Bulova SkyStar World Timer from 1969

“The Bulova SkyStar knows what time it is no matter where you aren’t”

Bulova produced the SkyStar for just 1 year in 1969 – making it quite a rare piece. There were three variants; orange dial, black dial and white dial – all featuring a rich blue world time bezel. The orange is incredibly striking and fits in with their range of other tangerine monsters – such as the Bulova Oceanographer ‘V’ Snorkel and the Accutron Deep Sea ‘A’. The black dial seems to look quite flat – plus “black and blue never do”, it’s always been an odd uneasy juxtaposition of colours.

I’m not biased in any way but I believe the white dial to be the best combination of colours. The white dial is crisp and clean with the yellowed lume fluffy and light – it’s just nice to look at. The dial actually has a chalky texture when examined up close producing that stable matt finish. The hands are deep black with a curved shape to them featuring long valleys full of aged lume.

This is a cushion case watch and it measures 38 mm across. It’s a nice lump of stainless steel with polishing on the top and sides with brushing on the chamfer. The overall condition is very good ignoring some slight scratches on the case back. It is currently on a J B Champion polished link bracelet which works really well with the hidden lugs. It’s a shame its not original but it suits it nonetheless.

What’s inside?

The movement in this watch is a rarely used 21,600 BPH 17 jewel automatic 11BKACB. In fact it’s so rarely used it only ever appeared in the SkyStar. Quick set date by running hands between midnight and 9pm. Super aggressive red background day is quite off putting to look at initially but it’s contrast makes it incredibly legible. I also love the font used on the date – open 9’s ahoy! The self winding rotor on this model is a little noisy but nothing to really complain about. 

Bygone Bakelite Bezel Baby

As the bezel was forged from the almighty precursor to plastic, Bakelite, it’s subject to fading and cracking. It’s quite often that these SkyStar appear with an almost ghost like white bezel after years of solar abuse. If you know the chemical name for Bakelite give yourself a pat on the back – the full name is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride. Patented in 1909 it was the world’s first synthetic plastic praised for its heat resistant and electrical insulating properties. During the 20th century Bakelite found its way into all sorts of functions including firearms and telephones.

Lots of watches in the 60s and 70s feature this super high tech material on their bezels. It’s a cool material and has become super collectible in many formats – partially due the fact a large amount of it has not aged well increasing the scarcity. This fade that Bakelite experiences is down partially due to the colouring used by manufacturers – these needed to have any effect on the already brittle structure. This led to using experimental organic and mineral colouring which has become susceptible to fade after prolonged exposure to sunlight. These new techniques did restrict the quantity of colours available – hence why it’s mainly black, red and blue found in bezels. If you examine the conditions of current vintage Bulova – the blue bezels have been particularly affected over time.

I think there is a whole element of this watch missing to actually assist with using the world time bezel. I’ll come in to that later on – but see if you can guess what it is.

When it’s 6.04 a.m. in New York

Bulova SkyStar Advert

“The outer ring of the Bulova SkyStar world timer is like the earth. Its round, it rotates. And it’s divided into time zones. So the principle by which it tells you the time anywhere on earth is simple. But the Bulova SkyStar does more than that. It tells you the precise time anywhere on earth. And that’s not so simple. That requires an inner movement that is as nearly perfect and friction-free as man can make. And there’s only one way to get that. Make the components yourself. So we make every functional part of our Bulova movements. And we test every part we make. Not just to see if it works. But to see if it works in perfect harmony with every other part.

After we assemble the movement, we retest it. Then freeze it, to keep it fresh, until it’s ready to go into our SkyStar. Then it’s scaled to protect it from water and dust and heat and cold and shock. So that you get all the benefits of its accuracy. No matter how much you travel, or how international your business, this world timer will spend most of its time helping you catch planes and keep appointments right here at home. The rest of the work we throw in for free.”

I love old adverts, but I really love this one. It is however not very clear about how you use the world time bezel – I would love to see the explanation in the original watch booklet. We don’t have that so you’re just going to have to trust my ropey explanation.

The World Time Bezel

Let’s say it’s 2pm in London – and we want to know the time in New York. First we need to turn the bezel to the correct position. This is where the mistakes are normally made. You do not spin to line up with hour hand at this exact moment – you have to convert the time to 24 hour and position to suit. So on a 12 hour dial 2pm is the second hour marker – on a 24 hour dial it’s the 7th hour marker. Please find this helpful image of a 24 hour Bulova watch below to understand the new hour locations and therefore the conversions required to position the bezel.

Based upon this new knowledge we now know 2pm for world time calculations is actually ‘7 o’clock’ on a 12 hour dial. We now turn the London sector of the bezel to line up with our 24 hour position for 2pm. Now we read back along the bezel to New York and find the 24 hour equivalent on the dial. In this instance at 2pm New York lines up with 9am (4.30pm on a normal 12 hour dial).

This process can be repeated for any of the other major cities labelled on the bezel. If you move clockwise along the bezel add time – if you move anticlockwise remove time. It’s a simple enough process but without a few hints it’s not always obvious. Just line up where you are on the imaginary 24 hour dial and read off the times across the world.

Earlier I mentioned something I felt was missing. What would make this entire process about twice as easy is if Bulova had added the 24 hour positions on the dial. This would have made calculations a lot faster and a lot less confusing for the average person. If you don’t follow this 24 hour dial format the deductions from the world time bezel are utter nonsense. 

Below I have added the 24 hour locations on the SkyStar to help understand the positioning. It’s awful to look at and I apologise – it does however serve a purpose to understand why they didn’t do it like this!

Fictional 24 hour dial Bulova SkyStar

Hopefully you can follow these instructions and have many hours of fun rotating and spinning your world timer bezel. If you don’t have a world timer and want to get your hands on a SkyStar – they do not come up for sale often and when they do the condition is normally questionable. If you find one in good condition – snap it up! They’re rare and an incredibly good looking watch.

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