Love It or Hate It: The Bulova Computron is a Collector’s Dream

May 27, 2020
Love It or Hate It: The Bulova Computron is a Collector’s Dream

While there are some people who love anything retro, they have their fair share of polar opposites. Namely, those who are obsessed with science fiction or anything that sounds robotic. Something that has the suffix “-tron” after its name. Think Robotron, Megatron, and, of course, the Bulova Computron.

I admit that there might have been times when I overuse the word “futuristic” to describe a watch that has modern features. But if there’s only one watch that embodies that word, it has to be the Bulova Computron. And if you don’t believe me, here is an overview of the watch’s history and capabilities.

History of the Bulova Computron

It All Started During the Quartz Crisis

Throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, people strapped digital or analogue watches to their wrists instead of mechanical ones. And as mentioned before, this was the advent of the Quartz Crisis. If there’s anything good that the Quartz Crisis has brought, it is the birth of various digital watch concepts.

There’s the Seiko Astron, which started it all. Then there’s the ridiculously affordable Casio Vintage that can do simple math. Even James Bond, at one point, preferred digital watches to his mechanical Rolex Sub. Starting with the Hamilton Pulsar P2/2900 “Astronaut” followed by the Seiko ref. 0674 LC and Seiko M354 Memorybank Calendar. Each of these watches had their own set of bells and whistles that will amaze the techies.

Bulova Vintage Ad
Photo from Bulova’S 1976 Annual Report Cover

LED Watches Take Over

A lot of people will agree that one of the most aesthetically pleasing innovations born from the Quartz Crisis was the led-emitting diode (LED) watch. The first watch to use this technology was the Hamilton Pulsar in 1972. But Bulova answered back and released their own Bulova Computron in 1976.

The Bulova Computron was the brand’s first-ever LED watch. Indeed, it was a product of the brand’s years of research. The world saw a one-of-a-kind watch with sharp angular edges as if you were wearing a bar of gold on your wrist. It was truly a unique sight, especially during the 70s. And like the Hamilton Pulsar, it could not display the time continuously. If you needed to check if you’re running late, you had to push a button to see the red numerals glow on the screen.

The “Trapezoid”

As mentioned above, the Bulova Computron had an aggressively angular case. This is the reason why people are fond of calling it the “Trapezoid”. And it turns out, the watch designers did it for a purpose. Instead of the top, they placed the LED screen on the side so you wouldn’t have to roll your wrist to tell the time.

And if you were thinking that rolling your wrist is such a simple task, let me show you a few examples where the Computron’s design does its magic. First is when you are driving and you can’t move your hand from the steering wheel. Another example is when you’re holding two glasses of water at each hand and you can’t roll your wrist to check the time lest you end up spilling liquid on your shirt. It may sound simple, but this quirky design was made to make your life easier.

Due to that fact, the Computron is sometimes regarded as a “driver’s watch”, which is not to be confused with “diver’s watch”. It is also important to note that while it is considered a driver’s watch, it is not ideal for motorsports as it does not have a chronograph or stopwatch abilities.

The Early Bulova Computrons

“Bulova Computron” and “vintage” are two words that sound contradictory, but I’ll use them together, anyway. Vintage Bulova Computrons from the ’70s came in two colours — gold and chrome. And as mentioned before, users had to push a button to read the time. Push it a few more times and you’ll either get the date or other information depending on the model.

Meanwhile, the top does not have any screens. It is made from solid metal with diamond patterns.

Bulova Computron 2019 variants
Photo from watchpro.com

Bulova Computrons of Today

During Baselworld in 2019, Bulova revived their iconic timepiece. And to the satisfaction of many people, it looked almost identical to the original version. Indeed, the 2019 Bulova Computron reissue had all the charms that the older generation had. And if I didn’t know better, I would definitely be convinced that these were the same Computrons from the ’70s. That these watches entered a time machine and went back a few decades just like what Marty McFly did.

It took a few blinks and pinches to convince myself that we’re in the 21st century. These were different watches, alright. Despite the uncanny resemblance, the 2019 versions had a few tweaks and upgrades. Aside from those, the new Computron is available in a new colour. In addition to the original gold and chrome, it now comes in black.

But if you’re still in denial that these are a different version, check out the features of the modern Bulova Computron below.

The Modern Bulova Computron Features

Different Versions and Designs

Lucky for us, the Bulova Computron is available in three different designs. Each version has its own personality. Find out what makes each colourway good and which one is best for you.

Bulova Computron Gold
Photo from Amazon
1. Gold-Tone Version

The way we see it, the Bulova Computron yellow gold version earns the most retro points. In fact, if watch designers wanted to give their own timepiece an old-school feel, turning it into this colour is the way to go. Its shiny finish reminds me of sci-fi robots like C-3PO from Star Wars.

Meanwhile, the LED display comes in dark red. Which is a good choice as it is a fellow primary colour that goes well with yellow.

This colourway is loud and its futuristic case definitely contributes to its loudness. So if you want your watch to be the first thing that people notice about you, this will definitely do the trick.

Bulova Computron Chrome
Photo from Amazon
2. Chrome Version

Like the previous version, the Bulova Computron Chrome variant gives us a science fiction vibe. Its colour is what you would see on robots and fighter planes. In fact, you might even convince people that it is a small part of a broken droid.

