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Bulova Unveils Archive Series Mil-Ships-W-2181 Reissue

Historically rare submersible watch used by the U.S. Navy Experimental Diving Unit.

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Bulova Unveils Archive Series Mil-Ships-W-2181 Reissue

(PRESS RELEASE) NEW YORK — Bulova, historically known for its relationship with the U.S. military, produced various Mil-Spec timepieces at the request of the government, particularly through WWII. As a new diver emerged under the Navy Experimental Diving Unit: The Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) and Explosive Ordnance Divers (EOD), Five Star General, Omar Bradley, leader of research and development at Bulova in the 50s, was called upon to create a watch that was robust enough to withstand the missions these divers were assigned. 64 years after the first prototype was born, Bulova is proud to unveil its latest Archive Series Mil-Ships reissue inspired by the original MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 watch.

In the beginning of WWII, Navy divers became what we now know as EOD and UDT divers. The primary role of the EOD, on land and underwater, foreign or domestic, is to identify and render-safe by demolition all types of ordnance (improvised, chemical, biological and nuclear) and though they are U.S. Navy, they fully integrate with all branches of the U.S. Military in furtherance of any mission. The primary function of the UDT during WWII was to conduct reconnaissance and underwater demolition of natural or man-made obstacles, which might obstruct amphibious landings and later became pioneers in underwater demolition, closed circuit diving, combat swimming as well as dry and wet submersible operations. UDT was even tasked to ensure recovery of space capsules and astronauts after splash down for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space flight programs. Comprised of some of the most highly trained specialized divers, their responsibilities grew over the years and time became an important element.

EOD and UDT had proven absolutely indispensable and efforts were made to ensure that these highly specialized teams were always well equipped. To that end, and due to the fact that the standard U.S. Navy submersible watch as well as available commercial underwater watches had not proven satisfactory, on December 5th, 1955 the Bureau of Ships created Contract Specification; Wrist watch, Submersible, MILSHIPS-W-2181 to meet an operational need of EOD and UDT swimmers. The primary requirement of the watch was that it be watertight to the specified depth and that it be impervious to the entrance of water vapor for periods of many months, have visibility in the dark, and have an outer, rotatable ring.

Bulova submitted their first three prototypes to the NEDU (Navy Experimental Diving Unit) for testing in May of 1957. The watch featured a unique two-piece water-resistant case back, a thick brass anti-magnetic case holder, and a newly designed movement – the 17 jewel manual wind 10 BPCHN with a unique clutch mechanism that prevented the watch from being over-wound. Another small batch of prototypes were delivered in 1958 for field-testing by the Diving Unit and the Navy’s UDT-21 frogman team. The prototypes were subject to extensive and rigorous testing to make sure the bezels were secure and watertight. They were worn during working dives, after which the deep chamber runs were conducted for additional testing and were successfully depth tested to 392 feet, which was quite deep for that time.

Navy reports for the Bulova submissions detail the findings and recommendations, and although the Navy had some comments, they were excited, as they had not seen a watch like this before. As the Navy was waiting on an additional prototype(s) for final approval, Bulova made the decision not to proceed and shifted their efforts elsewhere. As a result, only a handful of these watches were ever made, all of which were delivered directly to the U.S. Navy to be tested in the field. Even after Bulova’s final submission in 1958, the Navy continued to wait for additional submits of what they considered to be their watch for MIL-SHIPS-W-2181. As evidence, in December of 1959, a full page was devoted to the Bulova watch in the Bureau of Ships Journal. After the military finally passed on the production of this model, the test subjects were given to divers in the Navy for regular use. Only six original complete watches, and one empty case are known to exist at present time.

Bulova never launched the MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 model commercially — thus, 2021 marks the very first time Bulova is launching this unique timepiece originally developed for the U.S. Navy. The story coupled with the rarity of the original prototypes makes this a highly desirable timepiece. Featuring a 41mm sandblasted stainless steel case, the look of the new Bulova Mil-Ships watch is distinct with its black dial accented with Super LumiNova luminous hands and markers and tapered lugs – lending a refined look that stands out against other sport and military models – but is versatile to be worn anytime, every day. True to the original, the dial boasts a unique Litmus paper strip that gauges the moisture levels inside the watch. Should the watch ever lose its water resistance (up to 200m) the paper will change color.

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The watch also features a push lock rotating top ring that only rotates once pressed down, along with a double domed sapphire crystal with AR coating. A “Master Diver Helmet” relief is featured on the case back and lends additional unique details along with the finely woven nylon NATO strap, made to withstand continuous contact with water. A non-limited version featuring a blue NATO strap and housing a Miyota 82S0 movement is available for $895 and a limited edition version featuring a black NATO strap and housing a Sellita SW200 movement is available for $1,990. The limited edition version is numbered to 1,000 pieces and is presented in a special gold-tone Diver Helmet designed packaging with serial card, storybook and plaque.

Bulova travels back in time to unlock some of its most memorable moments in history. From the Apollo 15 mission, where its Lunar Pilot chronograph endured astronomical conditions, to its 1970s Chronograph C design featuring stars and stripes, the Archive Series is an exciting revival of some of the brand’s most iconic timepiece designs. Reimagining Bulova’s most nostalgic designs, while infusing contemporary elements, the Archive Series is the ultimate celebration of Bulova’s history of firsts. To discover Bulova’s Archive Series, visit here.
To learn more about Bulova’s heritage, visit the digital Bulova Museum.

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