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A Closer Look At: Bulova

by Jonathan Fairfield
15 January, 2013
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Jonathan lives and works in Thailand as a writer and English Teacher. He is fanatical about football which makes it all the more strange that he should support Stockport County. In addition to watches, Jonathan has a passion for fitness and nutrition and writes for a blog on the subject.

Bulova Accutron Conqueror

The A Closer Look At series explores second tier watch brands that have been producing watches for decades, often centuries, but for one reason or another maybe aren’t as celebrated as other watchmakers. Having previously taken A Closer Look At Festina, Tissot, Certina, Ebel, Mido and many more, this week’s article features the Bulova watch brand.

Joseph Bulova

When Bohemian immigrant Joseph Bulova, first opened his central New York jewellery store in 1875, he probably never imagined that he would embark on what many consider to be the Great American Dream. Thanks to Bulova’s innovative thinking and his production of quality timepieces, his company rose rapidly to become one of the leading names in the world of watches, with the brand still as strong today as it has ever been.

The history behind Bulova’s success can be traced to two significant events. The first of these occurred in 1912 when Bulova decided to set up a watch manufacturing plant in Biel, Switzerland where standardised parts would soon be used to assemble Bulova watches. This was not only beneficial from a production viewpoint but also meant that servicing the watches was very simple indeed.

The second event occurred shortly after the First World War when some of the world’s first mass produced wristwatches were issued to soldiers. Upon their return home, soldiers wearing their wrist watches inadvertently ensured that the wristwatch became a much sought after fashion accessory and its popularity overtook that of the pocket watch for the first time. Reacting to this new fashion craze, Bulova introduced a new range of stylish jewelled men’s wristwatches in 1919.

By the mid 1920’s, the company was held in such high regard that President Calvin Coolidge presented Bucky Harris, player/manager of the Washington Senators with a Bulova watch following their 1924 World Series victory. Later that year, to build on Coolidge’s association with Bulova, the company introduced its President’s wristwatch.

The 1920’s also saw Bulova release the Conqueror wristwatch, which was later re-designed as the Lone Eagle to commemorate the first flight across the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. This watch would prove to be extremely popular with the first 5000 Lone Eagle watches selling out in less than three days.

The Second World War once again saw Bulova focus on the needs of the nation that he now called home. In 1941, Arde Bulova, (Joseph’s son), who was now the company’s Chief Executive, arranged to sell a wide range of products that would be used for national defence, from wristwatches to torpedo missiles – all at cost value only. The company’s patriotism carried on after the war when Arde opened the Bulova School of Watchmaking that focused on training disabled war veterans. Over 1500 jewellers pledged employment positions to the graduates, who’s training and education was totally funded by the Bulova Foundation.

In the same year, Bulova featured in the world’s first TV advertisement on WNBT, a New York based TV station. The advert cost $9 and was shown before a Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

Introducing new technology

 

Throughout the 1950’s and 60’s Bulova started to introduce a number of new technologies into its timepieces, such as a self-winding shock proof watch. In 1954, the Bulova 23 was released. This U.S made timepiece was self winding, waterproof and had 23 jewels. It also had an unbreakable mainspring. 1960 would also see the company release the world’s first electronic watch, known as the Accutron (we’ll tell you a little more about that later).

In 1962, the Bulova launched its Caravelle line of watches and by 1970 they released the Accuaquartz Calendar, which would become the first quartz wristwatch to be sold in the United States.

Today, the Bulova brand is owned by Citizen, who purchased the Bulova Watch Company in January 2008 for around $250 million, and which would see the two brands combine to become the world’s largest watchmaker.

Bulova Accutron

Released in October 1960, the Accutron was the world’s first electronic watch and without question the brand’s most notable innovation. The watch also featured a tuning fork which was powered by an electronic circuit that featured a single transistor. The tuning fork’s vibrations of 360 hertz drove a mechanical gear that then worked to turn the watch’s hand. As you may have already realised, the watch contained no springs or escapement.

The technology used in the Accutron was so advanced that it was thought it would be used by NASA for its astronauts. However, much to the dismay of Bulova, the honour instead went to Omega for its Speedmaster Professional Chronograph.

The original Accutron actually featured an opaque dial but a model with a transparent dial featured in Bulova’s advertisements and in-store promotional campaigns. The transparent dial meant that the tiny tuning fork could be seen inside when the watch was at 12 o’clock. During the 60’s and 70’s Bulova continued to use the tuning fork technology in a number of its watches including the Accuquartz and the Spaceview, both of which were incredibly popular at the time.

Bulova produced its last fork tuning movement watch at the end of 1977 and sold more than 4 million timepieces of this kind.

Bulova Accutron Spaceview 214

Upon its release in 1960, the Accutron Spaceview 214 was considered to be the world’s most accurate timepieces. The watch was actually re-introduced to the world at Baselworld 2010 to celebrate its 50th anniversary (pictured above). The handmade replicas were limited to 1000 pieces and were presented in a stylish wooden box, with a glass display case. Available for around $4000, the batch of 1000 were snapped up relatively quickly by many collectors and Accutron watch lovers.

Bulova Mens 96B175 Precisionist Chronograph

In 2010, the brand launched the Bulova Precisionist, a quartz watch that operates on a high frequency of 262.144 kHz. The watch’s thermal composition system is also accurate to just 10 seconds a year, claim Bulova. It also features a smooth sweeping second rather than a traditional hand that jumps at each second. The second hand is able to sweep much smoother than other similar automatic watches such as the Grand Seiko 36,000 or the Rolex Submariner. The reason for this is because the Precisionist second hands runs at 57,000bph (16 beats per second), compared to 8 and 10 beats per second respectively for the Rolex and Seiko.

Bulova Accutron Conqueror

 

We recently featured an article on the Bulova Accutron Sir Richard Branson Limited Edition Watch and here is another example of a timepiece from the Accutron range, the Bulova Accutron Conqueror.  The design of the Conqueror takes its inspiration from Bulova’s world famous Lone Eagle timekeeper.

The new watch is made from stainless steel and is presented in an engraved tonneau shaped case. Limited to just 200 pieces, the white dial features Arabic numerals and hour and minute hands. A small seconds counter can be found at 3 o’clock. The Conqueror’s chronograph includes a 30 minute sub dial and 12hr counter at 9 and 6 o’clock respectively. There is also a centrally positioned seconds hand. The watch is driven by an automatic Dubios-Depraz 3140 movement, which is Swiss made.

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Jonathan Fairfield | Website

Jonathan lives and works in Thailand as a writer and English Teacher. He is fanatical about football which makes it all the more strange that he should support Stockport County. In addition to watches, Jonathan has a passion for fitness and nutrition and writes for a blog on the subject.

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