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Bulova Precisionist Chronograph NN50 Review

An affordable and feature-packed chronograph from Bulova

It was still early enough that Torontonians had not adapted to winter conditions. The grey skies were fortified by the grim and grey mist that filled the air from the citys overzealous pre-salting of its streets. The metropolis looked like a scene ripped out of a science fiction movie where the audience gets a glimpse into the gloom of a world invaded by aliens in the not-too-distant future.

Filled with equal parts anxiety and joy, I backed my vehicle out of my lightly salted driveway. I was going to the first in-person event held by a watch brand since the pandemic hit. I was photographing the event hosted by Citizen Watch Group, and like everyone else who had a two-year break from such events, I was unsure of how the evening would go. I then paused to let my vehicle warm up, and thats when I heard a distant thud, followed by the horn blaring from a SUV that was travelling at double the legal speed down my residential street. Fearing the worst, I got out of my vehicle and saw an elderly man on his back, awkwardly positioned on the ground and clinging onto the inside of his drivers-side door of his small Toyota. It was then that I looked down at the incomprehensible and illegible dial of the Bulova and took note for the incident report.

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Twenty hours before I started treating the elderly man for injuries, I was sharing a glass of scotch with a close friend. We were celebrating my COVID-19 booster shot, and I was to pick up his striking black and yellow Bulova Precisionist to wear the following day to the event hosted by Citizen Watch Group. As we chatted and caught up, I suddenly had an urge to write about this watch. This urge over time had faded, for writing about timepieces had been offering the same level of stimulation as operating a new washing machine for the fourth time. This Bulova, on the other hand, offers readers who frequent this site something to take note of. Impressed by its build quality and attention to detail, my first thought was why don’t enthusiasts notice such watches. The notion of looking down at anything that is exclusively on display at department store shelves came to mind, but there was something more to this. For many reasons, watches such as this Precisionist cradle an awkward place in the market. The immediate landscape which this watch resides in is squarely under attack by the general population’s belief that watches no longer serve a purpose other than being a fashion accessory. Through examining this timepiece and events when I first sized it for my wrist, we will not only learn more about this watch, which is a technical masterpiece, but about the importance of watches in our lives.

The Movement

Sir,” I said loudly yet calmly, Are you alright?”

I, I am OK,” he said, straining his quiet and weak voice. I cant get up.”

Stay there, and do not move. I will go retrieve a mask for you and a first aid kit,” I said, turning back to my vehicle. Upon returning with enough masks for myself and the small crowd of neighbours who were starting to take interest, I started the bevy of physical and cognitive tests to ensure that the patients spine and nervous system were unaffected by his fall. In doing so, I started the chronograph on the Bulova and started repeating a set of tests over the next half hour.

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At the start of 2008, Citizen Watch Group purchased the brand Bulova. What was to follow foreshadowed one of the most positive stories about corporate mergers, especially within the watch industry. For it would only be two years later that with the might of Citizen in their sails, Bulova would release the highly impressive high-accuracy quartz Precisionist movements. In the same year that Citizen would go on to purchase a darling of the industry in Frederique Constant, Bulova would then release the world’s first fully curved chronograph movement in their stunning CURV series.

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Though this mighty Precisionist has a curved mineral glass (which easily passes as a sapphire crystal due to its quality), it does not use the NR20 movement in the CURV series. However, the NN50 movement used does share its staggering capabilities. As one can read on the dial, its frequency is rated at 262 kHz, and its chronograph can measure events with an accuracy down to 1/1000th of a second. Bulova uses an additional prong on their quartz crystal (bringing it to a grand total of three), and implements sophisticated temperature-sensitive circuitry that ensures an accuracy of around +10 seconds a year. In my month with this Precisionist, it has only gained one second. Lastly, before we get into how this movement impacts the user experience, a pleasant outcome of having such a high-frequency movement is that the central seconds hand moves without a stutter. The elegant seconds hand makes this watch feel much more expensive than it is, and has a soothing effect.


However, it does highlight the second-biggest issue with this watch. This is of practicality and actual real-world use cases for the watch’s elapsed timing features. Undoubtedly the highlight of this watch is its chronograph movement, but certain design decisions firmly categorize this timepiece as a fashion accessory rather than a serious time-telling instrument. For more serious watches, Bulova has the consumer covered with other offerings. Placed at the 8 o’clock position of the case is an additional fourth pusher which is dedicated to switching the watch between its time-telling and chronograph modes. In its time-only mode, the central seconds hand gracefully makes its calm journey across the beautiful and highly detailed dial. In its chronograph mode, the seconds hand rests at 12 o’clock, ready to be called to duty. When the chronograph is started, the wearer is treated to a very precise progression of the seconds hand that is unique in its deliberate and calculated movement. The hands measuring the 10ths and 100ths of a second spin quickly only to stop after 30 seconds in order to conserve the battery.

