Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel “V”

I was dropping off a handful of watches for service with Sam, the watchmaker at Afram Jewelers in Washington, DC and my go-to guy for repairs. We were talking watches, of course when I told him about a couple of vintage pieces I was reviewing. “If you write about vintage watches,” he said, “then you might be interested in this one.” He produced a wicked orange Bulova Snorkel 666 from his workbench. “Do you want to review it?”

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver

Hell yes, I wanted to review it. The Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel has long been one of my favorite watches. I remember seeing this very model for sale by Analog/Shift in 2014. I balked at its $515 price tag, didn't buy it, and have regretted it ever since. Prices have only gone up, and my affinity for this funky little watch hasn't wavered.

Bulova started selling their Oceanographer diving watches in the early 1960's, but this particular design came along in late 1968 and had wrapped up by the mid-1970's. "Oceanographer Snorkel" was the official moniker although you will notice this model doesn’t have Oceanographer written anywhere. The "Devil Diver" nickname attached to Bulova divers as a result of their fate-tempting choice to announce the water resistance as 666ft instead of the more common 200m. They did the same on their Caravelle sub-brand, like this 1970 Sea Hunter we featured last year. Much to my surprise, it still weirds some people out, and I have even heard of folks finding Bulova divers that have had the offending digits deliberately scratched off the case and dial. You would think that if the number bothered someone that much they could have avoided it by buying literally any other diving watch, but whatever. I suspect they chose feet over meters simply to print a bigger number (they did the same on their 100m/333ft divers too) but regardless, it is now inextricably linked to these watches’ identities.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver and Doxa SUB300

The Snorkel has more than a little Doxa SUB300 to it, most obviously in its lurid tangerine dial but also in the shape of its case. Both watches have similar tapering barrel shapes with integrated lugs, channeled crowns, and a pleasantly slim arc in profile; however, the Bulova’s 40mm wide case is more compact than the 42.5mm Doxa, and as a result, the angle of its taper is steeper. A bulbous acrylic box crystal brings its overall height to 13.5mm. Both factors lend the Snorkel some visual heft, yet one would be hard-pressed to call it bulky. It sits perfectly on my 6.5” wrist.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver  crown

Curiously for a 200m watch, the crown does not screw down, relying instead on a simple push-pull mechanism to compress the gasket within. It is in fine shape, showing a crisp coin edge and a debossed brand on the head.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, the Snorkel is all polished stainless steel, not plated base metal with a stainless back. This one seems to have weathered the years rather well, picking up no more than the odd scratch and ding and successfully avoiding the edge-dulling, value-killing polishing wheels of overzealous restorers. The dial, in particular, appears almost factory fresh.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver bezel macro

The only real casualty of time is the bezel. On the one hand, the bidirectional mechanism still moves smoothly and is tight enough not to be accidentally bumped out of place. On the other hand, it is losing its paint. The glossy resin insert is an attractive feature. Molded, painted numbers and markers on the top surface and black and white painted backgrounds on the underside create a marvelous illusion of depth. Sadly, the white part has almost completely disintegrated and its starting to lose some of the black as well. I shudder to think how you might restore it. Assuming you could pry out the insert, remove the old enamel, and repaint the area beneath it (not a task I'd tackle), the original bright white would look too obvious at this stage. Copying its current aged cream color would look more appropriate but seems like cheating. Perhaps the best option would be to swap a better-preserved bezel from an unrestorable donor. I’ll leave that dilemma to Sam.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver

Orange dials like this are designated Oceanographer V. Introverts can seek out the more conventional G version with its black dial and black/red bezel. Me, I’m an orange guy all the way. The dial is great fun. Its the eye zapping color that grabs your attention first, but the hour markers run a close second. Towering over the dial, they are plastic cylinders mounted in what looks for all the world like four-prong gemstone settings, connected by a thin, printed ring. They must have been even cooler back in the day, lit up with tritium paint, but there is no life in that lume now.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver profile

A white minute track is printed inside the markers. The handset consists of a snakehead minute hand, a rather stubby hour hand, and a simple needle for a second hand, reflecting the relative importance of minutes over other measurements when underwater.

A crosshair intersects the dial. Up top, is the Bulova brand name in polished and applied form with ”Automatic” printed below. At the bottom, you will find the ”Snorkel” model name and the infamous water resistance rating. All text, including that in the framed day/date window, is printed in an all-caps, serif typeface that appears to be a variant of Copperplate (somewhere between American Gothic and Biondi). Everything is finely detailed and perfectly balanced.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver movement

On the flip side, you will find a simple (and tool marked) screw down caseback stamped with the serial number and manufacture date code. ”N1” means this one was made in 1971. This watch is still due for overhauling, so it does not have a gasket, but you can see the sizable channel into which it fits. Inside is a Bulova 11ANACB 17-jewel automatic movement, a true in-house movement made in Switzerland. It seems a shame that it is hidden away as it is nicely finished in gold with a snazzy “B” rotor.

This watch no longer has the original bracelet or rubber strap, so I modeled it on a generic 18mm Milanese mesh. It worked well enough for a wrist shot, but there are far better options out there. Perforated tropic style silicone would be nice, or considering that the watch's deep diving days are likely long behind it, you could fit a brightly colored leather strap to play off the orange.

Vintage 1971 Bulova Oceanographer Snorkel V 666ft Devil Diver  wrist shot

Clean, serviced examples of the ’68-’72 Snorkels typically sell between $675-$1200 depending on condition. If a decades-old diver gives you pause, and you would rather have a new Snorkel that you can wear on undersea adventures without worry, you are in luck. Last year, Bulova re-released this classic. Based on the 1972 model, the Archive Series Oceanographer Devil Diver is available in a 44mm case for $795, and the more period-correct 40mm Limited Edition is $1495. Yes, you can get it in "V" orange. Production is limited to 666 units.

Personally, I’ll probably pass on the new ones and keep sniffing around eBay and the various watch forums looking for a nice bargain. There are still plenty of original Snorkels out there. It just takes some patience and persistence to find the right one. Personally, I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. ⬩
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