Those three date ranges are differentiated by the presence or absence of certain case and movement markings as well as the nature of any such markings, as explained below. In general, for all time periods, it is important to understand that Bulova watches never provide an obvious date of manufacture anywhere on the watch. Rather, the date must be "de-coded" using symbols, serial numbers, and two-character codes placed on various parts of the watch. These codes and the manner in which they should be interpreted is the subject of this article. Many observers of Bulova watches are confused by the sometimes seen patent dates stamped on the inside of some Bulova watch cases, and they misinterpret such dates as the time of manufacture. In point of fact, those patent dates apply only to certain cts of the case design and indicate only when those general designs were patented. Those designs were used on many watches produced over a number of years, and the applicable patent date in no way indicates when any particular watch was produced.
At that time, Bulova started using with regularity standard date codes on the movement.
Additionally, in many instances, the case serial number on these later models can be used as a date reference. For models manufactured beforethere is typically no date code on the case itself though there are exceptions seen in the later s.
However, as stated, the case serial number can often be used to date the case, while the movement code indicates the date the movement was made. Thus, most watches have two manufacture dates, providing a useful tool for determining whether a particular case and its movement were originally intended to be paired.
The movement code is a small symbol, such as a square, circle, or triangle, which corresponds to a particular year within each decade. For example, a triangle may indicate, or The full list of date codes is available at Bulova Date Codes.
The date of your Bulova watch case is relatively easy to identify, at least from 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 , the date code is typically found on the back of the case. Beginning in , Bulova used a simple code to date the. The following tables will help you date your vintage Bulova watch. Watches dated post have a 2 alpha-numeric date code on the outside backcase, whilst watches dated before usually contain a date code symbol on the inside movement (see below for examples). - Post Bulova watch case markings (N5 = ). Bulova mark there dates using a date code system. This can be found on the back of the case and on the movement. No need to worry about long serial numbers .
Similarly, the date of the case often can be partially determined by the case serial number. That is, the first digit of the serial number indicates the year of manufacture within each decade, with some exceptions, which are explained in more detail at the end of this section. For example, a pre watch with a case serial number starting with "1" would indicate, or It is important to note that both the movement code and the case serial number provide only a year within a decade, but they do not give any clue as to the correct decade.
Instead, the appropriate decade must be determined by examining the style of the watch in light of the styles of each decade.
Below is an example of a watch, where the year of manufacture has been determined using both the symbol on the movement and the matching serial number, along with an examination of the watch's characteristics. Important factors in identifying the proper decade of the watch's manufacture based on it styling include the size and shape of the case, engraving placement and patterns, dial and hand designs, and movement calibers.
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A very good place to study styles by decade is right here on Watchophilia. The large collection is organized by decade, and all watches for a given decade can be viewed together on one page, making it easy to scan the page and note the styles used during that time period.
Becoming familiar with other examples and with the available advertisements will also help determine when elements, such as dials, hands, and straps, are not original to the watch and should not be considered when determining the date. The only way to know which decade applies to the watch at hand is by careful study of available resources, including vintage advertisements and actual watches.
Matching the elements of the watch to a particular decade becomes easier over time, as more watches are studied and compared to the available advertisements. Another factor to consider in dating a pre watch is whether there is a serial number printed on the movement, as, for the most part, Bulova stopped that practice after A few strays with serial numbers have been observed through the mids, but by far the majority of movements made after do not have a serial number.
So, if your movement has a serial number, you can probably narrow down the date of the movement to at least pre, and, quite likely, even to pre As with all things Bulova-related, there are exceptions to the rule, and a few pre movements have been observed without serial numbers, particularly in the 10AN caliber movements. So, the existence or non-existence of a serial number is just one of many factors to be considered when dating a watch.
All factors discussed here should be considered together to make the best possible date assessment. Fortunately, dating a Bulova watch gets much easier in and beyond. Before we move on to the s, we need to consider exceptions to the serial number method of dating a Bulova watch. I hinted earlier in this section of the discussion that there were exceptions to the rule that the first digit of the case serial number indicates the date of manufacture for watches made from through There are actually at least five currently known exceptions to that rule, and the list keeps growing as more watches are studied.
For models dated and beyond-and even some made in the late s-Bulova printed a two character date code on both the case and the movement. Typically, the case date code is found on the outside of the case back, but sometimes it is located inside the case back. For example, the code "L3" indicateswhile the code "M4" indicates A list of the known codes can be found at Bulova Date Codes.
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Note that the full date chart includes variations of two-character codes sometimes seen on watches as early as Bythis practice was becoming more common, and by is was the norm. Below are examples of this style of date code on the movement and case. Ideally, the date of the movement will match the date of the case. Occasionally, however, that is not the case. In those circumstances, I subscribe to the "latest date wins" theory only when the case and movement are dated within one year of each other.
If more than one year separates the movement and the case, for me, the case date rules. The reason for that limitation is that movements can, and often are, replaced when the original one breaks.
Therefore, any watch with a movement dated more than one year later than the case is assumed to be a replacement movement. For all watches in my collection, the movement date is noted for the record, even if it was not used to date the watch.
I do believe that the case is by far the most important factor in determining both the date and model of the watch, and all other factors are to be considered but do not necessarily control the outcome, because all other factors-movements, hands, dials-can be changed.
When purchasing a watch, I check both the case and movement date, and if they are more than one year apart, I assume that the movement is not original to the case.
When selling a watch, it is very important to accurately date both the movement and the case and to inform potential buyers of that information.
A watch that has mismatched parts should be fully disclosed as such.
I have a few examples where the watch has neither a movement code nor a case serial number. One such example is a very early, solid gold model. So, it has problems being identified, both because it is very early and because it is solid gold see above for problems with serial numbers and solid gold cases as well as early movements with no date code.
Additionally, I have some late s models that bear no date identification that I can determine. These later watches are invariably made outside the United States, as many Bulova watches were at that time, and so they do not follow the usual marking conventions. So, if you run into one of these, don't be surprised.
More than one name may appear on the movement. Dial signed "Rubaiyat" or unsigned No movement caliber designation No movement serial number No movement date code Case serial number begins with "10" Case style of pocket watch, typically converted to wear on the wrist; crown at 12 o'clock position Case signed "Wadsworth" or "American Standard" with globe symbol Case description of "Warranted 20 Years" or "Warranted 25 Years" or "Warranted to Assay" solid gold models ; may also include "Monogram Quality" Movement signed "Bulova W.
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Droz Dial signed "Rubaiyat" or unsigned Movement has a caliber designation-most likely a "B" movement No movement serial number No movement date code Case serial number begins with "10" True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position begins to appear, but converted pocket watches still in the majority Case signed "Wadsworth" or signed "American Standard" with globe symbol Case description of "Warranted 20 Years" or "Warranted 25 Years" or "Warranted to Assay" solid gold models ; may also include "Monogram Quality" Movement signed "Bulova W.
The number appears to have no date correlation Dial signed "Bulova" or "Lady Maxim" or, possibly, "Hudson Maxim" Movement has a caliber designation-most likely an "A" movement May or may not have a movement serial number No movement date code Case serial number begins with "10" True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position gaining popularity, but converted pocket watches still seen Case signed "Wadsworth" or "American Standard" with shield symbol Case description of "Warranted 20 Years" or "Warranted 25 Years" or "Warranted to Assay" solid gold models ; may also include "Monogram Quality" Movement signed "Bulova W.
The number appears to have no date correlation Dial signed "Bulova" or "Lady Maxim" or, possibly, "Hudson Maxim" Movement has a caliber designation-most likely an "A" or "10" caliber movement Will have a movement serial number No movement date code Case serial number begins with "11" or "12" True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position popular, but still see some converted pocket watches Case signed "American Standard" with shield symbol Case description of " "Warranted 25 Years" and most likely 19K Gold Filled Movement signed "Bulova Watch Co.
The number appears to have no date correlation Dial signed "Bulova" Movement has a caliber designation-most likely an "10" movement Will have a movement serial number No movement date code Case serial number begins with "12" or "13" True wrist watch now predominant style Case signed "American Standard" with shield symbol or "Bulova Quality" Case description of " "25 Years" if signed "American Standard" or "Filled" if signed "Bulova Quality" Movement signed "Bulova Watch Co.
Serial Number Exceptions One exception to the "rule" that the first digit of the case serial number has a date correlation is seen in many ladies' models from the s. I do not know why this is true, but there is growing evidence that quite a few-perhaps even the majority-of ladies' models from the s do not bear the typical case serial number.
Instead, they have a serial number that begins with a letter, such as "G" or "I", rather than a number. This is a common characteristic of a serial number found in watches from the s, but it is not typically seen before that time.
Unlike models from the s, these s ladies' watches do not have a case date code, so the only way to date the watch is by the movement symbol. 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 or 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!
Dating a bulova watch
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Variations in models typically appear in one or more of four areas: Dial Hands Case Material Movement 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? Bulova W. It is easy to take an interest in vintage watches. One of the challenges you will quickly discover, however, is that definitive information about older watches is often hard to find.
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Information resources are scattered among numerous sites and the quality of that information often varies widely. While there are organizations that concern themselves with vintage watches and horology in general, their primary focus is not on developing research resources for particular watch brands.
As a result, the burden has fallen to collectors. We share here some of the resources we have discovered over the years. Use the links below to find more information about each of the brands. Subscribe for ates Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new listings by email.
The company grew out of a hobby, albeit a rather obsessively serious hobby. I began by collecting pre-WWII Hamiltons, but my attention soon shifted to the wider field of firms that were competing with Hamilton, particularly Elgin, Bulova and Gruen.
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