Watch of the Week: The Conqueror

04/14/2013 14:00

This week I’m featuring the predecessor to what is probably the most famous of all vintage Bulova watches and one with a long history.  In fact, that subsequent model has been the subject of a popular urban myth that has lately been busted wide open.  I’m talking about the renowned “Lone Eagle” and its lesser known predecessor, the Conqueror.


I have also written an article focusing on the Lone Eagle Series, which is the only place you can read the full story of these great watches and see all the variations of the Lone Eagle that Bulova produced over the years.   That article also discusses the Conqueror as the original design for the first Lone Eagle model.


The Conqueror was not a good seller for Bulova, but the company chose it as the watch they gave to Charles Lindbergh before he started his famous flight across the Atlantic on May 20, 1927.  Bulova gave all those who were set to attempt the transatlantic flight that year a watch and offered the successful pilot a $1,000 prize.  After Lindbergh completed his solo crossing on May 21, orders flooded in for the watch that Bulova had given him, i.e., the Conqueror.  So, literally overnight, a flop was turned into a success, as the Conqueror, then re-badged the “Lone Eagle” after Lindbergh’s new nickname, made its way to retailers in June 1927.


As for that popular myth about the Lone Eagle, recently given new life by one watch discussion site, it has gone up in smoke thanks in large part to the diligent research of Robert Butler, who helped uncover the real story via newspaper advertisements and articles.  The original story was that Bulova sold 5,000 Lone Eagle watches within three days of Lindbergh’s landing in Paris.  Thus was born the myth of the “First 5000”--which has led many a collector to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and countless hours of time hunting for those elusive watches.  The theory was that the first 5,000 Lone Eagles were produced in 1926 in anticipation of the flight and can be distinguished from earlier Conquerors and later Lone Eagles by their movement serial number, as identified by one individual based purely on speculation.  From a practical standpoint, those claims have always been suspicous;  recently discovered evidence has proven them false.


The real story of the first Lone Eagle watch, as told a few years after the flight by a Bulova executive, is that Bulova took orders for 30,000 of the watch given to Lindbergh--the Conqueror model--within 48 hours after Lindbergh completed the flight in May 1927.  The watch that was subsequently produced and sold to retailers in fulfillment of those orders was the original Lone Eagle model that was first offered for sale to the public in mid-June 1927.   The delay between receiving the orders and selling the first Lone Eagles gave Bulova time to begin producing the watches along with their special "Lone Eagle" cases and paperwork, to revise the Conqueror ads, and to ship the first examples to local retailers for sale to the public.  None of that activity could have taken place until 1) Lindbergh successfully completed the flight, 2) Lindbergh had been dubbed the "Lone Eagle" due to his solo endeavor, and 3) the 30,000 orders had been received thereby justifying the investment.  No doubt it took Bulova considerable time to satisfy those 30,000 orders--months, perhaps even years.   My article, cited above, provides additional evidence that reveals the truth behind the myth of the "First 5000".


In 2011, Bulova paid tribute to that first Conqueror model that started one of its most successful ventures, as well as to Bulova’s long commitment to innovation in aviation, space travel, and timekeeping, by introducing a new Accutron called—you guessed it—the Conqueror.  It is a stunning limited-edition watch that would enhance any collection.  Check it out on the Bulova corporate website.


With that fascinating background, I give you an example of the original 1926 Conqueror.  I have also included below a vintage advertisement showing its famous 1927 follow-on, the first in the series of Lone Eagle watches, which continued to be produced through the early 1940s.


Details of 1926 Conqueror:

  • 14K white gold filled, double-hinged case with black enamel inlays, serial no. 6635067, signed "Bulova, American Standard" with 1924 patent date
  • 10P 17-jewel movement, serial no. 1.021.953, triangle date code indicating 1926


1926 Conqueror


1926 Conqueror advertisement (left) and 1927 Lone Eagle advertisement (right)*


* Note the difference between the corner design in the advertisements and the corner design on my example.  The only known example of the corner design shown in the advertisments is an 18K solid gold version of the Conqueror.  The design shown on my watch is the only one that has been seen in either the gold filled Conqueror or the later Lone Eagle.   Perhaps n its haste to fill the 30,000 orders for the Lone Eagle, Bulova did not have time to create a new illustration for the re-badged Conqueror advertisements.  Instead, only the name and description were changed to reflect the new 1927 Lone Eagle.  The difference in corner designs between the many examples of these two watches and the many advertisements for them is one of the many mysteries remaining to be solved.