Who or What Influenced Joseph Bulova into Watchmaking?


Here’s some related watch history that Bulova collectors might find interesting. The history of watch-making is directly related to the Bulova story because…what else motivated Joseph Bulova into the watchmaking business in the first place?.

This post features an 1850 “E.J. Dent – London” Key Wind Pocket Watch. The diameter size of the movement is approximately 41mm making it approximately a size 14 Fusee Pocket Watch. It still needs a proper minute and second hand however. It was manufactured by Edward John Dent, or E.J. Dent. The Watch Serial Number dates the movement to 1850 and the case was made by James Thickbroom in 1850. The stamps and hallmarks on the case include: A Lion for Sterling Silver; a Leopard’s head for the city (London); the Date Mark “P” for 1850; and the Maker’s Mark “IT” for James Thickbroom. This is the oldest watch in my collection which I thought to share with you. 

Dent was a famous clock maker, watch maker, and builder of chronometers. In 1852 was commissioned to build the clock on the House of Parliament Building in London, now famously known as “Big Ben.” He died before it was completed in 1854. This movement is a Fusee movement made by E.J. Dent prior to his death in 1853. Fusees were used from the 15th century to the early 20th century to improve timekeeping by equalizing the uneven pull of the mainspring as it ran down. G. Baillie stated of the fusee, "Perhaps no problem in mechanics has ever been solved so simply and so perfectly.” You can Google Fusee watch movement to learn more precisely how they work, but in general there is a chain that is connected to the mainspring as shown in the photos provided on this Dent fusee movement.

The reason I bring this particular watch up is that it was made by perhaps the best-known watchmaker at that time - Edward John Dent. Dent was awarded a Royal Warrant as the official watch and clockmaker to Her Majesty Queen Victoria and HRH Albert Prince of Wales in 1841, a warrant that would be renewed through to George V’s reign. Russian emperors Tsar Alexander III and Tsar Nicolas II also issued Dent with royal warrants. Certainly Dent’s role in timepiece development and his reputation for high-quality watchmaking craftsmanship would have both inspired and influenced Joseph Bulova. So I share it with you as a rare example of an early, high-quality timepiece as part of my Bulova Educational Series.





DennisVA's picture
Posted April 8, 2013 - 12:26am

Hi Rob, Very nice, Very old Pocket watch. I Just finished working on a pocket Watch like this, It has the word Coventry engraved on the movement. After much research I found the Coventry watch cooperative in Coventry England, founded in 1876 I believe (will have to look it up again). I will have my freind bring it back to me so that I can send you some pictures. I know this has nothing to do with Bulova but as a collector of nice old watches it is still fun.

Thanks for posting this.


Posted April 8, 2013 - 1:15am

I appreciate your story Dennis. We all love Bulova....but the the whole history of timekeeping, the evolution of the mechanical genius, and art of watchmaking is all a part of that heritage in my opinion. I just wanted to share a piece of that history with everyone to remind them Bulova built upon the genius of those who came before...and Dent was both a mechanical and marketing genius of his time. Winston Churchill's first pocket watch (when he was 18 years old in 1893) was a Dent....they were used almost exclusively by the British Admiralty and undoutably by the Russian Czars and Russian Navy for navigation. Accurate timepieces were absolutely critical in the19th century for navigation and warfare. Bulova built on that history to make watches afforable for the common man could afford. He was the Henry Ford of the watch business. Consider how many 1930-1936 Bulova watches are around - watches sold during the Great Depression and the greatest economic calamity in world history. Most people couldn't afford a 5 cent apple...yet there were apparently enough people who could afford a $30 watch to allow Bulova to survive in business! Amazing history when you think of it! 

William Smith's picture
William Smith
Posted April 8, 2013 - 12:49am

Club 5000Panel Member

This is probably my oldest Bulova pocket watch.

I think Joseph's inspiration came much earlier that this watch above.  He held some patents for bicycle parts in the late 1880's, along with other patents and products.  
Hate to say it, but one good motivator is family fortune......something he amassed over the years and generations.

DennisVA's picture
Posted April 8, 2013 - 12:53am

Nice watch William, do you know where it dates to?

William Smith's picture
William Smith
Posted April 8, 2013 - 6:12pm

Club 5000Panel Member

The date....well I'd guess c1921.  Pretty sure it's pre-1924.  I've got a couple similar movements.  Maybe as early as 1919, but I don't know.  A great question!!  
We could try to establish tenataive date ranges for various hallmarks/stamps in the case, and assuming the mvnt is original to the case, give a date based on these- by proxy.

Reverend Rob's picture
Reverend Rob
Posted April 8, 2013 - 3:37pm

Panel Member

Gorgeous watch, Rob. Mr. Dent needs no introduction, his passion and genius live on, as his timepieces are de rigeur for many a  'serious' collection. 

I like to think that Joseph Bulova was just a really canny and insightful man. A good head for business, and a bit of a perfectionist....He'd be a force to be reckoned with if he were here today. 

Posted April 10, 2013 - 12:53am

I have a good story for you Rev Rob. In 1893 Winston Churchill was 18 years old and attending Sandhurst (the military academy) in the cavalry. One day he's out riding and his horse turns up lame...and as he's walking it back he stops at a pond to water the horse while he bent over to get a drink of water for himself. His pocket watch slipped out of his shirt pocket and landed in the pond. He reaches in...but can't find it anywhere. It was a gift from his father, and he was panicked! So the next day he returns with a crew of friends and "hired" help. They dam the creek feeding the pond, and dig a ditch to drain the pond. He finds the watch! He takes it to the family watchmaker in London the following week. It just so happens that his father needed to get HIS pocket watch repaired around the same time...and stops into the same shop. The watchmaker complains to him about the condition of Winstons watch - water damage, etc. On his father's next visit to see Winston he tells Winston he has the watch from the watchmaker and says, "You are too irresponsible and careless to own a Dent!" He then gives him a lessor brand watch in exchange. Good story and example of the prestige which a Dent watch held...and one of the first examples of Winston Churchill's ability to problem-solve and organize a team as part of the solution. This story is what got initially got me interested in Dent timepieces...and I now have several Dents including the 1850 Dent Fusee above and an 1893 Dent very similar to the model which Winston Churchill would have likely owned. It is also important to note that owning a good timepiece was like owning a car today. Bulova made affordable quality timepieces available to the masses like Henry Ford made affordable cars available to the masses. Joseph Bulova's contributions to society were enormous and cannot be understated.

Posted November 1, 2013 - 9:05pm

SUPER thread gents. I am re-energised by what I read. VERY nice time piece Rob and Will.

John JP

FifthAvenueRestorations's picture
Posted November 3, 2013 - 8:18am

I'm not seeing any connection between Dent and Bulova?

Posted November 3, 2013 - 12:59pm

If it wasn't for low class....you'd have no class at all Fifth.