A Brief History of...

 

There is something to be said for history and tradition. New, younger people and companies absolutely bring new energy and new ideas to every industry, but equally of value are those who have helped shape the market from the beginning. They were once the “upstarts” revolutionizing the category, and have proven their ideas and innovations can withstand the test of time.

Bulova is one such company with the weight of history.

There is something to be said for history and tradition. New, younger people and companies absolutely bring new energy and new ideas to every industry, but equally, of value are those who have helped shape the market from the beginning. They were once the “upstarts” revolutionizing the category, and have proven their ideas and innovations can withstand the test of time.

Bulova is one such company with the weight of history.

Founded 140 years ago by Joseph Bulova, the company is a testament to the American Dream. Joseph was just 19 when he first came to this country from what is today the Czech Republic. He had already done apprenticeships in both the watchmaking and goldsmithing trades, and he eventually joined Tiffany & Co., which at the time employed 1,000 people and was still under the leadership of co-founder Charles Lewis Tiffany (whose son would go on to make the name synonymous with stained glass in the 20th century.)

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A Pioneer

 

Joseph left Tiffany to officially form his own watchmaking company — J. Bulova & Co. — in 1875. Joseph and his son, Arde, who joined the company in 1905 and was promoted to vice president by 1911, noticed around the time of World War 1 that consumer tastes were shifting from pocket watches to the modern wristwatch. Joseph predicted this would be the dominant watch of the future, despite many of his contemporaries viewing it as nothing more than a passing fad. He began to experiment with different forms and compact spring and balance-wheel systems. In 1919, Joseph introduced his first line of jeweled men’s timepieces.

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Ladies First

By 1923, Joseph had perfected the idea of standardized parts that were interchangeable with those of other Bulova watches of the same model. Not only did it make the pieces easier to produce, but it also lowered the cost of repairs. It also allowed him to do something no other watchmaker in the world ever had — in 1924, Bulova debuted the first full collection of jeweled wristwatches for women. This began a string of firsts for Bulova, which helped catapult the company into the worldwide name it became.

First in Sound

Bulova became the first company to advertise over the radio, for example, and it recruited Charles Lindbergh to be the first celebrity endorsement of a watch brand. By the end of the 1920s, the company was one of three leading the charge for the creation and sale of clock radios.

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Throughout the 30s, Bulova, by now under the leadership of Arde, embarked on a series of acquisitions to help boost the market position. Among them was the Westfield Watch Company, a small New York City competitor that used Bulova movements; the Sag Harbor Guild on Long Island, which became a Bulova watch-case factory; and a watch manufacturer based in Villers-en-Lac, France.

Joseph Bulova died on November 19, 1935. Although his son had been handling the day-to-day operations for several years by that point, Joseph never officially retired and maintained his passion for watchmaking until the end. Even today, the creative spirit of Joseph Bulova has continued to be the driving force behind every timepiece the company has crafted. His attention to detail and willingness to innovate carved a path forward for the company he founded to lay claim to both timeless spirit and endless revolution in the watchmaking industry.