Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph: The Ultimate Guide

Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph: The Ultimate Guide

When we think about watches and space travel, Omega’s Speedmaster Professional “Moonwatch” — the first watch qualified for missions by NASA and the first worn on the moon — is the timepiece that inevitably comes to mind. New York-based Bulova Watch Company, however, also played a noteworthy role during the height of the U.S.A.’s Space Race with the Soviet Union in the 1950s and ‘60s. The company, at the time headed by American war hero General Omar Bradley, established a partnership with NASA in which it provided precision instruments and timekeeping devices equipped with Bulova’s signature Accutron tuning-fork technology for 46 space missions. 

Bulova Lunar Pilot 43.5mm watches

Bulova even developed a watch built specifically for space travel, the electronic-powered Accutron Astronaut, which was worn in space for the first time in 1963, inside the Mercury Atlas-9 capsule that orbited the Earth. While the Omega Speedmaster established itself as the watch issued to astronauts of the Apollo program, which culminated in the July 1969 moon landing, Accutron Astronaut watches had become standard issue for the pilots of the U.S. Air Force’s X-15 experimental rocket-powered aircraft program and eventually for CIA pilots in their Lockheed A-12 supersonic jets. A Bulova Accutron clock remains in the moon's Sea of Tranquility to this day, placed there by Apollo 11 astronaut (and famous Omega wearer) Buzz Aldrin in 1969. 

Colonel Dave Scott

In 1971, Bulova personally gifted a one-of-a-kind, customized chronograph watch to Colonel Dave Scott (above), commander of the Apollo 15 mission, the ninth crewed mission in the Apollo program and the fourth to land on the moon. Scott, whom history remembers as the seventh man to walk on the moon and the first to drive the Lunar Rover, was issued an Omega watch for the mission along with the rest of his crew but also brought along the Bulova watch, which was specially engineered to withstand lunar conditions, with a case built to withstand drastic changes in pressure, temperature, atmospheric conditions, and gravity. Scott wore the timepiece as a backup, and even ended up wearing it on the moon after the crystal on his NASA-issued Speedmaster, according to records, had popped off. Scott’s Bulova watch thus became the first privately owned watch ever to visit the moon; all mission-worn Omegas are the property of NASA. In 2016, the watch sold for an astonishing $1.62 million at auction.

Original Bulova Lunar Pilot (2016)

Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph 45mm

Price: $625 - $775, Case Size: 45mm, Case Height: 13.5mm, Lug to Lug: 52mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: High-Frequency Quartz NP20

To commemorate the record-setting sale, and the historic space mission that made it possible, Bulova released a new watch model, a reissue of Scott’s timepiece that was initially called the Bulova Special Edition Moon Watch Chronograph. (Bulova changed the name to “Lunar Pilot” after a legal challenge from Omega.) It was in most regards a faithful re-creation of the spacefaring original, whose chronograph function was geared toward the tracking of vital data like the duration of oxygen supplies and other life-sustaining onboard systems. The major differences between the modern watch and the original are its case size — a substantial 45mm compared to the slightly more modest 43mm of Scott’s customized watch – and its movement. The vintage watch was equipped with a traditional mechanical movement while the Lunar Pilot houses instead Bulova’s ultra-modern, proprietary Caliber NP20, an “ultra-high-frequency” (UHF) quartz movement that beats at 262 Hz for an extremely high degree of timekeeping accuracy, losing just seconds per year. Sharp-eyed watch aficionados will also notice the smoothly sweeping central chronograph hand, a rarity in a quartz movement made possible by the UHF caliber’s lightning-quick oscillations.

Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph dial - lumeThe three-register dial boasts a “super-luminous” treatment on its hands and hour markers and is framed by a tachymeter scale on the flange for calculating speeds, a hallmark of many chronographs including the Omega Moonwatch. The small date window at 4:30, a detail not included on the 1971 original, is another element added to appeal to modern tastes. The barrel-shaped stainless steel case has a brushed finish (one model offers a black PVD coating) and on its right side sports the historical model’s distinctive, elongated chronograph pushers. Like the watch that Bulova gave to Dave Scott more than 50 years ago, the Bulova Lunar Pilot is available with two interchangeable straps: one in textured leather, the other an old-school textile strap with hook-and-loop fastener. Prices on the 45mm Lunar Pilots range from $625 to $775.

Apollo 15 50th Anniversary Edition (2021)

Bulova Lunar Pilot 50th Anniversary Apollo 15

Price: $995, Case Size: 45mm, Case Height: 13.5mm, Lug to Lug: 52mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: High-Frequency Quartz NP20

In 2021, for the “golden anniversary” of the Apollo 15 mission and Colonel Scott’s Bulova watch arriving on the moon, Bulova issued a limited edition of the Lunar Pilot with special gold details. The case retains the hefty 45mm size but is here made from grade 5 titanium, with a gold-toned finish on the bezel, crown and pushers and a blue-tinted sapphire crystal with antireflective coating. Matching golden hues also enhance the tricompax dial, in the three subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock and Bulova logo at 12 o’clock; the central sweep seconds hand is also golden-coated. The screw-down caseback sports a gilded finish as well as a commemorative relief engraving of an astronaut on the moon’s surface; inscribed into each caseback is text referencing the Apollo 15 50th anniversary, the date of the 1971 moon landing, and the watch’s individual limited number (out of 5,000 pieces made). The UHF quartz Caliber NP20 does its duty behind the solid caseback. The watch comes on a gray leather NATO strap and is packaged with a special storybook and commemorative NASA coin for a true collectible package.

Lunar Pilot Reimagined (2023)

Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph 43.5mm

Price: $895, Case Size: 43.5mm, Case Height: 13.2mm, Lug to Lug: 51mm, Lug Width: 20mm, Crystal: Sapphire, Water Resistance: 50 meters, Movement: High-Frequency Quartz NP20

Purist collectors and watch fans with smaller wrists rejoiced when Bulova released the most recent edition of the Lunar Pilot Chronograph in 2023, which replicates the 43.5mm dimensions of the original. It’s still not what most would call a small or understated watch (13.5mm thick, 51mm lug to lug) but trimming 1.5mm from the stainless steel case’s silhouette will be a boon for many, in addition to adding to the watch’s historical-accuracy cred, an increasingly important factor in today’s market. Nearly every other aspect of the watch, in its black-dial, steel-bracelet iteration (above), is identical to its 45mm predecessor: non-overlapping subdials at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock for the 1/20-second counter, running seconds, and 60-minute counter; a white-on-black tachymeter scale bezel; period-appropriate elongated chrono pushers, luminous-coated hands and markers, and the high-frequency quartz Caliber NP20 beating inside. A subtle but notable detail is the lack of a date window in the smaller models, which is, again, truer, to the watch Scott wore during Apollo 15.

Bulova Lunar Pilot Chronograph Blue Panda 43mm It is the so-called “Blue Panda” version of the 43mm Lunar Pilot Chronograph (above) that has garnered an inordinate share of enthusiast attention: its silver-toned dial, with dark blue snailed subdials and a dark-blue tachymeter ring with white engraved scale, stands apart from the very Speedmaster-like aesthetic of the black-dial version (even the chronograph pushers are blued), and perhaps hints at many other interesting colorways to follow.

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