Instead of red, the chrome version has a brilliant blue LED display. The coolness of the blue supplements the shiny chrome of the body.

The chrome version of the Bulova Computron is something to consider if you want something that will catch the attention of people. Yet not as loud as the gold variant.

Bulova Computron Black
Photo from Amazon
3. Black Version

The Bulova Computron black version is something you would wear for that Deus Ex Machina vibe as it comes in an almost all-black colourway. While the two previous variants have steel bracelets, this one comes with a rubber strap.

As for the LED display, it shares the red glow of the gold version. And if you couldn’t get enough of sci-fi, it resembles the red eyes of the Terminator glowing through black Wayfarers.

It is not as loud as the other two, but it still packs a punch. Particularly, it will appeal to those who want something unique yet versatile. Among the three versions, this one is the easiest to incorporate with your wardrobe.

The Case

As mentioned above, the 2019 Bulova Computron comes in a trapezoidal case. It measures around 31mm wide, 40mm, long, and 13.8mm thick. But do note that these measurements are indefinite as the shape of the Computron is very odd. At the right side of the case is the button. This is used to read the time, date, and other features of the watch.

LED Screen

Two out of three variants have a red LED display. Meanwhile, the oddball is blue. But when the watch is not turned on, the LED screen is just black. And to turn it on, you have to push the button placed on the right side of the case. Doing this will allow you to cycle through its features like the time, second time zone, day, and date.

Additionally, not all of the LED segments are illuminated. Our guess is that this feature is meant to save battery power. In fact, Bulova claims that the battery of the watch can last up to two years.

Bulova Computron Case Back
Photo from ablogtowatch.com

The Caseback

Owning a quartz watch has its own drawbacks. For one, changing the battery can sometimes be a daunting task. It seems that some casebacks were made to be opened only by expert watchmakers. Lucky for you, Bulova is determined to make things as easy for you as possible.

Enter the Bulova Computron’s practical caseback. Instead of putting artistic decorations on the back surface, the brand went for a utilitarian approach. The recess at the back’s surface lets you stick a coin and use it to open the battery hatch so you can change the battery yourself. And this is not limited to using coins. Anything that can fit the recess can be used to pry open the watch’s caseback.

It is important to note that this cool feature is not unique to the Bulova Computron. In fact, the Accutron and the Timex Q also use this.

But if you prefer not to touch anything inside the watch for fear of damaging it, you can still opt to have an expert watchmaker do it for you.

The Movement

For a digital watch, the movement is not usually the main star. Indeed, the Computron uses a quartz movement that has a two-year battery life. And like other watches fitted with quartz movements, the Computron is generally more accurate in telling the time than the average mechanical watch.

The Features

In terms of features, the Computron has a few tricks up its sleeves that the older version doesn’t have. Aside from the time, you can view the running seconds, day, date, and an alternate time zone. 

Additionally, it is water-resistant up to 30m. Which means that you don’t have to worry about splashing a few drops of water on it while washing your hands. However, you should definitely not wear this to a quick dip in the pool.

The Strap

As mentioned above, the chrome and gold versions both have steel bracelets. In fact, its design resembles an Oyster bracelet with a few modifications. These are very identical to the old versions of the Computron.

Meanwhile, the black variant is fitted with a silicone rubber strap, which makes it more comfortable compared to the other two. In addition, using rubber instead of steel straps brought the price down a bit.

Pros and cons of the Bulova Computron

Pros:

  • Accurate – Because of its quartz movement, this watch is more accurate than the average mechanical watch.
  • A piece of history – Owning a Bulova Computron is like owning a piece of history. It is considered iconic and a collector’s item.
  • Convenient to use – Bulova went the extra mile to make the watch functional. A few examples are the placement of the LED display and the coin-operated battery hatch.

Cons:

  • Strictly for casual wear – Due to its design, the things you can wear with the Bulova Computron can be very limited.
  • Not everyone’s style – The watch has a unique design that will appeal to a specific audience.

Who is the Bulova Computron for?

It goes without saying that the Bulova Computron is definitely a hit or miss and is not for everyone. The obvious reason for that is the aesthetics. It does not look like any other watch and will definitely merit some second looks. However, if you’re into retro-futuristic designs, then this will definitely sit well with you. In fact, if you’re a science fiction junkie, it is very likely that it will appeal to you.

Secondly, it is a digital watch. Some watch snobs might dismiss it for that reason alone. But if you’re the type to admire the accuracy and reliability of battery-operated watches, then this won’t be much issue. In truth, the watch being digital is an advantage.

Final Notes

Just by looking at its name, you would know that the Bulova Computron has a futuristic ring to it. Indeed, it does not disappoint. It is exactly the type of watch that you would expect to see in Star Trek or maybe even Back to the Future.

In modern times, this timepiece is considered a collector’s item. Not because of its quirky designs nor its association with science fiction. But for the history attached to it. Undoubtedly, it will forever be engraved in Bulova’s history. For it is one of the watches that made the company stay afloat amidst the Quartz Crisis.

 

From underdog to legendary watch, the Omega Railmaster is something you should check out!

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