Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

Hands-On – Bulova Hack 38mm Reference 96A259 Special Edition Field Watch (Supports Veteran’s Watchmaking Initiative)

The Skinny

  • 38mm
  • Water resistance – 30m
  • Miyota 8S20-43A – autowinding, hacking, no date, mechanical
  • Year of release – 2020 (serial production)
  • Price upon release – $425
Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

How To Choose a Field Watch

Military issued field watches of the 20th century are not only abundant in their own right, but 21st century recreations are everywhere to be found. In my estimation, this popularity comes down to field watches being the very archetype of the wrist watch itself, a tool sorted out for no-nonsense legibility and durability during WWI. They make as much sense today as they did then.

So how does one come to decide which of the many recreations of mil-spec field watches to get? Unless you’re a connoisseur of some specific model or era—which would seem to lead one to vintage anyways—I had found it quite daunting to know where to begin.

For the past couple of years I looked all around, and I can’t find a modern field watch that has as much going for it as the Bulova Hack. So that’s what I got.

Using the following set of basic criteria, here’s how I came to this conclusion.

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

It should be affordable.

I adore many IWCs and so on, but when it comes down to it I don’t see why a simple field watch should be expensive. In fact, an expensive field watch is a bit of an oxymoron, as the original military units were made in enormous batches on restricted military budgets. Field watches were not luxury items, and overly elevated versions are strange birds.

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

It should be understated.

I find that the ultra-precise cases, dials and flashy handsets of many recent high-end field watches are just too flashy for the genre. Even when Hamilton and IWC tone down their field watches with matte finishes and aged lume they seem a little too refined—almost too dressy—for my tastes.

This isn’t to say that the Bulova Hack isn’t beautifully done. I especially like the brushing of the case, specifically the vertical brushing along the mid-case and the circular brushing over the lugs. There’s actually quite a bit going on, but the case and dial add up to a chill watch that looks and feels like a tool—as mil-spec watch should.

This assessment reflects my general opinion that fancy tool watches categorically tend toward the gaudy.

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm
Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm
Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

The brand should have been issuing the model to an actual military at some point.

When the lineage is direct, the watch seems more authentic. I define authenticity as closeness to origins, so it helps that Bulova, which has never gone out of business and remains in America, provided the US military with these watches. I think we feel that authenticity when we wear these watches.

For example, I’m fairly certain my father wore a Bulova in Japan during WWII (it may have been an Elgin, as the A11s carried no logo on the dial and I only have a photo). Whatever Dad wore, what’s being honored in Bulova’s recreation is more meaningful for having such direct connections to history.

The Hack I chose saw production from around 1959 into the early 1970s as the Bulova MIL-W-3818A or the Bulova A17A, the difference being the movement in the originals. The big difference over the 1940s A11 mil-spec is the inner 24-hour time scale of the A17A.

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm
Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

It should feel nostalgic.

Whatever variety of nostalgia we get into as individuals, I submit that a mechanical field watch lacking nostalgia has failed in its mission to awaken in us 21st century folks a sense of 20th century adventure.

Despite my father wearing an A11 during WWII, it is the A17 for me. This watch carries the vibe that dominated the 1990s camping scene in America, which is how I came into field watches as a preppy pacifist hippie. LL Bean and Orvis sold quartz models to the outdoorsy set, and the second 24-hour track of the A17 has what is for me a 90s look—as odd as that may seem.

As my experience makes clear, we all have our own resonance with the various field watches out there, and there’s no correct vibe to groove on. It can just be aesthetic preference, which can involve nostalgia, as in my case. Maybe it’s a vague sense of history, or a very specific memory, or the military service of a loved one. It’s all good, as long as you find a connection and resonance. What’s yours, I wonder? How might you connect to a field watch, or any object in your life?

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm
Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

It should be rugged and legible.

30m of water resistance is solid, though maybe I’d prefer more. Funny how that doesn’t bother me much, though, as none of my old camping watches were truly waterproof. The Miyota 8S20-43A uses 21-jewels, autowinds, offers 42 hours of power reserve, and of course hacks (stops when you pull out the crown). Lume is great, and legibility is top shelf, of course.

What Cinched It For Me

On the back of this watch is a glass insert with the logo of the Veteran’s Watchmaker Initiative, and 10% of the proceeds from this watch will support the VWI.

The VWI has for decades trained veterans in watchmaking, giving them a do-able job (especially those disabled in combat), direction, purpose, income, community and much more. It’s really something. 

Bulova Hack Field Watch 38mm

It infuriates me that America sends soldiers off to war while cutting veteran support and bolstering tax breaks for the 1%. I say this as a pacifist—but not supporting war doesn’t mean I don’t support those who are often fighting to try to stop wars, protect democracy, and so on with the complexities and contradictions of life on earth. That we let vets suffer is unethical and amoral. When a company like Bulova does the right thing like promoting and supporting the Veteran’s Watchmaker Initiative, it makes choosing their already authentic products like this Hack that much easier.