Inside & Out: Bulova CURV Chronograph Ref. 98A162
How I got this watch: A past interviewee introduced me to the US contact for Bulova. I was given the choice of two CURVs and I chose the Ref. 98A162 which I wore for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
Who said Quartz couldn't be cool?
Its seems like decades since the last "world's first" happened in quartz watches. For watch geeks, all the real innovation is happening in mechanical watches, not in those battery powered things. So when Bulova announced that they had made the world's first curved quartz chronograph movement, my interest peaked.
Bulova has a rich history of innovation and were the first company in the world to run a television commercial to advertise their products. They are of course most famous for their Accutron line, a tuning fork watch that was the world's first electronic watch. In 1960, this watch was completely revolutionary and allowed unparalleled accuracy. The Accutron was the first wristwatch movements precise enough to qualify for U.S. Railroad certification. Accutrons timing mechanisms were used as part of the space programs and were the only type of clocks aboard Lyndon B. Johnson's Air Force One.
Unfortunately for Bulova, the culture of luxury watches was not long for the world of quartz. Whilst the Accutron Spaceview remains one of the coolest watch designs ever, it has been years since a quartz watch excited the 'real' watch world.
When I got my hands on the CURV, it surprised me how much I enjoyed wearing it.
It should be worth noting that no-one was crying out for a curved chronograph movement. Curved watch cases have been around for decades and Greun were the first to make a curved automatic movement back in 1935. Rectangular watch cases were popular then but circular movements were less space efficient inside a curved case. A curved rectangular movement allowed the case to curve with it, allowing for a slimmer profile.
So why bother with a curved movement today? The appeal is that a curved watch can sit more comfortably on the wrist and a curved movement allows for a greater curve. A greater curve means a better first on the wrist and if Bulova's goal was to make a comfortable case then they succeeded.
I've worn 44mm cases in the past but none have ever felt so comfortable on the wrist as the CURV does. The titanium case is feather-light and during my time with the watch, there were moments I'd forget it was even on my wrist. This sounds hyperbolic but I mean it. Would I get the same effect if I wore a Piaget Altiplano 900P? Probably, but that watch costs $26,000 and the CURV is only $899.
The design of the CURVs case is something I learned to appreciate the more I looked at it. The Bulova designers made the lugs have a sharper and longer curve than the case. This tricks the eye and the mind into thinking the case curves more than it does. It's an engaging effect and a great achievement in case design. The design and feel of the lugs are great bits of detail that elevate the CURV out of its price point.
One downside to these lugs is that the wrist presence of the watch increases significantly. The lugs add a few millimeters to the top and bottom of the case but the intergrated rubber strap adds even more. I appreciate the thickness of the rubber strap for durability, but a millimeter shaved off would have been nice. Another complaint about the strap is that it's intergrated to the lugs and fitted by two screws, rather than a spring bar. The lack of after market strap possibilities on this watch are disappointing as I'm sure it would have looked great on a grey NATO.
Whilst this watch is not part of the Accutron line, it does look like a spiritual successor to the Spaceview. The Accutron tuning fork logo is present at 12 o'clock and the CURV's translucent dial allows for the movement to be seen underneath. It's a nice touch that elevates this CURV above the other curved watches Bulova has released. The dial curves as well as the movement and case, but not to the point of distortion and the watch is always legible. In fact, it's quite difficult to see the curve when looking at the watch face on and its only noticeable when viewed from an angle.
Rather than mineral glass, the CURV has curved sapphire crystal covering the dial and the movement. Curved crystal is nothing new but it's nice to see sapphire be used on watches on the lower end of the price spectrum. The overlapping chronograph registers are stylishly oversized and they curve just the right amount to not make the CURV a gimmick.
The rose gold hands and applied hour markers pop right off the carbon fiber-esque chapter ring and add so much color to this watch. Each hour marker catch the light wonderfully and I was surprised at the level of quality in the finishing.
I hardly ever like rose gold but the CURV really won me over
Unfortunately I wasn't so impressed with the hands, as there was something about them that didn't speak to me. Perhaps it was the lack of difference between the two other than length or maybe it was the the extra 'bit' that sticks out from the center mount. They weren't bad, just uninspiring.
The high performance quartz movement on the inside is a variation on the Precisionist caliber that Bulova introduced in 2010. Regular quartz movements oscillate at 32 kilohertz and are accurate to +/- 15 seconds a month. Bulova's high frequency movement oscillates at 262 kilohertz which has a far greater accuracy, +/- 10 seconds per year. This is an unnecessary level of accuracry but Bulova should be applauded for trying to increase the quality and technical capabilities of watches in this price point. 90% of all luxury complications are unnecessary so its nice to see a watch with a more comfortable price attempt something different.
The exhibition case back is a great example of this. It's unusual to see a quartz movement on display and this makes seeing it on the CURV all the more exotic. Rather than attempt a faux Cotes de Geneve, Bulova chose to leave the brass plate exactly how it was. I wouldn't describe the movement as being attractive, but it does have a certain industrial charm that I found appealing. It's unlikely to sway the mind of a horological traditionalist, but those up for something unexpected should get a kick out of it.
The Precisionist movements have a running seconds hand that is halfway between the fluid motion of a mechanical watch and the electronic stutter of quartz. Any initial glance will reveal the electronic movement but a sustained gaze will create the illusion of mechanical life. The chronograph pushers are intergrated well into the case, as is the crown, although there is too much travel for my taste. The first click you feel is the pusher connecting to the movement, but it takes another click to stop, start and reset the chronograph. It's not the end of the world, but it's a reminder that there are limitations to the CURVs innovation.
Atop our ivory tower of luxury watchmaking, it's easy to view any progress made in quartz movements as meaningless or an attempted siege. The CURV isn't an attack on the tower, it's a challenge to those within it. The CURV might not be perfect but Bulova are trying something different to engage a new audience.
For each audience the CURV is trying to win over, it has its own set of hurdles to clear before acceptance.
For those outside the watch community, $899 is a tremendous amount of money to spend on a watch, especially when the CURV is several hundred dollars above that of a normal Bulova. Is the draw of a curved watch enough to spend $400 more? For dyed in the wool watch geeks, $899 might seem reasonable if it weren't for the quartz movement. An original Bulova Spaceview sells between $400 to $1000, and perhaps watch geeks would rather spend money on something that doesn't need a lengthy justification of purchase.
I get that feeling, no-one wants to buy something that will incite ridicule or mockery. Yet I think the CURV is excluded from that. Much like Bulova's Moon watch released last year, this is a quartz watch that has had a lot of thought put into it. It might not be that grail piece that your grandchildren's grandchildren can fight over, but not every watch needs to be. Sometimes being cool is enough and the BULOVA CURV is one of the best looking watches of last year.