Bulova watches can be identified with a reasonable degree of certainty, due to the existence of a body of work gathered by collectors over the years. Bulova watches are not marked with names or identification codes that allow you to simply look at the watch and derive the model and age. Rather, you have to do a bit of research and try to match case styles to online resources. The difficulty of identification is compounded by the fact that Bulova re-used names was some frequency. A name in use in the 1930s might very well crop up again in the 1950s on a totally different looking model. Additionally, within each model, Bulova often produced variations of the style.
Variations in models typically appear in one (or more) of four areas:
- Case Material
Identification of a watch is a process, typically done as follows:
- First, establish that the watch is, in fact a Bulova.
- Second, attempt to identify the model by matching the case to known examples (or to identification resources).
- If that fails, identify and date the movement to narrow your search and try again to identify the case.
We look at each of these issues, below.
Is it really a Bulova?
Genuinely Bulovas are almost universally marked clearly on the dial with the word “Bulova.” There are a few exceptions. The Accutron product line is often marked simply “Accutron” or with the tuning fork logo. There are also a few examples of very early watches (1920s period) appearing without any Bulova markings on the exterior. Finally, Bulova did produce several subsidiary brands and those are marked differently (discussed further on the “About Bulova” page).
The case back can also provide insight into the manufacturer. The inside of the case back will typically be marked with the name “Bulova”; the exterior of some case backs are also marked (rarely with the name, but often with a recognizable Bulova date code after 1948). Case signatures often seen on legitimate Bulovas include:
- Bulova, American Standard
- Bulova Watch Co.
- Bulova W. Co.
- Bulova Quality
- Bulova, New York
- Bulova, Fifth Ave
- Bulova, Fifth Ave, New York
- Bulova Watch Co., Swiss
- Bulova, Swiss
Signed crowns can also be useful. The presence of a signed crown will add another piece to the puzzle. Don’t rely on this exclusively, however, as crowns can be changed easily.
Note, watches with dials that state “Bulova movement” are not Bulova watches; rather they are watches that have been created by taking Bulova movements and putting them into third party cases (cometimes called “jobber watches”).
Identifying a Model
When it comes to identifying the model of a particular Bulova, the bottom line is: It’s all about the case — movements don’t determine model, case designs do. The key to identifying models by their case design is to pay attention to the details. All watches of a particular model had the same case style (though the material may vary, i.e., yellow gold vs. coral gold). Pay close attention to things like the shape of the lugs, or the lines (or lack thereof) on the case. To a lesser extent, dial features, like the placement of the second hand and the shape of the sub-seconds (if any), are also very useful indicators.
The are several very helpful resources for model identification, online including:
- Watchophilia.com’s watch model gallery (organized by decade)
- MyBulova.com also has a database of watches that you can search by characteristic, like case shape, movement grade, materials, etc.
- MyBulova.com also has a collection of Bulova watch advertisements you can browse for help identifying your model
The date of your Bulova watch case is relatively easy to identify, at least from 1950 onwards. Over the years, Bulova used a variety of codes that allow you to date the case simply by comparing the code to a reference. After 1949, the date code is typically found on the back of the case. Beginning in 1950, Bulova used a simple code to date the case. The code is a single letter and a single digit. The letter represents the decade, the number the last digit in the year.
Dating cases prior to 1950 is largely guesswork. There is no date code on the case; the code was located on the movement. Dating cases prior to 1950 means you have to largely rely on matching models to source materials and known examples. Note that the date codes prior to 1950 also used a different format — they are graphical symbols, as shown in the chart below. Of special note here: Some of the early cases include a full four digit date inside the case back, typically the date shown is either 1927 or 1929. That is not the date of manufacture of the case! It is merely the date of the copyright of the case design and tells us nothing about the age of the case (other than it is certainly from the year stated or later).
Check your watch, then use the chart below to match the code to a specific year. (Note: The graphic symbol code system includes some repetition!)