Watch of the Week - April 7, 2013

04/07/2013 11:35

For this week's watch of the week, I want to take a moment to admire Bulova's first digital watches from the early 1930s.  Digital watches in the 1930s, you ask with disbelief?  Yes, indeed!  Though today we tend to think of digital as an electronic format, digital watches were actually invented in the 1800s and took the form of mechanical pocket watches.  The literal meaning of digital is simply something that is "expressed in discrete numerical form" or "using or giving a reading in digits".  Those definitions characterize digital watches quite accurately.


A digital watch is simply one that displays the time directly in numbers rather than through hands pointing at numbers on a dial.  Early digital watches displayed separate numbers for the hour, minute, and seconds in three "windows" on the face of the watch.  These types of watches are sometimes referred to as "direct read" or "jump hour", because they display the time directly with digits that seem to jump from number to number, rather than hands that slowly and methodically tick their way around the dial.  This week's watch is a lovely example of one of these rare watches.


The technology behind early digital watches is really not that different from other types of mechanical watches.  The numbers that you see in the little windows are printed on small, differently sized round disks that are timed to turn at the proper rate, much like the differently sized hour, minute, and seconds hands on a non-digital example turn to point at numbers on a dial.  One of the images below offers a glimpse of what's under the hood of these exquisite timepieces.


If you're new to the world of vintage watches, then you may be wondering who would wear such a watch.  This example is a man's watch.  There were ladies' jump hour watches as well, but they were much smaller.  The metal bracelet shown on this watch is typical of the style worn by men in the 1930s.  These watches were offered in a variety of gold colors, including white, yellow, and two-tone, all with matching bracelets.


I have also included a couple of advertisements for Bulova's first digital watches.  The example I have is a slightly later design, which includes "steps" on the side of the case so typical of the popular Art Deco design trend.  The 1933 newspaper ad below, kindly contributed by Robert Butler, names my watch the "White Prince".  The first version of the Bulova digital watch, simply referred to as the "Jump Hour", had a more streamlined case as shown in the 1932 newspaper ad below.


Please take a moment to enjoy this wonderful piece of Horological history.


Watch Details:

Bulova signed movement and case (front and back)

Case and movement dated 1932

10AT, 15-Jewel, Swiss movement


1932 Advertisement for New Bulova "Jump-Hour" 1933 Advertisment for Bulova "White Prince" (later version of jump hour model)