Marine Star Glory Days Part 2

Elaborate designs head to YK2

98G03 38mm Titanium Solar

1997 and 1998 seems to have been a prolific period for the Marine Star designers? My collection seems to be heavy with models from those two years and I’m not sure why that is? As I was discussing in Part 1, there was a huge variety of designs and manufacturing differences within the Marine Star collection in the 1990s. Some designs seemed similar with lots of two-tone decoration while others were more classic and restrained. Also, build quality varied among designs. Without any catalogs or marketing information to go on, its hard to see a clear progression of designs. The group designing the Marine Stars seems to be riffing on mixing and matching various design elements from different watches and years and making new assemblages. Over the years, certain design elements come in then out of the line, only to return again.

I need to research more, but there may have been different production locations or sources of components as the 90s progressed. At this point I still think Marine Stars were coming from Hong Kong and Stelux was providing components such as bracelets and cases maybe?

More two-tone offerings in ’97

Tag Heuer (TH) watches were still hot, but heading towards new ground with Link and Kirium that were not warmly received by most TH fans. Still, the Marine Stars were derivative of these TH designs and other brand’s popular looks. 1997 and 1998 continued to offer a lot of different looks including some plain brushed/polished silver with blue dials and no gold trim! I do like blue dials and have tried to find more Marine Stars with blue dials, but the white ones seem to be more available.

98B81 with lots of gold highlights and fancy dial

I’ll start off with this little 36mm beauty with a guilloche-like dial. Its a 98B81 from 1997. The bezel that is not easy to grip, has a nice design, similar, but not quite like any other Marine Star I have. It has gold plated boxes at the 10 min. positions, and a gold textured track between them. There really is no teeth on the edge. The polished case has flatter sides and three projection/double-lobed lugs. The crown is coated in gold. The crown guards are squarish and don’t flow into the case like the more classic diver-style cases of most Marine Stars in this era. With a more conventional dial layout and case shape, this watch is more on the dress watch side than the diver side. Except for the bezel there’s not much diver to it? The bracelet look borrows from the Tag Heuer S/el while the bezel is a mix of Series 2000 Supers and Breitling?

98B81 two-tone H shapes in bracelet

Like most of these 90s Marine Stars, this has a unique bracelet link. This one is a rounded H shape motif. This brings up an important point with these watches; because of how the bracelets fit the odd case/lug designs, you just can’t put any bracelet on these watches and you can’t mix and match bracelets among them. They are all different. If you need a repair, or a link, you’ll have to find another exact model for parts. This one could use a new mineral crystal, too. It has taken a pretty substantial hit at the 6 o’clock edge that is a bit distracting.

1997 98B82 chronograph

This chronograph I got for a pretty good price, but it has substantial wear. It could use some spot polishing. Its an interesting 38mm x 47mm chrono with white, blue and gold and fits more in the classic design pool. What first attracted me to it was there resemblance it had to a 2001 Marine Star I already had though black dial it uses the same case and bracelet? I like the bezel which has a TH Series 2000 feel. This watch, like the 2001 version came in a 3-hand and a chronograph I believe. There is probably also a smaller women’s version. Speaking of women’s versions, I get the feeling most Marine Stars in this era had a smaller size marketed for women like Tag Heuer had three sizes. The men’s are usually in 36-38mm while the women’s are in the 28mm range. It gets tricky online sometimes trying to tell how big a watch in a listing is when many do not give size! Another problem is that these older smaller men’s Marine Stars are sometimes listed as women’s or unisex because the seller does not know.

Sub dials are a bit hard to read at times

The 98B82 uses a Miyota 0S60 quartz movement. The top sub dial is the chron. minute counter, the bottom a 1/20th sec, and the 9’oclock sub dial is a chron. hour. I think its a good basic chronograph movent that has been used on many watches. I don’t know how readily available a movement would be, but its a much simpler interface and probably more reliable than the 3S31 I mentioned in Part 1 of my Marine Star series. The only one I have with Roman numerals?

Over all its a great looking watch to me. But legibility is not the best with this watch. The metallic blue sunburst sub dials have very small white numbers that are hard to see. The gold sub dial hands can disappear at certain angles. On top of that the background dial is textured and a silvery-white. The thin minute and hour hands appear to be blue with a thin strip of lume; they sort of disappear when crossing the sub dials…Lastly there are considerable scratches on the crystal. It all makes for a lot of visual distraction. But, I love the size for a chrono! This might be my only 38mm chrono?

Cost cutting quality

Now for a downer. Occasionally a collector takes a gamble on an unknown and things don’t work out. I rushed in. That was the case with this blue 98B94 from 1997. I was not familiar with this model and the images on the site I bought it from were not the best, but the price was right. Once I got it I realized it would probably not be with me for long. I love the blue of the dial, the diver-style hour markers and the hands. However, the build overall seems sub-par among the other Marine Stars? Was cost cutting an issue with Bulova at the time? Let me list the irritating findings: The gold coated details show the the gold is very thin and rubbed off in places.

The case and bracelet are very generic, lacking details. Worst of all is the bezel. It doesn’t rotate! Even though these are not real dive/tool watches, when a bezel appears to rotate with cool buzz saw teeth, it should rotate! I love to play with rotating bezels even when I’m not timing things. Then there’s the bezel insert; its similar to ones on my numerous Timex 38mm Ocean and Harbor models. Its aluminum with printing on it I think. It is nicked up quite a bit. I saw some of this before I bought it, but overlooked it. Here at Lowly Caliber, I thrive on low-end timepieces and deals, but this is just too junky for me. This brings up an important point when collecting cheap watches. Condition is more important than on a higher quality watch because wear and tear (rubbed off gold coating) becomes evident sooner and cannot really be fixed. Enough said.

Now for one of the more unique Marine Stars in my collection. The 1997 Solar powered Titanium 98G03. It also the lead image(above) for this post. I couldn’t resist this one. I did see later the alarm chronograph version of this, too, but, as I hesitated to spend the money it was snapped up by another buyer. THen again, I don’t really want those alarm/chron. features.

98G03 Solar Titanium

This watch has take on a new, more modern styling with the case shape, but still retains some TH looks. It still has the 90s two-tone bling, but mixes it with the titanium grey. Could this be a Japan made MS? The movement is Japanese, probably Citizen. The bracelet states “Titanium Japan” the case back states “Titanium case”. It is in excellent condition; barely worn?

Light weight titanium

One interesting thing about this watch is there is no type anywhere stating its solar power?! It does say “Bulova quartz” on back, but any person who didn’t know much about the watch who picked it up, would not know why it isn’t running? I have seen images of other similar ones that plainly state solar on dial. And I have seen another style, 98G00, that is same titanium and gold with a dial like a 1996 98B78. But back to the styling of this, it looks a lot like a 1992 TH Super 2000 chron in the case and bezel. Its so much lighter than the stainless Marine Stars, but like other brands that tried titanium at the time, it doesn’t seem to have been that popular? You barely notice it on the wrist. My guess is people want the feel of a substantial steel watch? Again, its quirky and a acquired taste type of watch, but I really like it.

98G10 Unique bezel

Again from 1997 we have the 98G10 that keeps to the theme. At 37mm x 44mm, barely 9mm thick, it has the vintage sizing for anyone with a smaller wrist but packs a lot of 90s flair. By now, you know I’m drawn to these two-tone, S/el wannabes. I can’t get enough, and there seems to be a new iteration around every corner. Again, I would love to know how the people at Bulova, in the mid to late 90s decided on all these riffs in this style? This one simplifies things a bit with a flat-ish bezel just coated in gold and bracelet gold only on the center section of the 3-prong links. The bracelet is narrower, too; 16.5mm approx.

Simplified dressy diver 98G10

I imagine there is some cost cutting decisions here. At first glance it kind of looks cheap, but then it takes on a purposeful look? This bezel casting has lots of texture, but is not two-tone, but coated all over in gold. Its a unique bezel among these Marine Stars. Notice the tab projections around the outside, instead of teeth. It resembles some ’93-’94 Breitling or ’93 Seamaster bezels rather than Tag Heuer. The case is classic MS diver, with slightly flatter sides and the crown is domed.

This model is a good time to approach the elephant in the room if I may? Vintage sizing aside, the Tag Heuer S/el and these Bulova Marine Stars, especially in two-tone, are assigned a feminine leaning I think? I can detect a hesitancy among some men for this style of watch as not being sporty or manly enough. Today, I could see lots of women liking this size watch, but many women may even consider this too girly. Back in the 90s, both Bulova and Tag Heuer made lots of 28-30mm “women’s” watches to match the bigger 37-38mm “men’s”. Many of the women’s and some of the men’s had stones set in various places for a more dressy look. I don’t like stones of any kind on a watch, but that’s just me, at this point. I think the two-tone look, to any degree, connotes a more luxury or dressy look. But at the same time, if you look at 90s Tag Heuer catalogs, for example, the use of gold can be as sporty as it is dressy. I like the audacious and so slightly rebellious direction of these designs.

1998 was a good year

Back to the style; 98B80 from 1998

Now we’re talkin’. Back to the S/el styling the epitomizes the Marine Stars of the 90s. Coming in at 37mm x 43mm with thick curvy brushed stainless and gold protrusions. We get the three pronged lugs and the y-shaped links in two-tone. This is a good one! The dressy diver in all its glory. Its showing a little wear but is still in great shape and slots right in there with the ’95 98B57 shown in Part 1.

