- By Isabella Proia
The story of Bulova fits securely within the archetypal American success story. Founded in 1875 by Bohemian immigrant, Joseph Bulova, the firm would become vital to the American economy, with important ties to the U.S. government. Indeed, Bulova would provide watches to NASA, the CIA, and the U.S. Navy. Bulova was an innovative force, producing the world’s first radio advertisement in 1926 and the first television advertisement on July 1st, 1941. The Bulova jingle, as much as the watches themselves, was ubiquitous in mid-20th century popular culture.
The Bulova chronograph presented to President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Arde Bulova, son of Bulova founder Joseph Bulova, rose to the level of vice-president of the Bulova company in 1911 at age 26. It was Arde who shepherded Bulova through the turbulent times of the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Great Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. Bulova became an ardent supporter of the American military and the government. After WWII, he established the Bulova Watchmaking School, which employed veterans, particularly those wounded or disabled. Arde Bulova’s brother-in-law, Henry D. Henshel, had served under General Omar Bradley in WWII, and Bradley would become Chairman of the Board from 1958 to 1973.
The watch boasts a beautiful black glossy dial with gilt printing and luminous hands
Bradley and Dwight D. Eisenhower both graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1915, part of the class known as “the class the stars fell on”. Of the 59 of 164 graduates who became generals – two were five-star generals - Bradley and Eisenhower, General of the Army and Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, respectively. Later, as President, Eisenhower would go on to increase the tariff on imported watches, a move passionately supported by Bulova, an American watchmaking company.
View of the caseback engraving signed Arde Bulova: "To Genl. Dwight D. Eisenhower, as as token of my admiration and respect"
Though it is uncertain when the present watch was presented to General Eisenhower, the caseback engraving is similar to others Bulova presented to luminaries of the time. How it left Eisenhower’s possession, however, is documented in the accompanying provenance letter. First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower was a native of Boone, Iowa and her uncle, Joel Carlson was given the watch by Eisenhower during one of their frequent visits to Boone. The watch was then given to a local jeweler, Walter Donald Eckstein, for repair. After years of ownership, Carlson no longer wanted to maintain the watch, and Eckstein offered him a new Bulova wristwatch in exchange for the chronograph given to Carlson by Eisenhower. The watch was sent to Bulova for cleaning in the 1970s and was subsequently returned to Eckstein with the note “no charge, courtesy of the factory.” The watch remained in the Eckstein family until this year.
The watch comes with a Gay Frères steel bracelet
Aside from its important American provenance, the present chronograph is delightful, boasting a beautiful black glossy dial with gilt printing and luminous hands, ideal for Five-Star General. The movement, a Valjoux VZ ébauche finished and signed by Bulova, is marked with the Bulova date stamp for 1941 – the year the United States entered the World War II. The current lot presents a unique opportunity to own a part of American watchmaking history.
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