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Luckily, when I needed to use the watch in the first aid scenario, it was already in its chronograph mode. I had done this not to time an unknown event, but to save the watch’s battery, for the seconds hand rests. From experience, in a rescue or first aid situation, having a watch that simply does its job and does not get in the way will go a long way towards the watch being worn at all in the future. When changing between modes, the seconds hand meanders towards its next position. This is frustrating when needing to time an important event. Furthermore, the central seconds hand takes its sweet time when resetting the chronograph. The smaller hands in the 12 and 6 o’clock subdials, which measure the tenths, hundredths, and thousandths of a second, all reset instantly. This is mostly done for style, for as we have seen in other watches, such as higher-end analogue Master of G watches by Casio, manage to make their central seconds hands not only snap back instantly, but do various other forms of acrobatics in assorted acts of elapsed timing. This relaxed approach to measuring elapsed time is something that may prove too annoying for actual use, thus resulting in the watch not being worn at all.

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On the Wrist

The next 35 minutes flew by as I watched the elderly man wave goodbye through his window as he drove off. I looked down at the Bulova, and with a sigh I finally reset the chronograph. As I put my vehicle into Drive, I looked down one final time to note the time, and I started giggling. With any sense of urgency now absent, I once again had trouble reading the time.

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I am no stranger to big watches. My first grotesquely big watch was my Hamilton Below Zero. A good friend at the event that evening actually compared the two when seeing the Precisionist on my wrist for the first time. Like the Hamilton, the Bulova sacrifices legibility in favour for character. Like the Below Zero, the time-telling ability of the Precisionist jumps to the surface when you need it. Simply put, it is not the easiest watch to tell the time with.

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However, the biggest failing of this particular model of the Precisionist is how it wears. As mentioned before, I am no stranger to large watches, and frequently wear the Marathon Jumbo Chronograph Search and Rescue which shares similar dimensions with this Bulova. The Precisionist simply doesn’t wear its weight well. The butterfly clasp on the strap that came with this watch is simply not sufficient for a watch clocking in at a very top-heavy 172 grams. The owner of this timepiece has a 7.5” wrist which dwarfs my 6.75” wrist, and he complained about this as well. Due to its girth, the watch has to be fastened rather tightly. As a result, the clasp finds a way to dig itself into the spaces in between your tendons, and it does so while grabbing onto and dragging every hair within the district. All of this discomfort borders on pain and will result in its wearer reaching for the agreed-upon safeword.

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I found as the night progressed and my attention was squarely focused on photographing the event, the watch never managed to disappear on my wrist. In the back of my head I had expected this to occur, as most large and well-engineered watches had done. This was not the case with this Bulova simply because of its butterfly clasp. This model is offered with varying finishes, bracelets, and straps, and I would highly recommend that you get one that either comes on the bracelet or with a traditional tang and buckle. I did get a chance to try on a stainless steel-finished Precisionist on a bracelet at the event, and it wore more comfortably than the one we are reviewing today.

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The measurements on Bulova’s website for the case are a little misleading. Though it is true that the case width measures 46.5mm, it wears much bigger than that. First, the real measurement that provides a better sense for how the watch wears is its size at the crowns, 49.5mm. The case extends those 3 extra millimetres in its crown guards that protect the pushers as well, leading to a bigger watch than on paper. Visually, since this watch is all black, the eye does not easily differentiate the dial from the rest of the timepiece. This makes the watch actually wear larger than its steel variants. Its lug-to-lug is 54.5mm, and the watch is 18mm thick.

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One purchases a watch such as the Precisionist for its presence. This particular black variant does not attract as much attention as the stainless steel model. I’d argue that this makes the black PVD variant more versatile as it more easily blends with more formal outfits. Bulova’s marketing tagline is Bold At Heart. Not only are some of their watches boldly sized (read large), but some of their designs (such as this Precisionist) are truly unique. applies perfectly to the beautiful dial on this watch.

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Dial Details

I had just received my booster shot and something very amusing was happening in front of my eyes. I was seated and told to wait for 15 minutes before leaving. Due to the unfortunate reality of having our healthcare workers targeted for harassment or worse during this pandemic, throughout the community centre where I received my shot there were signs telling people to put away their phones and to not take photographs. This presented a problem in the waiting area where the newly boosted civilians were to wait their required 15 minutes. Only I had a watch, and the closest clock was two stories above and behind us. Further making the situation more comical was that most there were over 60 with poor eyesight. Being polite Canadians, everyone else simply sat down and kept their phones in their pockets and strained both their necks and eyes to read the distant clock.

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To call this dial busy would simply be lazy and would miss the point. Since legibility was mentioned at the start of this article, making the hands a colour other than black would have greatly improved the time-at-a glance capabilities of this watch. I suspect that the designers (who are are smarter and better at their jobs than you or I) decided against this. The black hands are somewhat aided by the lumed white tips. They are balanced with their aft ends being white, yet not lumed. On the topic of lume, the paint used here works very well and as a result makes this watch easier to read at night. When all the rest of the busy details of the watch fall into darkness, the hour markers and the hour and minute hands get their moment to shine, literally. After speaking with several people about this watch, we agreed that this watch was more about showcasing its wonderful chronograph and making a statement rather than telling the time.