98B80 Nice use of gold details

This one has all the details that I like in these watches; the unidirectional S/el type bezel with gold teeth, all the round corners and curves, classic TH shaped case in brushed stainless contrasting the gold protrusions, the dive-style cream dial with wavy embossing. Look at the the gold treatment on the round date window! The hand set is not the Mercedes, but continues the use of a thinner style, dress watch like handset. It has the diver-style hour markers, and a minute track around the outside with tiny Arabic numbers at the five minute intervals.

Take in the details

Now to one of the favorites in my collection from 1998:

96B07 from 1998; love the blue

I thought I had more Marine Stars from 1998, but as I take stock, it seems more are from ’97? This blue and silver 96B07 is from 1997-98 and is one I always like to wear. It is again unique because it has the S/el type curves, projections, round corners and y-links, but no gold! You get the Cpt.Nemo styling but with a less flashy appearance. Its more sporty/casual. The bulbous shapes seem as more of a texture than decorations when they are gold.

Also uncommon among my MS collection is that I have two examples of this watch. One was made in ’97, the other ’98. Everything looks the same, but the case backs are of different designs. Since I have no catalogs to reference, I use this kind of information to build history and determine how many, how long, how popular a style was.

Two 96B07s; 1998 left, 1997 right

Sized at 36mm x 44.5mm it is easy to wear for me and still feels substantial with its mostly 18mm stainless bracelet. The first link that integrates into the familiar 3-lug case is 20mm. Looking at the manufacture it seems some more cost-saving work is at play here. The case and bezel look to be base metal with a silver coating that comes across as something between polished and blasted. The case backs state “stainless steel case”, but is it just the case back? It could be a stainless case that has been coated. The bracelet is polished stainless with what appear to be brushed or blasted center link sections.

Modified bracelet above

This is a good time to talk again about the unique bracelets of these Marine Stars, as a group. These watches are not easy to come by in decent shape, and a spare bracelet almost impossible to find. the ’98 was the first one I bought, at a great price, but it had a broken clasp! So, I got a new inexpensive after market 18mm stainless bracelet with 3-section, oyster-style links and filed away on it’s two links connecting the clasp until I could fit the two Bulova curved links into it. Voilà! My point is that because of the way these crazy bracelets integrate into the equally odd case/lugs, you just can’t throw any bracelet on these watches. You will have to find another and condemn it to a parts watch. I may have to do that if I find I cannot live with my modification.

Compelling curves of the 96B07

Mystery Watch

Before I move on I want to talk about this simpler blue and silver 96B07. I mentioned above that I like it. The more I look at it, the more I try to figure out what it is that clicks for me? The overall size and shape, color dial elements are great. The bracelet is unique, but not the thing that stands out. Its the combination of bezel and case shapes that give it a wavy almost starfish feel. The soft round projections of the bezel over the soft tabs on the sides added to the rounded lugs and crown guards give the whole thing a scalloped shape. It looks like a sea creature sitting low and wide on the bottom under water. I’m at a loss for references for some of these designs, but at times this one hints at a Seamaster or Aquaracer not-round bezel?

Mystery Marine Star with Swiss movement

This post needs to end, so I will finish it with a mysterious Marine Star that I stumbled across. I don’t know what year it was made because no date code is stamped on case back like all the others I own. It also is without the normal model number in tiny type below the 6? Instead is says “Swiss Parts”! Other special things about it are that it has a Swiss movement, an ETA 955.114, and a screw-in crown with 200m WR. It also seems to have a sapphire crystal.

Two-tone with blue 35.5 mm case

I haven’t opened it up at this point because it is running fine with new battery. That might reveal a Hong Kong stamp, or not? Probably not a model number? It is just presents so many differences from the rest of mine I wonder if it was for an Asian or European market? Even sizing is a bit off? It is 35.5mm case or 39mm with elongated, rounded crown. So it is smaller than the 37-38mm of most, but not as small as women’s sizing of the times?

All the styling elements and proportions are consistent with the men’s Marine Stars of this look in the mid 90s. The bracelet is TH S/el, while the bezel is a mix of TH Series 4000/Super 2000 and Breitling? Its got the two-tone with the silver being dulled or blasted for a more grey look contrasting the shiny gold.

Gold Bulova logo?

Because it carries the Bulova tuning fork logo instead of the B, it makes me wonder if it is later, maybe from the early 2000s? The dial color is a deep royal and mirror-like. The hour markers are mix of bullets and big triangles, with more gold than usual. The minute/second track out side the hour markers is printed in gold and is tiny; hard to see.

The usual quirky mixture of design elements

While the overall build quality seems good, to go with its upgraded specs, there is some black fill missing for the numbers and marks on the bezel, but I don’t think it is from wear? It doesn’t seem to have been worn much. Could it be a sample or prototype? Regardless, it is another good example of the hard to describe design theme I am presenting in these Marine Stars.

Next up in Part 3, I will move into the 2000s and the end of the Glory Period for me and the Marine Stars started to change and just before Citizen acquires Bulova.


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