Including Date Codes and Date Symbols

Take your watch off and flip it over to look at the smooth metal back of the case. You may see several different markings engraved there, all of which have different meanings. A date code will be either a symbol like a triangle, and eight-pointed star, or a half-moon, for example , a two-digit number, or one letter and one number. If your watch was produced earlier than , it will not have any date code on it. You may also see a serial number on the back of your watch.

This can also be useful in helping you identify how old your watch is, but it is not the model number. Interpret the date code.

Once you have identified a date code on your watch, you will need to interpret it, as the date is never printed in an obvious way. Bulova has used a few different systems for dating their watches.


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If you see a symbol, do an internet search to find a table that will show year which year corresponds to which symbol. Be aware, however, that some symbols were used more than once. For example, a circle was used in , , and A transitional system was used between and In , the code was 46 followed by a square. In , the code was In , the code was J9.

Beginning in , Bulova started using a code including one letter and one number. The letter indicates the decade, while the number indicates the year within the decade. The decade codes are as follows: For example, if your watch is stamped with the code M8, this means your watch was produced in If it is stamped with the cope P0, your watch was produced in Understand the meaning of patent dates. As you are looking for identifying markings on your watch, you may come across a patent date.

Patent dates typically include a month, day, and year, and are preceded by the letters "pat. The patent date is merely the date on which the specific design of the watch was patented, so it will not be of much use. For example, if your watch's design was patented in , you know your watch could not have been produced any earlier than but it could have been produced any time after Be aware of the two types of serial numbers.

On many watches, you will find two different serial numbers: This is because the two are often manufactured separately. If the difference is only one year, it may simply be that one component was manufactured first and then warehoused until it was needed to assemble the watch. If the difference is more than a year, it is likely that one of the elements has been replaced. Find the serial number on the case. To find the serial number on the case of your Bulova watch, simply flip it over and look at the flat back of the case.

If there is a serial number, it should be engraved here.

Not all Bulova watches will have serial numbers on the case. If yours does not, you may want to consider looking for a serial number on the mechanism. You may want to use a magnifying glass to help you read the serial number. If you already looked for a date code on your watch, you may have already found the serial number.

Find the serial number on the interior mechanism. If there are no identifying marks on the outside of your watch, or if you want to know the model number of the movement that was used in your watch, you will have to take the back case off. The serial number may be located anywhere on the mechanism. Be very careful doing this, as you can damage the watch if you are careless.

If the watch has a snap back case, you should be able to see a raised lip around the back and bezel of the case.

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There won't be any hinges or notches. Snap back cases simply snap into place, so you should be able to remove one by prying it up with a dull tool. Don't use anything sharp like a knife blade that you might cut yourself with. Some older watches have swing-back cases, which can be identified by a hinge on the back of the case.

These are opened the same way as snap back cases, but the back hinges open instead of coming all the way off. You may even be able to open this type of back with your fingernail. If the watch has a screw back case, you should see six grooves or notches located somewhere along the perimeter of the metal back. You will need to open the back case using these notches. Screw back cases must be unscrewed before you can lift them away.

1924 - 1949

You will need a special tool known as an adjustable case wrench to open one. There may also be a second protective cover inside of your watch. This can usually be pried off with a fingernail, but be careful not to damage the mechanism as you are doing this. If you have any trouble getting the case open, bring the watch to a professional jeweler. Replace the back case. If you opened the back of your watch to locate a serial number, be sure to put it back together right away. For snap back watches, locate the small pin on the inner lip of the case and the small hole around the perimeter of the watch.

Line up the pin and the hole, then press and click the case back on using your hands. For screw back cases, place the case over the back of the watch and grab onto the grooves using the case wrench. Rotate the case clockwise until it screws back into place. Compare the serial number to online lists. Once you have identified a serial number on your watch, you can try searching for the number online or using an online chart to help you identify when the watch was made. Additionally, within each model, Bulova often produced variations of the style. There are also a few examples of very early watches s period appearing without any Bulova markings on the exterior.

The case back can also provide insight into the manufacturer. Case signatures often seen on legitimate Bulovas include:. Signed crowns can also be useful. The presence of a signed crown will add another piece to the puzzle.

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When it comes to identifying the model of a particular Bulova, the bottom line is: The key to identifying models by their case design is to pay attention to the details. All watches of a particular model had the same case style though the material may vary, i.

Pay close attention to things like the shape of the lugs, or the lines or lack thereof on the case. To a lesser extent, dial features, like the placement of the second hand and the shape of the sub-seconds if any , are also very useful indicators. The date of your Bulova watch case is relatively easy to identify, at least from onwards. Over the years, Bulova used a variety of codes that allow you to date the case simply by comparing the code to a reference. After , the date code is typically found on the back of the case. Beginning in , Bulova used a simple code to date the case.

The code is a single letter and a single digit. The letter represents the decade, the number the last digit in the year. Dating cases prior to is largely guesswork. There is no date code on the case; the code was located on the movement. Dating cases prior to means you have to largely rely on matching models to source materials and known examples. Note that the date codes prior to also used a different format — they are graphical symbols, as shown in the chart below.

Budget Watch Collecting/Bulova Caravelle date codes

Of special note here: Some of the early cases include a full four digit date inside the case back, typically the date shown is either or That is not the date of manufacture of the case! It is merely the date of the copyright of the case design and tells us nothing about the age of the case other than it is certainly from the year stated or later.

Check your watch, then use the chart below to match the code to a specific year. The graphic symbol code system includes some repetition! Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new listings by email.