Grand Design
Evanna Ramly 
Curv boasts the world’s first curved chronograph movement

When Joseph Bulova founded a modest jewellery shop in 1875, he could not have foreseen the magnitude that the brand would someday achieve. Following the success of its pocket watches first manufactured in 1911, Bulova progressed with a watch factory in Biel, Switzerland the following year, followed by its first complete range of wristwatches for men in 1919.

What remains unique about the company is its wonderful history and amazing stories. For instance, to determine universal time with pin-point precision, Bulova set up an observatory on the roof of a New York skyscraper. Such dedication is a key factor in its growth.

“Our founding father’s principles were based on craftsmanship, innovation and technology, and none of that has changed,” says Robert Christiano, executive vice-president of global marketing, Bulova Corporation, USA. “If you look at the legacy of our brand, we’ve been pioneering since day one, not just in product but also marketing.”

Christiano’s favourite example is the world’s first television commercial aired on July 1, 1941 was from Bulova, and it came with a proud declaration that “America runs on Bulova time”.

“At the time, the television commercial cost US$9. Just imagine how things have developed since then,” he muses. “We do things unconventionally, we design differently and we push the borders constantly. And I have to say that we’ve been very timely in everything we have done.”

Case in point: An advertisement with two hands that was introduced in 1970. “That was a call for women’s rights, with equal pay and time,” Christiano recalls. “It was a very bold move.”

Then there is the brand’s ground-breaking technology. As the first to have a fully-electronic timepiece powered by a battery, Bulova revolutionised the watch industry and opened the door for the quartz movements that are so ubiquitous today.

So advanced is its technology that Bulova has been on 46 different space explorations from the Gemini to the Apollo missions. “On the very first moon landing in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin put a Bulova clock in the Sea of Tranquillity, and it’s still there. There is even a stamp commemorating Bulova on the moon.”

Having worked with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for many years, Bulova was a vital player in the space race during the Cold War period. Christiano relates how on Apollo 15 in 1971, the brand snuck a wristwatch into space via mission leader Commander David Scott.

“He took the watch up with him. NASA knew about this but didn’t say anything. The watch that he was issued from NASA actually broke and he put on his replacement, which was from Bulova. He wore it throughout the entire mission and brought it back to earth.”

Over 40 years later, Scott found the timepiece in an old sock drawer and decided to auction it. The winning bid was US$1.62mil (about RM6.67mil). Bulova has since replicated it in the Lunar Pilot Chronograph crafted in stainless steel to mimic the original.

While Bulova has a magnificent history, thanks to its memorable advancements, Christiano takes great pride in that the brand does not rest on its laurels. “We bring everything back into the future, and continue to be innovative and powerful in thought, mind, vision and creation. We use all these firsts to inspire others to talk about theirs. This is an emotional thing as everybody loves pioneers.”

The company’s 142-year history goes beyond just making timepieces. As evidenced by its incredible archive, Bulova has been a significant part of popular culture throughout its existence. “We tell unbelievable stories with space, sea and automobiles,” says Christiano.

Four of the brand’s watches were displayed at the launch

So how does this translate into a product? Christiano believes it comes down to celebrating a past of craftsmanship and innovation but not living in it. It is precisely this attitude that has led to such milestones as the world’s first clock radio as well as the world’s first radio commercial in 1926.

Incidentally, those two records perfectly fit its partnership with the Grammys, of which Bulova is the official timekeeper. “Even our logo features a tuning fork as the symbol of music,” he shares.

Little surprise that the brand thus created the special Grammy Edition. Powered by Bulova’s Precisionist movement, it comes in a sleek 44mm case with black and gold accents. “The case looks like a snare drum, the dial looks like a vinyl LP, the hands are drumsticks and the indexes are guitar heads. It’s all about storytelling on the product.”

Another enchanting tale is the Rubaiyat designed for women, which first appeared in 1917. “At the time, it was spectacular as there weren’t many women’s watches then. What inspired the design was a pocket watch and on the caseback was the Goddess of Time, signifying the empowerment of women.”

Equally popular is Curv, the world’s first curved chronograph movement with its beautifully-ergonomic design. “We created the movement first and built the watch inside out. It’s an amazing product, and it’s the very first watch we sold here.”

Here refers to Isetan The Japan Store, Kuala Lumpur in Lot 10, where Bulova saw its first Southeast Asian launch. On display were the four timepieces mentioned earlier. “In Malaysia, we see more and more professionals demanding for watches that suit their lifestyles,” says Kyosuke Hiramatsu, general manager of Citizen Watches, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Christiano and Hiramatsu aim to open new doors in watchmaking

Citizen Watch Co Ltd acquired Bulova Corp in 2008. “Both brands have a long history but they don’t just celebrate the past,” adds Hiramatsu. “Our role in the watch industry is to open new doors. That is how we have evolved, especially at Citizen where we believe that doing better always starts now. Wherever you are, whoever you are, it’s always possible to make things better.”

Bulova is working on a book detailing its history of firsts. “We’ll be introducing it in Basel,” reveals Christiano. “It’s more about pop culture and Bulova than the watch and why it ticks. We don’t need watches to tell time – we have other things for that. People are looking for things that tell stories, and our watches, they all tell stories.”

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 262.