Retracing Bulova History

Submitted by FifthAvenueRes… on September 12, 2012 - 7:33am

Retracing Bulova History.

The Bulova Corporation was founded in 1875 by Czech immigrant Joseph Bulova in a small premises on Maiden Lane, New York City.

By 1911, Joseph Bulova had set up manufacturing to build high quality boudoir clocks, table clocks and pocket watches and by the following year (1912) Joseph Bulova was able to establish his first dedicated Watch manufacturing and assembly plant in Bienne, Switzerland, building only quality fully jeweled movements.

'At about the time of the First World War, there were many European watch manufacturers that said that the wearing of a watch on the wrist would never be a popular alternative to the pocket watch. Joseph Bulova, creating a pioneering spirit that was to become the 'culture' of Bulova, started to experiment with compact spring and balance wheel timepieces that could withstand the impacts and shocks of being worn on the wrist. Out of only a handful of manufacturers of the day, Bulova introduced its first line of fully jeweled men's wristwatches in 1919'

So, where are these 'Bulova Watches' Dating from 1911 to 1921  You may ask?

The clues are right before Us.

The first clue was recently discoverd in an ad which appeared in a 1922 Cosmopolitan Magazine.

* Note: the ad reads:

 J. Bulova Co. Fifth Avenue at 36th Street. New York
Makers of the famous HUDSON MAXIM and RUBAIYAT Watches.

The image appears to be Copyrighted 1920 or 1921 and there is no mention of Bulova Watch Co in fact to the contary, the ad reads J. Bulova Co.

Clue 2. 
In 1917 a Patent was issued to the J. Bulova Co.

*Note: there is no notation of when this Patent was applied for or when the Name 'Rubaiyat' was first used by the J. Bulova Co

Clue 3.
Enter into the picture this piece:

The Watch shown above is a First World War era (WWI 1914 - 1918) Gent's wrist Watch, correctly Jeweled (7) for Military issue at the time, manufactured in Switzerland, signed on both Case and Movement Rubaiyat W. Co. in the very same fashion, identically even, to early movements signed Bulova W. Co., which appear around 1921. Also please note the Rubaiyat signature on the Movement rolls the same way depicted in the Patent issued to J. Bulova Co.

What does this mean?

It is My contention that this Rubaiyat W Co. signed piece is the early work of Joseph Bulova manufactured while operating as the J. Bulova Co. pre Bulova Watch Company and the reason We do not see any 'Bulova Watches' pre Dating the early 1920's is that they do not exist. They do, only during the Decade of 1911-1921 Mr Joseph Bulova of the J. Bulova Co was manufacturing His famous Watches from the facility in Bienne, Switzerland under the Names of 'Rubaiyat' and 'Maxim' as indicated by the early 1920's ad.

This contention would also help explain early 1920's Watches which are American Standard Cased Bulova signed Movements with Maxim, Rubaiyat or nothing at all printed on their Dials, as J. Bulova Co grew and morphed into Bulova Watch Company, casing and timing Watches downstairs from the newly constructed Bulova observatory on Fifth Avenue, New York.

Many thanks to Mr Stephen Oilman, owner/admin of for allowing the presentation of this information on site and to fellow MyBulova members who take time to read, evaluate, enjoy or critique.

Fifth Avenue Restorations.

Reverend Rob
Posted October 30, 2012 - 7:42pm

In reply to by William Smith

Precisely. I haven't seen that old gem in a long time. Buffoonery is  serious business. 

Posted November 4, 2012 - 5:52am

The very first advert we have in the database shoes two pocket watches very close in shape to the above watch.

Posted April 12, 2014 - 7:22am

In reply to by mybulova_admin


The very first advert we have in the database shoes two pocket watches very close in shape to the above watch.



This ad must date to later, as Bulova did not move to 392 Fifth Ave. until June 1921.

Posted November 14, 2012 - 12:39pm

admin,picked this one up recently.

The bridge is signed Bulova (only) and appears to be hand engraved? the plate(?) is signed Tissot. : ) I think this is an older one...pre 1920? Any Caseback hallmarks are currently unknown.

Posted November 29, 2012 - 8:25am

In reply to by FifthAvenueRes…

If it is pre-1920, it goes against your contention at the head of the thread that there are no "Bulova watches" pre dating the early 1920's.

Here is an ad from  December 1922, saying "The most beautiful watch in the World the Hudson Maxim, made by Bulova & Company."

Could the watch pictured (badly) be the HM? Looks to be Roman Numerals on the dial.

Posted December 1, 2012 - 12:09pm

Looks familiar...

Posted December 7, 2012 - 8:30pm

sure does, I'm almost pretty sure the 1922 ad is depicting the Hudson Maxim Pocket Watch shown above.

Ad Dated 1907 places J. Bulova Co. at 51 and 53 Maiden Lane, New York.

