For purposes of assigning a date, Bulova watches break down nicely into three basic groups: 1) pre-1926, 2) 1926 through 1949, and 3) 1950 and beyond. Those three date ranges are differentiated by the presence or absence of certain case and movement markings as well as the nature of any such markings, as explained below.

In general, for all time periods, it is important to understand that Bulova watches never provide an obvious date of manufacture anywhere on the watch. Rather, the date must be 'de-coded' using symbols, serial numbers, and two-character codes placed on various parts of the watch. These codes and the manner in which they should be interpreted is the subject of this article.

Many observers of Bulova watches are confused by the sometimes seen patent dates stamped on the inside of some Bulova watch cases, and they misinterpret such dates as the time of manufacture. In point of fact, those patent dates apply only to certain aspects of the case design and indicate only when those general designs were patented. Those designs were used on many watches produced over a number of years, and the applicable patent date in no way indicates when any particular watch was produced. Below are images showing the two patent dates that often cause confusion.

Check your Apple warranty status. Enter a serial number to review your eligibility for support and extended coverage. In fact, I own a watch that is likely from 1999 and the serial number begins with 99 even though the chart above suggests that number should really be 90. Perhaps, different watches have different serial number patterns. The serial number is a unique identifier for the category of your watch, its model year, and the specific number of your watch in the production run. View our serial number guide below to learn details about your watch. We encourage you to register your watch through our watch registration page to ensure your watch is covered under warranty.

Inside case with June 10, 1924 patent dateInside case with January 11, 1927 patent date

Pre-1926

Watches manufactured prior to 1926 are difficult to date with certainty. For example, movements made prior to 1924 do not bear the standard movement date code found on watches dated 1924 through 1949. (For a list of those codes, visit Bulova Date Codes.) Additionally, the case serial numbers on those early watches tend to begin with '1' or '2' and appear to bear no correlation to the date the watch was made. Therefore, determining the date of one of these early models is difficult and often impossible to accomplish with absolute certainty.

There are, however, several clues that can be of assistance in at least narrowing down the date. One such clue is the case signature. Very early Bulova models do not have 'Bulova' stamped on the case. Rather they bear one of the 'American Standard' case signatures. The case signature begins to include the Bulova name around 1924. For a detailed analysis, and examples, of Bulova case signatures through the years, Bulova Case Signatures.

Additionally, a very early movement is likely to bear a different Bulova signature than the signature seen in later models. Specifically, very early movements read 'Bulova W. Co.', rather than 'Bulova Watch Co.', as seen on slightly later models. This change quite likely coincides with the April 1923 re-incorporation of the J. Bulova Company to the Bulova Watch Company, thereby providing an important date reference for these watches based on the movement signature. That is, any watch movement with the signature 'Bulova W. Co.' likely pre-dates April 1923. Moreover, that change corresponds nicely with the introduction of movement date codes. So, we may further extrapolate that any watch without a movement date code, with 'Bulova W. Co.' on the movement, and with an 'American Standard' only case signature, pre-dates April 1923. Narrowing down the date beyond that with certainty may not be possible based on current information. Below are examples of the two movement signatures seen in early Bulova watches, with the example on the right becoming the standard signature after April 1923.

Pre-1924 movement showing 'BULOVA W. Co.' signaturePost-1923 movement showing 'BULOVA Watch Co.' signature

Serial Number On Watch Apple

Of further assistance in determining the date of these watches may be the movement caliber, if one is printed on the movement. Consultation with online movement lists may provide at least ballpark information regarding the date of the watch. For one such movement list visit Bulova Movements. However, it is important to note that all such movement lists are based on observations of examples rather than any official Bulova documentation. So, the lists may be incomplete and even inaccurate to the extent that they contain information on movements that are not on-hand and available for examination and verification.

I have recently begun to develop a theory regarding certain 'markers' that may help us identify the date--at least with a reasonable degree of certainty--of these very early watches. Dating a watch this way requires opening the case and noting every detail of the movement and case and then comparing those details to the list below to see where the watch best fits in the timeline. It is important to note that the conclusions conveyed below are based primarily on ladies' models, as we have very few examles of men's watches dating prior to 1925. Another fact to consider is the still relatively small data set for this time period. Though we have far more of these early watches than we did a year ago, we still have relatively few upon which to base conclusions. No doubt, some aspects of these conclusions will change over time as more examples are collected.

For anyone interested in reviewing the data upon which, in part, these observations were based, visit Watch Data 1917 - 1925. Early advertisements also support these conclusions and can be found at 1918 - 1929. Relevant trademark records are discussed in Searching for the Beginning and Bulova Case Signatures.