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Further making time-telling difficult are the four subdials, a date window at 4:30, multiple finishes, and a tachymeter scale on its border. The date wheel is white in this variation, and this is probably one of the only times that I wished for the date wheel to be black. Since this timepiece is not a serious time instrument, the more fashionable and balanced look of the darker date wheel would have been appreciated. In every other variant of this model, the date wheel is white, so this may have been done as a cost-saving measure. The subdial at 3 and 9 o’clock are finished in matte black, while at 12 and 6 o’clock they match the odd finishing of the inner part of the dial. I have heard this pattern to be described as a “murdered-out” black camo, and that of a carbon composite. To my eyes, the pattern looks more like a shiny black Rorschach test on a matte black background. The next phase of the dial which meets the hour markers is a multi-stepped gradient which gives way to a beautiful texture matching the carbon bezel – more on this point in the next section.

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Bezel, Case and Strap

One of the beautiful features of this particular Precisionist is its carbon composite fixed bezel. Though it is stunning and really ties the entire motif of the watch together, it is a fixed bezel made to look like a dive bezel. Given the movement’s shortcomings timing an event quickly, the addition of a usable dive bezel would have transformed this watch for me. The watch has four large fake screws on each corner of its cushion case, and these get in the way of a dive bezel being a reality. This design feature is featured on the aforementioned Hamilton Below Zero, yet it has a functional dive bezel.

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The rest of the stainless-steel case is finished in a durable black PVD finish that suits the character of the watch really well. The strap provided on this particular model is a very comfortable (clasp notwithstanding) and interesting rubber and nylon strap. On top, the nylon surface is soft yet tough and pleasant to the touch. When wet, the nylon portion feels tight and well put-together and dries quickly. The overall mini squared-off pattern does not run parallel to the rest of the watch or the yellow rubber edge. This is slightly disappointing, for it points out a level of fit and finish that undermines the rest of the quality seen in the watch. The inside of the strap is grooved and yellow, and the keepers are a flat yellow.

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Closing Thoughts

Umm, didnt your last girlfriend steal your Rolex and use it for drug money,” asked Keely.

So? I dont need a phone and watch,” responded Roy Kent in the AppleTV+ series Ted Lasso.

The matter of watches having a place on our wrists when we have phones is a topic that has been explored and discussed at length elsewhere. Within a 24-hour period of receiving this watch, I was presented with two distinct instances where a watch was not only necessary, but vital. Watches such as this Bulova are not swooned over by watch enthusiasts and collectors. When the price of this watch is also taken into consideration, being that it resides squarely where most dominant smartwatches such as the Apple Watch do, why would anyone buy this watch? It hardly tells the time. Its chronograph feature is rendered inert unless it is always left in chronograph mode. The value proposition of a mechanical movement is not present. This is something that in the minds of many collectors makes the purchase of the Hamilton Below Zero not a problem, but the quartz Bulova at half the price has trouble justifying. Lastly, it is a very large watch with a modern design that is not versatile enough to be someone’s only watch. This presents an issue for this timepiece and would explain why I have never seen it or its main other variants on anyone’s wrist here in Canada. Given the current atmosphere for watches and the decreasing number of wrists they occupy, this could be a problem for such a watch. However, for collectors this watch has a lot to offer. Its distinct looks certainly have a place in one’s wardrobe. The technological tour de force of its impressive movement is reason alone to add this watch to one’s collection. Most collectors do add the Bulova Lunar Watch which has a variant of the 262 kHz movement to their collection, but watches such as this Precisionist offer something different in terms of design.

In conclusion, being a member of a larger corporate family such as the Citizen Watch Group allows each brand to carve out its own niche. Want a dive watch that has a chronograph and a functional bezel? Bulova has their classically designed Marine Stars for you, or you could head on over to Citizen for their vast collection of dive watches. Want something with a more traditional Swiss approach? Frederique Constant can cater to your tastes. It is hard to recommend a watch that stumbles as many times as this Precisionist does with its core functions for the population at large. All one has to do with this Precisionist is make sure that his or her watch does not come with the butterfly clasp. This is not a watch to be worn every day to every event or venue. It is not a watch to be relied upon for measuring events other than basic activities such as when to next flip your steak. This is the kind of watch that you have to love its design and purchase it for that reason alone.

Check out more chronograph reviews at The Watch Clicker

Check out the Bulova website

Bulova Precisionist Specs

Case Width

46.5mm

Thickness
18mm

Lug-to-Lug

55mm

Wrist-to-Crystal*
17.8mm

Lug Width
24mm

Weight
172g

Crystal
Curved Mineral

Strap
Rubber & Nylon

Water Resistance
300m

Lume
Yes

Movement

Bulova NN50

Price
~$800

*Height of the watch from the wrist to the top of the crystal

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