Posted December 29, 2012 - 1:38pm

Front page of the NY Sun, May 11th, 1895.

Whilst serving jury duty in court JB held out with one other juror for conviction. Look below the line on the right of the page.

This places Joseph Bulova as living at 528 East 86th. Street.

Posted December 29, 2012 - 2:19pm

This snippet from the Omaha Daily Bee from January 17th. 1884 shows that Joseph suffered from burglars too...

This September 1920 ad snippet from the Albuquerque Evening Herald shows Bulova and Rubaiyat watches as being sold.

Posted December 29, 2012 - 10:15pm

In reply to by bobbee

Note the lack of a comma after in 'Bulova Rubaiyat'.

Waltham has a comma after it clearly seperating it from Elgin.

Posted April 20, 2014 - 8:28am

In reply to by bobbee


 Earliest known Hudson Maxim and Ladies Maxim ad, May 1921.



Many known watches seen in 1922-on Bulova ads in the Saturday Evening Post and in newspaper ads across the US, these models are known by numbers, not model names.

These 1922 ads call them Lady Maxims, so maybe all those numbered watches are LM's?

Ads are from different jewelers in different states.

Food for thought indeed.



Notice the "globe" sign inside the lid of this watch box?

1921 ad.


William Smith
Posted March 11, 2013 - 5:34pm

Wow what a great variety of ads and models. Some I never even suspected as Lady or Hudson...The Windsor Jewelry Co ad is spicific in wording "...this Lady Maxim wristwatch..."  Also interesting to note that the word Bulova doesn't appear in any of the ads, nor on dials of those I thought were early Bulova numbered models. 
The "Win a Prize" ad says a representative from the factory will be on hand...and I was hoping to see Bulova mentioned there. This ad also mentions a "Lady's Hudson Maxim" as one of the prizes.  First time I've seen it called anything other than a Lady Maxim.  
Great stuff!!!

Posted May 21, 2013 - 6:34pm

Below is an example of an Everett Watch Co Pocket Watch

The 7 Jewel Movement is signed 'Factory S' Switzerland

does anyone recognise the fancy script? appears the same as shown by Darren earlier in the thread.

Year of Manufacture



Posted April 20, 2014 - 8:11am

1919 Rubaiyat P/W ad.

Only one so far!

"Octagon or round shape, special thin model 25 year case, with 17 jewel high grade movement".

Posted April 30, 2014 - 1:58pm

Proof that Bulova movements were marked "Bulova W. Co." pre-1923.

This Bulova ad in the Jewelers Circular dates to May 1922, and is an "AAI" 15 jewel movement with three adjustments.


Posted October 23, 2014 - 7:08am

Here are a few early adverts placed by Joseph Bulova, seeking jewellers to work for his company.

This one is dated 1895 from the new York World.

Jewellers wanted J Bulova Co 1895

The advert is dated 1897 from the New York World.

Jewellers wanted. J. Bulova 37 Maiden Lane

And another dated1919 showing their office address at 2 John St. Note the J. Bulova Company Co. name.

This one I find interesting as it shows us that Joseph was still trading as J. Bulova Co. in 1923. Does this mean that the original company of J.Bulova may have been trading in fine jewelery whilst the Bulova Watch Co. purely did the watch side?

Again advert is dated May 14 1923 from the New York Times.

1923 Book keeper J. Bulova

January 21, 1923 for a salesman.

January 21, 1923 Bulova saleman advert

Posted October 23, 2014 - 11:34am

The way I read it, the first two wanted ads are pre-1911, so the name of the company is "J. Bulova".

The third is 1919, post 1911 incorporation date and the name is "J. Bulova Co.

Edit- the above is wrong, there are other ads pre-1911 that say "J. Bulova Co." 

The early 1923 ads may have been for J. Bulova Co. because the business name had only just been changed the previous month in April 1923 to the Bulova Watch Co.

One ad for a salesman in January, pre-April.

And notice the "fine line of watches" in this ad, no cigar this time Stephen! :-)

Posted October 24, 2014 - 3:25am

In reply to by bobbee

Bobbee, are you saying that the two  companies didn't co-exist (one for jewelry and one for watched) or that  J.Bulova Co wrapped up business and morphed into Bulova Watch Company.

I'm not making any statements as such, but just highlighting that J. Bulova Co as an entity was still being used after the start of the Bulova Watch Company. It may be correct that he stopped trading under J. Bulova Co around this time, but that would also suggest that he stopped dealing in jewelry in general. Something we've probably never mentioned before. His focus purely became that of watches.

Posted October 24, 2014 - 5:39am

We see ads for Bulova watches in some newspaper ads with jewelry alongside it, up until at least the 1930's.

I am saying that the J. Bulova Company  and the Bulova Watch Company are one company, the name just changed.