Theoretical Timeline of Early Bulova Watch Features (1917 - 1925)

1917

  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or 'American Standard W.C.Co' with no globe or shield symbol (not to be confused with a case signed only 'American Standard', which is a later, Bulova trademarked name)
  • Movement signed 'Rubaiyat' (or possibly an as yet undiscovered name, but not signed 'Bulova')
  • Dial signed 'Rubaiyat' (or possibly an as yet undiscovered name, but not signed 'Bulova')
  • No movement caliber designation
  • No movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '2' or '3'
  • Case style of pocket watch, typically converted to wear on the wrist; crown at 12 o'clock position

1918

  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or 'American Standard' with globe symbol
  • Movement signed 'Rubaiyat', or 'Bulova', or other Swiss movement maker (e.g., Etienee, Liengme, Favre). More than one name may appear on the movement.
  • Dial signed 'Rubaiyat' or unsigned
  • No movement caliber designation
  • No movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '10'
  • Case style of pocket watch, typically converted to wear on the wrist; crown at 12 o'clock position

1919

  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or 'American Standard' with globe symbol
  • Case description of 'Warranted 20 Years' or 'Warranted 25 Years' or 'Warranted to Assay' (solid gold models); may also include 'Monogram Quality'
  • Movement signed 'Bulova W. Co.'
  • Dial signed 'Rubaiyat' or 'Bulova Precision' or unsigned
  • No movement caliber designation
  • No movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '10'
  • Case style of pocket watch, typically converted to wear on the wrist; crown at 12 o'clock position

1920

  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or 'American Standard' with globe symbol
  • Case description of 'Warranted 20 Years' or 'Warranted 25 Years' or 'Warranted to Assay' (solid gold models); may also include 'Monogram Quality'
  • Movement signed 'Bulova W. Co.' and may also be signed by another maker, such as Favre or P. Droz
  • Dial signed 'Rubaiyat' or unsigned
  • Movement has a caliber designation--most likely a 'B' movement
  • No movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '10'
  • True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position begins to appear, but converted pocket watches still in the majority

1921

Number
  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or signed 'American Standard' with globe symbol
  • Case description of 'Warranted 20 Years' or 'Warranted 25 Years' or 'Warranted to Assay' (solid gold models); may also include 'Monogram Quality'
  • Movement signed 'Bulova W. Co.' and most likely also includes a number within a triangle or trapezoid shaped box. The number appears to have no date correlation
  • Dial signed 'Bulova' or 'Lady Maxim' (or, possibly, 'Hudson Maxim')
  • Movement has a caliber designation--most likely an 'A' movement
  • May or may not have a movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '10'
  • True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position gaining popularity, but converted pocket watches still seen

1922

  • Case signed 'Wadsworth' or 'American Standard' with shield symbol
  • Case description of 'Warranted 20 Years' or 'Warranted 25 Years' or 'Warranted to Assay' (solid gold models); may also include 'Monogram Quality'
  • Movement signed 'Bulova W. Co.' and most likely also includes a number within a triangle or trapezoid shaped box. The number appears to have no date correlation
  • Dial signed 'Bulova' or 'Lady Maxim' (or, possibly, 'Hudson Maxim')
  • Movement has a caliber designation--most likely an 'A' or '10' caliber movement
  • Will have a movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '11' or '12'
  • True wrist watch with the crown at the 3 o'clock position popular, but still see some converted pocket watches

1923

  • Case signed 'American Standard' with shield symbol
  • Case description of ' 'Warranted 25 Years' and most likely 19K Gold Filled
  • Movement signed 'Bulova Watch Co.' and most likely also includes a number within a triangle or trapezoid. The number appears to have no date correlation
  • Dial signed 'Bulova'
  • Movement has a caliber designation--most likely an '10' movement
  • Will have a movement serial number
  • No movement date code
  • Case serial number begins with '12' or '13'
  • True wrist watch now predominant style

1924

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  • Case signed 'American Standard' with shield symbol or 'Bulova Quality'
  • Case description of ' '25 Years' (if signed 'American Standard') or 'Filled' if signed 'Bulova Quality'
  • Movement signed 'Bulova Watch Co.'
  • Dial signed 'Bulova'
  • Movement has a caliber designation
  • Will have a movement serial number
  • Will have asterisk date symbol on movement
  • Case serial number begins with '12' or '13', or '15'
  • True wrist watch rather than converted pocket watch in the norm

1925

  • Case signed 'Bulova, American Standard' or 'Bulova Quality' and may bear the June 10, 1924 case patent date
  • Case description varies
  • Movement signed 'Bulova Watch Co.'
  • Dial signed 'Bulova'
  • Movement has a caliber designation
  • Will have a movement serial number
  • Will have circle date symbol on movement
  • If a men's model, the serial number will likely begin with '5', but not in all instances. Ladies' models may begin with '5' or '1'
  • True wrist watch rather than converted pocket watch is the norm

1926 Through 1949

Dating a Bulova watch becomes quite a bit easier beginning with models manufactured in 1926. At that time, Bulova started using with regularity standard date codes on the movement. Additionally, in many instances, the case serial number on these later models can be used as a date reference. For models manufactured before 1950, there is typically no date code on the case itself (though there are exceptions seen in the later 1940s). However, as stated, the case serial number can often be used to date the case, while the movement code indicates the date the movement was made. Thus, most watches have two manufacture dates, providing a useful tool for determining whether a particular case and its movement were originally intended to be paired.

