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A Bevy of Bulovas

February 20, 2014 6:10 PM
Continuing my search for inexpensive wristwatches, I did a little "horsetrading" a couple days ago with a collector friend who lives in nearby Rockford, Ill., who is a pocket watch enthusiast. I always keep a few inexpensive pocket watches around (usually part of "package deals") so I can work such trades. I went through this guy's "junk box" and came up with four Bulova wristwatches:

The one on the left I believe has the original band with it, and runs. The second one is a rare Academy Award model from 1953, also with original bracelet. It needs a cleaning. The third one is a "His Excellency" from 1949, running, with a 21 jewel movement. All three are gold filled cases, front and back, and in excellent condition. All have their original signed crowns. The last one is a stainless steel Art Deco styled "Senator" with a 15 jewel Caliber 10AE movement manufactured in 1936, gauged by the box-shape emblem engraved on the movement plate.

With what I traded the guy, I figure I have $20 apiece into the Bulovas. The stainless Senator should be an easy $100 sale all by itself, no work involved. With a $35 cleaning, the Academy award should bring $150-$200. The other two gold-filled Bulovas I will probably sell on eBay as resto projects. With their blemished dials, it will probably cost more to restore them than will bring.

So all in all, a good haul, and I'm sure my friend is happy with his two pocket watches.

Bulova watches are a budget watch collector's bonanza. They are plentiful, reasonably priced (most models anyway) and parts are readily available.

Joseph Bulova, a Czech immigrant, founded the company in 1875. Only 23 years old at the time, Bulova opened a modest jewelry shop in New York City. Initially, Bulova sold mainly pocket watches and other jewelry, but over time he expanded his line of products. He was manufacturing and selling his own desk clocks and other timepieces by 1911, the year he incorporated the operation as J. Bulova Company. By that time, Bulova's pocket watches had already attained a reputation for excellence, and New Yorkers bought them as fast as he could make them.

In 1919, Bulova introduced the first full line of jeweled wristwatches for men. In 1926, the company sponsored the first nationally broadcast radio spot commercials, featuring the immortal "At the tone, it's 8 p.m., B-U-L-O-V-A Bulova watch time" tag line. Bulova began selling the world's first clock radio two years later, and continued to make them into the 1960s. Meanwhile, the company's name was changed to Bulova Watch Company, Inc., reflecting the growing role of Arde Bulova, Joseph's son, in the firm's management. Arde Bulova, along with his head of sales, the brilliant John H. Ballard, are responsible for taking Bulova from a relatively small company to one of the world's largest watch companies. Though always based in the United States, Bulova is considered a Swiss watch, since nearly all their movements were imported from Switzerland, and then cased and timed in the United States.

Bulova continued to innovate in the areas of marketing and advertising over the decades that followed. The company launched the first million-dollar advertising campaign the watch industry had seen in 1931. Ten years later, Bulova aired the world's first television commercial. Broadcast just before a 1941 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball game, the advertisement showed a simple picture of a clock superimposed on a map of the United States. The message was simply "America runs on Bulova time."

Some people denigrate Bulova, saying they are all too common to be considered collectible. But Bulova has its legions of fans, and in fact there are two websites devoted exclusively to Bulova watches. One is My Bulova, and the other is Watchophilia.