A 1935 Bulova Ambassador art-deco engraved, hinged-back wristwatch
by C. Bradley Jacobs
This is a 1935 Bulova that belonged to a great-uncle of mine and was given to me in 1997 or 1998 when I was a beginning collector. At the time it was a remarkable acquisition for me and spurred my hunger for collecting classic Bulovas of that era.
The watch is in decent condition, though there is a fair amount of brassing to the hooded lugs. My uncle wore it a great deal but I am surprised how the vintage alligator straps have held up. I doubt that they are original, but they add a touch of antiquity to the watch that a newer strap and buckle combination definitely lacks. As the photos show, this is a hinged-case model. The material used for the back is not marked, and it is a lightweight metal that feels like aluminum. I suppose it is simply very thin steel. The bezel is 10k rolled gold plate and features typical art-deco scrollwork engraving. The combination of scrollwork, stepped sides and hooded lugs is a tour-de-force of styling cues from that era and not many Bulova (or other) watches have all of these elements. According to the Faber and Unger book “American Wristwatches --Five Decades of Style & Design,” this watch is the Ambassador model (p. 82 bottom left). The watch pictured in the book is almost identical to mine except for the markers on the dial. In 1998 I visited Mr. Unger’s shop in Manhattan and saw the same model watch in their sales showcase. Apparently, NYC retail value of the watch was nearly $700…and the dial on the model offered for sale was not nearly so clean as mine. Interestingly, the watch Mr. Unger was selling had a rolled gold plate case back unlike the white metal back on my watch.
The dial is in original condition and features applied gold numerals and BULOVA lettering, painted minutes and sub-seconds chapters and gold hands. The crystal is glass and domed.
The movement is the Swiss-made, 15-jewel, adjusted caliber 10AE. I have absolutely no idea when this was last serviced…if at all, it was probably prior to the 1950s because my uncle also had a 1951 Bulova that was worn through almost to the movement and I do not think he wore this 1930s model much after the early 1950s. Nonetheless, when I do wind the watch (not often, I plan to have it serviced!) it runs smoothly and is pretty accurate.
The dimensions of the watch are 37mm long by 24mm wide (+ crown) and about 6mm high. The caseback has a slight “curvex”-type arc to it, but nothing extreme. All-in-all it is a smart-looking watch that, although it does not fall into a fashionable category according to today’s tastes is indicative of the stylistic trends of the 1930s. It would make an excellent watch for a woman with a sense of retro style, but I doubt many men will favor such timepieces for a few years to come judging by the popularity of huge and sporty watches today. Regardless, as a family heirloom, I will continue to treasure it and hope that someday it will again suit my own needs and again be worn.
Thanks for looking!
Note: Some photos from August 2004...
Some time ago I acquired a white gold filled example and another yellow gold filled example of this model of Bulova watch, both have since been sold. Some additional photos are included for your enjoyment: