsolete watch, you get some obsolete functions. It is just how it goes. The inconvenience is offset by its novelty and that fact that the 11AO was the last family of Bulova's in-house movements.
The round dial looks as if it was originally white, but has now mellowed into a nice cream color. The square end, polished baton hands hold a short channel of what was once luminous paint, long browned with age. Its square, applied, hour markers are matte finished and bisected by a bright strip and a printed red line that extends like a stubby tail. The index and the dial text are light and delicate. The overall design is clean and modern, even today.
The polished stainless steel case is ovoid, 38mm wide and 32mm tall. The watch is at the smaller end of the men's watch spectrum today, but would have been considered mid to large size 40 years ago. The short and broad proportions make it appear small in spite of a 40.6mm lug-to-lug length. It's upper and lower surfaces rise at the center and fall away at the sides for a sleek, gently undulating surface. A domed acrylic crystal brings the overall height to 12.5mm. The crown is recessed, coin-edged, and decorated with the Bulova tuning-fork.
In contrast to the soft form of the case, the lugs are angular and ever-so-slightly flared at the ends. They are 17.5mm apart, which makes finding straps a challenge. It arrived on a period correct, but awful Spidel expandable bracelet; a reminder if one was necessary, that many products of the 70's are best left there. Most 18mm straps are too big to squeeze into the gap, and many that do will likely stay compressed. I was able to fit a shark mesh in there, and a slightly undersized olive canvas two piece, but my favorite is a tan/olive/red striped NATO that complements the creamy dial and red accents. It seems incongruous to put a dress watch on a military strap, but somehow it all works.
The 1970's oval case Presidents turn up occasionally on eBay and in the various watch forums. There are some really lovely examples too, including gold-on-gold dress watches and sports watches in bold colors and stripes. Most will run you about $100 or less depending on condition and packaging. If its disco-era style appeals, I'd encourage you to give it a try.