The movement code is a small symbol, such as a square, circle, or triangle, which corresponds to a particular year within each decade. For example, a triangle may indicate 1926, 1935, or 1945. The full list of date codes is available at Bulova Date Codes. Similarly, the date of the case often can be partially determined by the case serial number. That is, the first digit of the serial number indicates the year of manufacture within each decade, with some exceptions, which are explained in more detail at the end of this section. For example, a pre-1950 watch with a case serial number starting with '1' would indicate 1921, 1931, or 1941. It is important to note that both the movement code and the case serial number provide only a year within a decade, but they do not give any clue as to the correct decade. Instead, the appropriate decade must be determined by examining the style of the watch in light of the styles of each decade. Below is an example of a 1926 watch, where the year of manufacture has been determined using both the symbol on the movement and the matching serial number, along with an examination of the watch's characteristics.

Triangle movement symbol (circled in red), along with other watch characteristics, indicates 1926 as the manufacture dateCase serial number beginning with '6', along with other watch characteristics, indicates 1926 as the manufacture date

Important factors in identifying the proper decade of the watch's manufacture based on it styling include the size and shape of the case, engraving placement and patterns, dial and hand designs, and movement calibers. A very good place to study styles by decade is right here on Watchophilia. The large collection is organized by decade, and all watches for a given decade can be viewed together on one page, making it easy to scan the page and note the styles used during that time period. Becoming familiar with other examples and with the available advertisements will also help determine when elements, such as dials, hands, and straps, are not original to the watch and should not be considered when determining the date. The only way to know which decade applies to the watch at hand is by careful study of available resources, including vintage advertisements and actual watches. Matching the elements of the watch to a particular decade becomes easier over time, as more watches are studied and compared to the available advertisements.

Another factor to consider in dating a pre-1950 watch is whether there is a serial number printed on the movement, as, for the most part, Bulova stopped that practice after 1932. A few strays with serial numbers have been observed through the mid-1930s, but by far the majority of movements made after 1932 do not have a serial number. So, if your movement has a serial number, you can probably narrow down the date of the movement to at least pre-1940, and, quite likely, even to pre-1933. As with all things Bulova-related, there are exceptions to the rule, and a few pre-1933 movements have been observed without serial numbers, particularly in the 10AN caliber movements. So, the existence or non-existence of a serial number is just one of many factors to be considered when dating a watch. All factors discussed here should be considered together to make the best possible date assessment. Fortunately, dating a Bulova watch gets much easier in 1950 and beyond.

Before we move on to the 1950s, we need to consider exceptions to the serial number method of dating a Bulova watch. I hinted earlier in this section of the discussion that there were exceptions to the rule that the first digit of the case serial number indicates the date of manufacture for watches made from 1926 through 1949. There are actually at least five currently known exceptions to that rule, and the list keeps growing as more watches are studied.

Serial Number Exceptions

  • One exception to the 'rule' that the first digit of the case serial number has a date correlation is seen in many ladies' models from the 1940s. I do not know why this is true, but there is growing evidence that quite a few--perhaps even the majority--of ladies' models from the 1940s do not bear the typical case serial number. Instead, they have a serial number that begins with a letter, such as 'G' or 'I', rather than a number. This is a common characteristic of a serial number found in watches from the 1950s, but it is not typically seen before that time. Unlike models from the 1950s, these 1940s ladies' watches do not have a case date code, so the only way to date the watch is by the movement symbol. This phenomenon has not been observed in men's models from the 1940s.
  • Another exception to the serial number method of dating the case occurs toward the later part of the 1940s. At that time, some, but not all, of the case serial numbers take the format seen in the 1950s and beyond. That is, the case serial number ceases to have any date correlation, and a new type of date code appears on both the case and the movement. This is the format seen from 1950 and beyond, and is, therefore, thoroughly explained in the section that follows. In the 1940s models that follow this format, the case and movement date codes may be atypical in format, such as 'A8' or '48' for 1948 and 'A9' or '49' for 1949. These atypical date codes are listed in the date chart, which can be reviewed at Bulova Date Codes. This method of dating a 1940s case has been seen as early as 1946.
  • Stainless steel models made in the 1940s, such as the Watertight (or Watertite), create another exception to the serial number method of dating a Bulova case. These models typically have short, 3- or 4-digit case serial numbers that obviously do not conform to the standard 7-digit format. The serial numbers on these watches do not appear to have any date correlation, leaving the movement as the only method for dating the watch. An example of this type of watch is the 1942 Watertite.
  • Similar to stainless steel models, solid gold and sterling silver models also often do not bear the typical 7-digit serial number. In fact, these watches sometimes have no case serial number at all. This exception is particularly true of solid gold and silver models made in the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, solid gold models appear to have a stronger date correlation. A typical example of a 1930s solid gold model with no case serial number can be observed here: 1930 Unknown.
  • Yet another exception is a growing number of models from the 1930s that have a case serial number containing only six digits, and the first digit does not have a date correlation. On those watches, it is as though the first digit that should indicate the date has simply been left off. I have a significant, and growing, number of watches with such case markings in my collection. Here's one example: 1934 Lone Eagle. It is possible--perhaps even probable--that these six-digit case serial numbers correlate to the change in case signatures that we see during that same time period, but that possibility requires further study.

