Variations in Bulova Models of the 1930s

02/01/2013 11:31

There appears to be some confusion caused by the variations seen in the mid-to-late 1930s models that Bulova produced, making these models difficult to identify.  For example, a well known model will be denied identification, because the example has a subseconds dial when the available advertisement(s) does not show that feature.  Well, first, it should be remembered that we don’t have all the advertisements.  We probably never will.  Second, we have no reason to believe that Bulova—or third parties—advertised every variation of every watch.  But knowing those things doesn’t help identify any particular watch, does it?  Which brings me to the point of this blog.


The third thing to remember is the well-proved fact that many watches in the mid-to-late-1930s were offered with style variations, all under the same model name.  These variations are known to include 1) engraved versus unengraved cases, 2) numbered versus index dials 3) presence or absence of the subseconds dial, 4) differing metal colors, including yellow, white, and two-tone, and 5) different colored dials, including black and white.  What does not appear to change in any of those models is the case and crystal size and shape. Those two constant features can guide us to a proper model identification, or at least a strong tentative one.


To prove my point, I have cataloged the currently available ads showing the known variations within models produced during the mid-to-late 1930s.  I must emphasize “currently available” ads, as we are discovering new advertisements all the time.  Thus, it should not be assumed that the information listed below is complete.  In fact, in my single pass through the ads to gather this data, I probably missed a variation or two already in evidence.  In any event, I think I’ve provided enough information to demonstrate my point.



  • 1938 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial, white dial
  • 1938 – engraved bezel, numbered dial, white dial
  • 1938 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial, black dial
  • 1938 – ad specifies, but does not show, 7 different versions of the Rite Angle



  • 1937 – engraved bezel, numbered dial, white dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial, white dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, partially numbered dial, black dial



  • 1936 – engraved bezel, numbered dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, index dial
  • 1937 - unengraved bezel, numbered dial



  • 1936 – engraved bezel, numbered dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, index dial
  • 1937 – engraved bezel, index dial



  • 1937 – engraved bezel, numbered dial, no subseconds dial
  • 1937 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial, no subseconds dial
  • 1937 – engraved bezel, index dial, no subseconds
  • 1938 – engraved bezel, numbered dial, with subseconds dial


Lone Eagle

  • 1934 – engraved bezel, numbered dial, yellow gold, white gold, two-tone
  • 1934 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial
  • 1935 – unengraved bezel, index dial
  • 1936 – engraved bezel, numbered dial



  • 1934 – index dial, white and yellow gold
  • 1935 – index dial
  • 1936 – numbered dial



  • 1936 – unengraved bezel, yellow gold
  • 1936 – unengraved bezel, white gold
  • 1936 – engraved bezel, yellow gold



  • 1933 – unengraved bezel, index dial
  • 1933 – engraved bezel, numbered dial
  • 1934 – unengraved bezel, numbered dial (also seen in 1936)


American Clipper

  • 1937 – engraved bezel, partly numbered and partly index, white dial
  • 1937 – same as above but with black dial
  • 1937 – same as first one but with unengraved bezel


Ben Hur

  • 1938 – engraved bezel
  • 1938 – unengraved bezel



  • 1933 – unengraved bezel, two-tone case
  • 1937 – engraved bezel, natural gold case



  • 1935 – index dial, white and natural gold case
  • 1936 – numbered dial



  • 1936 - engraved bezel
  • 1936 - unengraved bezel


In actuality, we see additional models from this time period that differ from the ads in the respects mentioned above.  For example, we have only ever seen the Knight with a subseconds dial, though it is not shown with a subseconds dial in any of the currently available advertisements.  The Kirkwood is another example where we see the watch now with a fully numbered dial, but the only known advertisement shows it with a full index dial.  Does that fact indicate that these watches are not the Knight or the Kirkwood?  In my opinion, certainly not, given all the evidence to the contrary.  Using crystal measurements, and reviewing crystal catalogs for other possibilities, along with studying the overall case design, we can, in fact, conclude with reasonable certainty what these models are.


In contrast to the many examples presented above, I am aware of only one example from this limited time period where the same case with a different dial was given a different name.  That example is the 1934 Banker, which is shown with a black dial.  However, in an ad dated 1935, we see that same case with a white dial, and the watch is called the Dictator.  Given that one example, we have to acknowledge the possibility that a watch with the same case as a known model but with a differing feature, such as a different dial design, could be a different model.  But I would say that the evidence overwhelmingly supports it being the same model, warranting at least a tentative model identification.


In 1939, we finally see Bulova start to do what became standard practice from that point forward.  That is, variant names were given to models when an aspect of the watch was changed.  So, at this time, we start to see models called things like “American Eagle C” and “Ambassador A”, and they are distinguished from other variants of those models by things like the dial color and design.   This was a practice that Bulova continued through the 1970s.  The use of variant designations must have made it much easier to keep track of all the variations within a model.


Just for fun, below are the known ads for the mid-1930s Lone Eagle.  Two of these advertisements were recently discovered by yours truly.  Together, they provide a fine illustration of the subject of this discourse.  Note that, until last week, it was widely believed that this version of the Lone Eagle was only offered in an engraved case and with a numbered dial.   We still don't have all the ads.


1933 - Engraved bezel, numbered dial


1934 and 1935 - Unengraved bezel, numbered dial


1935 - Unengraved bezel, index dial