Caravelle Watches – Zero to Hero

Bang for your buck

Introduced in 1962 Caravelle was aimed at the lower price point market for watches and jewelry. Bulova saw a need to capitalise on the affordable watch market without devaluing the Bulova brand. They quickly became America’s best-selling jewellery brand.

They took an interesting approach by producing jewelled movements at the same price as inferior non-jewelled watches. They took great pride in this as shown in their marketing materials.

Caravelle Bulova Advert

We discovered in the previous article about jewels in watches – they improve the longevity of the watch and provide a smoother more consistent running.

Budget and costs are always relative – if we use an inflation calculator to work out the cost of $11 watch from 1963 in today’s money – it roughly works out to be about $90. I much prefer to work on a percentage of monthly wage as this highlights the importance of goods and services comparable to earnings rather than the fiscal value of money.

The average monthly US salary in 1963 was $367 which would mean a watch like this would equate to just under 3% of your monthly wage. In 2018 the average monthly US salary was $4,333 – 3% of that is $129. You could grab yourself a pretty decent quartz watch from a lower-end brand for that sort of money. However, it doesn’t stretch to a decent mechanical – but in 1963 it could!

I always think the best way to compare costs is how much a pint of beer is or was. But I don’t always trust American beer and I think there’s a problem with American pints being about 113 ml too small. So we’re gonna leave it there.

Back in 1963, a watch was a necessity, today it’s a luxury item. These really were low-price heroes.

Cheap Champions

Among the modest offerings from Caravelle, there were some real gems that were clearly oozing Bulova DNA. Using the same waterproofing technology as in other devil divers from the 60s – Caravelle released the Sea Hunter 41585. This manual wind diving watch is complete with a bezel and 666 ft of water resistance.

Caravelle Bulova Advert 2

The name really invokes images of braving the ocean and tackling the swell and waves with your trusty timepiece companion. These Sea Hunters currently command the highest prices in the marketplace – I find this interesting as they produced some funky and colourful automatic divers with extra day and date complications which would in my opinion be more desirable! Perhaps it’s because of the simple dial design – or maybe because if you prize the bezel off it looks like a Rolex Explorer… but we don’t do that around here.

Bold. Brawny. For men.

Sounds like an advert for a Yorkie chocolate bar. This fantastic Canadian advert for the Caravelle Sea Hunter really shows off the rugged accessibility of their new watch. This advert also features model 49482 – the automatic variant with a full coffin stainless stretch link bracelet.

What I find interesting in this advert is that the bezel in the photo on the bottom left isn’t even lined up correctly on the marketing material! Also, you can see that chick’s dig watches as that woman has literally bent that bloke’s hand off to check out his sick new Caravelle watch.

“For aggressive men, some of whom are out of their element in water… landlovers who specialise in superficial maneuvers. Those men who dish it out wear a watch that can take it. This “Sea Hunter” by Caravelle is such a timepiece… solid, sporty and bold… for men of that stride. But if you like water and mermaids are your type, jump in. The Sea Hunter is a true amphibian.”

I seriously hurt my eyes deciphering what was written in that advert – there’s a high chance it’s not perfect. Are mermaids your type?

To keep costs to a minimum Caravelle watches used bought in movements from manufacturers such as ETA and Citizen.

  • The manual wind Sea Hunter features a 17-jewel Bulova 11DP which is a modified Citizen 0241 running at 18000 BPH
  • The automatic Sea Hunter features a 21-jewel Bulova 11UPACD which is a modified ETA 2874 running at 18000 BPH

What was a budget version from Caravelle now enters the vintage market boxing ring at the same level as high-end Bulova items. It’s an impressive change over time – but these simpler, crisper designs and reliable bought-in movements have gained the trust of collectors.

It is however very easy to pick up the slightly less known models for cheap. You get Bulova-level quality control and exceptional restrained design and style.

1967 Caravelle Watch – an actual value proposition

Here’s a great example of affordable vintage style in stunning condition. This 1967 Caravelle watch featuring a Bulova 11ODC manual wind movement is in superb condition with no loss of the 10-micron plate on any facets.

I’ve yet to clean or detail this watch – so appreciate the grime around the crystal and under the lugs. I will be cleaning this off and I am sure this will become a great dress watch.

This piece has obviously been used a lot as the dirt suggests a fair amount of use – but the quality of the gold plate and unblemished crystal suggest it has been treated with respect and care throughout its service.

These more budget lines of watches receive a reduced amount of gold plating. An equivalent Bulova of the time is more likely to have closer to 60 microns plate to provide a thicker gold covering and will wear considerably better. I know that some Omega gold caps slap on 240 microns of gold to provide that lustre and high-quality finish. The fact this case looks in great shape other than a few small bumps on the bezels makes it quite the rarity!

The dial is a flawless sunburst silver. The only giveaway that this isn’t actually a photo from 1967 is the slight spot on the first L of Caravelle. The lume has aged nicely turning to a citrus lemon yellow on the hands and on the spots next to the hour markers.

The hour markers are long gold bars topped with matt black columns. Each seems to float effortlessly on the dial.

Subtly stamped markings stating a gold plating of 10 microns. The cute little square shape is repeated inside the case back. I anticipate this is the maker’s mark for the case manufacturer – would love to know.

Case back stamping proudly states Caravelle Watch Division Bulova Watch Company.

Basic but not ugly 11ODC manual wind movement based upon an ETA 1686. These can be found in Vulcain, Gruen, Waltham, Baylor and a host of other watch makes. Mass-produced parts keep costs down allowing Caravelle and others to sell at much lower price points. It’s not uncommon for watch movements to have an early year stamp to their cases, in this instance they match – M7 for 1967.

ETA stamp clearly visible underneath the oscillating balance wheel.

Sometimes components are sacrificed for costs that would previously held a logo or marking – in this instance, the crown is plain and of a different quality to the case. This could be because it’s a replacement or because the crown and stem came with this ETA movement – I have had a few Caravelle watches that did not sport the signature large ‘C’ on the crown.

Basic screw-down case back with the familiar radial stamps boasting of the watch’s inbuilt qualities – anti-magnetic, shock resistant, waterproof and stainless steel back.

The case size is just shy of 35 mm. This is a perfect size for this piece and it slides nicely under the cuff of a shirt.

Underdog Revelations

Now’s the time to grab yourself some great budget pieces from the Caravelle range. Look for 666 models or the interesting world timers. Later 70s models do have pretty basic movements but the styling remains clean. As the advert states below – there are plenty of options to choose from including some funky transistorized movement models.

I have found a beautiful Automatic Sea Hunter that I will soon get some photos and produce and article for – it’s got a beautiful grape colour bezel and a super reliable automatic movement.

Stay tuned and don’t forget to be bold, brawny and chase mermaids.

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