1950 And Beyond

For models dated 1950 and beyond--and even some made in the late 1940s--Bulova printed a two character date code on both the case and the movement. Typically, the case date code is found on the outside of the case back, but sometimes it is located inside the case back. Those two codes--which should be identical or no more than one year apart--indicate both the decade and year of the watch's movement and case manufacture. For example, the code 'L3' indicates 1953, while the code 'M4' indicates 1964. A list of the known codes can be found at Bulova Date Codes. Note that the full date chart includes variations of two-character codes sometimes seen on watches as early as 1946. By 1948, this practice was becoming more common, and by 1950 is was the norm. Below are examples of this style of date code on the movement and case.

'L1' date code on movement (circled in red) indicates a manufacture date of 1951'L1' date code on back of case indicates a manufacture date of 1951

When The Movement Date and Case Date Don't Match

Ideally, the date of the movement will match the date of the case. Occasionally, however, that is not the case. In those circumstances, I subscribe to the 'latest date wins' theory only when the case and movement are dated within one year of each other. If more than one year separates the movement and the case, for me, the case date rules. The reason for that limitation is that movements can, and often are, replaced when the original one breaks. Therefore, any watch with a movement dated more than one year later than the case is assumed to be a replacement movement. For all watches in my collection, the movement date is noted for the record, even if it was not used to date the watch. I do believe that the case is by far the most important factor in determining both the date and model of the watch, and all other factors are to be considered but do not necessarily control the outcome, because all other factors--movements, hands, dials--can be changed. When purchasing a watch, I check both the case and movement date, and if they are more than one year apart, I assume that the movement is not original to the case. When selling a watch, it is very important to accurately date both the movement and the case and to inform potential buyers of that information. A watch that has mismatched parts should be fully disclosed as such.

When There is No Movement Code or Case Serial Number

I have a few examples where the watch has neither a movement code nor a case serial number. One such example is a very early, solid gold model. So, it has problems being identified, both because it is very early and because it is solid gold (see above for problems with serial numbers and solid gold cases as well as early movements with no date code). Additionally, I have some late 1970s models that bear no date identification that I can determine. These later watches are invariably made outside the United States, as many Bulova watches were at that time, and so they do not follow the usual marking conventions. So, if you run into one of these, don't be surprised. The methods of dating a Bulova watch discussed above work 99% of the time, but there are always exceptions. If your watch happens to fall into one of these exception categories, you can at least get close to the date by studying the style elements, as discussed above, and/or by finding a match in a vintage advertisement.

Find the manufacture date of any Seiko watch

Seiko watches have a 6 or 7 character serial number on their casebacks. The second character can be a letter but the rest are all numbers. You can use the Seiko serial number in conjunction with the movement number to calculate the year of manufacture. The month and last digit of the Seiko'a date of manufacture is calculated using the serial number and then narrowed down to a decade using my database of Seiko movement manufacture dates. You will be given an eBay link to check the value, useful links such as manuals, etc and for quartz models the battery information.

If more than one date is returned then either I lack data for that Seiko movement or it was made for over a decade. For details of my Seiko movements list click here. For information about how this actually decodes and how to decode a Seiko serial yourself click here (also has a video showing how to find your serial number and movement).

Serial Number On Watch 2


To get the best chance of getting only one date returned it is best to enter your Seiko movement in the 2nd box. The boxes are not case sensitive. The movement can contain the letter S, which can look very similar to a 5.

Please note, the new Seiko 5 sports cannot be dated by serial number. If you have a 2019 or newer Seiko 5 sports, then the 6 digit serial is actually a production number and cannot be used for dating purposes.

Find Serial Number On Rolex Watch

My related tools : Bulova, Citizen, Omega, Tissot, Rolex, Breitling, Longines.