My comment on the salesman advert should have been a little clearer maybe in explaining that, as this job was for the "J. Bulova Co" and entailed the selling of watches, thus showing the earlier J. Bulova company was dealing in watches.

The early Jeweler's Circulars from 1920  also show  J. Bulova Co's stand as having wrist/pocket watches.

September 1920 photo.

Reverend Rob
Posted October 24, 2014 - 4:12pm

"In addition to the large line of bracelet watches, MEN's watches watches were shown...."

The acceptance (or lack of it) of the wristwatch is fascinating. 

So basically, if I'm reading this all right, Joseph incorporated originally in 1875, but mainly as a jeweller. He then began watch production in 1911 and incorporated the watch company. In 1917, he trademarked 'Rubaiyat', and this seems to have been short lived, relatively speaking. Hudson Maxim and Lady Maxim models followed or were produced concurrently, and the company was again re-incorporated in 1923 with the slight name change. 

Does this sound right?

I disagree with Mark's mention of a 7 jewel watch being 'correctly jewelled for military issue', many watches that were issued (by various companies) were fully jewelled, and these examples are still quite common to find today. They were more expensive, and often have interesting attempts at dust and water proofing. These are the creme de la creme of trench watch collecting, and I've seen quite a few lately, and they are quite valuable. 

Maybe 7 jewels was the minimum for Military issue, but 7 jewels is the minimum for a properly constructed balance and escapement. Beyond this, the watch would be very poor in quality indeed. 


Posted October 24, 2014 - 9:28pm

I tried zooming in a little more, and the two watches under the sign on the left appear to be on straps, and the left of the two looks to have a black dial, a common feature of military watches.

The smaller models below those all look like wrist watches for ladies, on silk grosgrain bands possibly. Seem to be many designs, wish I could get clearer close ups!

Rubaiyat was claimed as 'first use' in 1916, and went on until 1920/21 possibly, with ads showing into 1922 for them.

First sight (as seen in above ads) of the LM/HM is 1921.

Possibly Bulova were importing whole watches ready cased for sale before this, but if so either none with a Bulova name remain or are yet to be found, or another name was used. If we knew that name we might find ads!

Reverend Rob
Posted October 25, 2014 - 12:00pm

I strongly suspect Bulova was either not producing or selling his own branded watches until ca. 1911. I also suspect he was not branding the dials with 'Bulova' at the time, so the earliest branded Bulova watches would be possibly post WWI. Do we know if Bulova had any Military contracts for watches at this time? If so, they may be the first actual Bulova branded watches. 

The ads  put forth  'Rubaiyat' as the brand or line, made by J. Bulova, who has already made a name in the jewellery business. There still may be an unknown line before this, it is possible Bulova was making pocket watches and utilizing engraved dials with no name on them. I have seen some pocket watch movts that appear very very old with 'J. Bulova' on the plates. No way to accurately date them, but they are hand engraved and may well have been encased with gold. 

Just my 2 cents.

Posted October 25, 2014 - 2:10pm

Saying Bulova made or imported watches in 1911 is kind of buying into what the company timeline says, a suspect and not very accurate way of looking for any info about any watch company, let alone Bulova!


Bulova begins manufacturing and selling boudoir and table clocks as well as fine pocket watches. These pieces are sold in unprecedented numbers."

This statement makes no sense, Bulova was importing (possibly) goods, and selling them on. They were manufacturing and patenting small jewelry items like rings, bracelets and earrings etc.

I don't think in all honesty that Bulova was importing pocket watches before 1918-19, and a couple of years prior to that for wrist watches.

No manufacturer was contracted to provide watches in WW1. Depollier cases, Waltham, Illinois and Elgin movements were being bought by the US military from around 1917-18. Some other manufacturers movements may have been bought by the military, but no proof found. Any Bulova watches that are "trench style", will have probably been bought privately. I have found many, many adverts from 1916-on that say things like: "give your soldier boy a strap watch to take to Europe", and similar exhortations.

Posted July 29, 2015 - 8:57am

Recently found this 1919 advert, showing J. Bulova as a watch importer.

1919 J.Bulova Co advert watch importer

Posted May 27, 2019 - 2:48am

Here are a few recent acquisitions that show the location change of J Bulova from 2 John Street to 5th Ave at 36th Street.

Both J. Bulova factory guarantee certificates dated 20 and 21 December 1922 respectively. Both indicated the change in address.

Click to enlarge.

1922 J. Bulova Factory Guarantee Certificate

1922 J. Bulova Factory Guarantee Certificate

Posted July 21, 2019 - 12:54am

Found an newspaper article from November 20, 1960 that indicates Bulova started importing watches from Switzerland in 1907 and opened it's own plant in Bienne in 1919.

Bulova started to import watches from Switzerland in 1907