INTRODUCING: Bulova MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 Military Diver Watch Based on Rare 1957 Prototype

Bulova Archive Series MIL SHIPS W 2181 Submersible watch

The Bulova MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 is a rare beast: an archive piece based on a prototype that never went into commercial production. Created for the U.S. Navy, the watch was produced in response to the need for a submersible wrist watch. However, the original prototype may never have come to light at all, had it not been for one passionate collector of military dive watches: Adam Victor. Working closely with Bulova in the U.S., Victor brought the prototype to their attention in 2019 and has helped shape the modern MIL-SHIPS-W-2181. Both he and Bulova are keen to stress that it is a new launch – not a recreation, although naturally the new MIL-SHIPS Watch finds its home in the Bulova Archive Series.

The Original Contract

On December 5th, 1955, the U.S. Bureau of Ships created “Contract Specification; Wrist watch, Submersible, MIL-SHIPS-W-2181” to meet an operational need of Explosive Ordnance Divers (EOD) and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) divers. The spec stated that the watch had to be watertight, impervious to water ingress, offer visibility in the dark and have an outer, rotatable ring (bezel).

Bulova Archive Series MIL SHIPS W 2181 Submersible watch


Already with a long history of working closely witb the U.S. government (Bulova produced thousands of watches for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II), the company began work on a submersible watch. Consequently, in May 1957, Bulova produced the first of three separate rounds of prototypes. Tested at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU), another set of prototypes were also tested in 1958 by the Diving Unit and the Navy’s UDT-21 frogman team. However, although the watches were very well received and a full page was devoted to Bulova’s watch in the 1959 Bureau of Ships Journal, describing it as “the new specialized dive watch for the military”, Bulova subsequently dropped the project.

Bulova Archive Series MIL SHIPS W 2181 Submersible watch

There is speculation as to why Bulova stopped work on the project and the watches were never produced. Possibly, with the ground-breaking launch of Accutron just a year away, they had bigger fish to fry. Adam Victor’s own theory is that the value of the contract was not as high as originally anticipated. Whatever the reason, the prototypes didn’t come to light again for many years and the contract was eventually won by Tornek-Rayville.


New Launch: MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 Special Edition Watch

Bulova Archive Series MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 special edition watch model 98A266Staying as close to the original as possible, there is no doubt that the new Bulova MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 is a great looking piece.

Firstly, the 41mm diameter matt stainless steel case is the same size as the original and has the same rotating top ring for locking elapsed time (it only rotates when pressed down). Whereas the original bezel insert was in acrylic and radium, the modern version is aluminium with Super LumiNova. Similarly, the black dial has the same look as the original. Importantly, the dial still features a moisture strip. This unique feature indicates if the watch should ever lose its 200m water resistance by changing colour. Furthermore, sepia-toned luminescent hour markers and hands add to the vintage look.

Bulova Archive Series MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 special edition watch model 98A266

Although the 16mm blue textile strap appears narrow compared to the 41mm case diameter, it really suits this vintage-style watch. Also, a steel pin buckle secures it to the wrist. Furthermore, turn the watch over and there is a beautiful ‘Master Diver’ helmet engraving – faifthfully reproduced from the original. We also love that the caseback is engraved PROTOTYPE.

Finally, a Miyota 82S0 automatic movement equips the watch and has a power reserve of up to 42 hours.

Presented in a smart Special Edition grey box, the watch comes with a story book which outlines the unique story of the piece.


Price and Where to Buy

Priced at £599, the Bulova MIL-SHIPS-W-2181 Military Diver Watch is available to buy from Authorised Dealers now on All Bulova Watches come with a full Three Year Warranty and offer of free gift wrapping. Every sale through supports a family owned, UK tax-paying business. Support the High Street and shop with us today!