Accutron, the world’s first fully electronic watch, marks its 60th anniversary in 2020. Reconstituted as an independent brand separate from Bulova, its original parent company, it is ushering in the new era with 21st century technology and a healthy dose of mid-20th-century nostalgia, starting with the retro-inspired Spaceview 2020. The watch will be among the highlights from 24 sponsoring watch brands at next week’s WatchTime Live virtual event.
Introduced in 1960, the original Bulova Accutron incorporated a revolutionary new technology that utilized a tuning fork, powered by a one-transistor electronic oscillator, to drive the timekeeping functions rather than a traditional balance wheel. Its name stood for “Accuracy through Electronic.” The brainchild of Bulova engineer Max Hetzel, this technology ensured an oscillation rate of 360 hertz — nearly 150 times faster than that of a mechanical, balance-wheel-driven timepiece — and guaranteed an accuracy to just one minute per month. The now-legendary first Accutron model, called the Spaceview 214 (the numerical designation derived from the movement, Caliber 214), was like no other watch previously seen, or heard, on the market — distinguished audibly by the telltale humming generated by the tuning fork rather than the traditional ticking of its mechanical brethren. Its high-tech movement, with its circuit-board-green elements in full view behind an open dial, deviated from traditional wristwatch design with its lack of setting stem and crown on the side of the watch; these elements were instead placed on the back of the case.
All in all, the Accutron proved to be an ideal wristwatch for the Space Race heyday of the 1960s, and achieved a number of milestones. A partnership between Bulova and NASA led to Accutron dashboard clocks being installed on the spacecraft of all the Apollo missions; one remains on the moon to this day, inside the lunar vehicle left behind in the Sea of Tranquility after the historic moon landing in 1969. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Accutron wristwatches the official “Gift of State,” in 1964 and Accutron clocks were installed on Air Force One, the presidential jet, in 1967.
The birth of Accutron centered around an unprecedented technological breakthrough in watchmaking, and the rebirth of Accutron as an independent brand, separate from Bulova, within the Citizen Group could be built upon nothing less. The advancement in this case was the new, proprietary Accutron movement, which was powered by electrostatic energy generated from the motion of the wearer’s wrist. The movement’s fast-rotating twin turbines are affixed to two electrodes that send energy to an accumulator powering two tiny motors — one an electrostatic motor driving the smooth motion of the seconds hand (a world first), the other a step motor for the hour and minute hands — both synchronized through integrated circuits for an accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per month. The development of the movement, says Citizen Group America president Jeffrey Cohen, took over a decade, as part of a long-range plan for Accutron that began almost immediately after the Citizen Group took over Bulova in 2008. “Technology is always on the mind of watch enthusiasts,” he acknowledges, “whether it’s in movement advancements, or some other area. We wanted to honor the original brand by going back to its roots while still introducing an advancement in timekeeping technology that’s never been seen before.”
The electrostatic movement makes its debut in the retro-inspired model that kicks off the new era of Accutron, appropriately called the Spaceview 2020. The watch, in a 43.5-mm polished steel case, replicates the then-radical look of the original Spaceview, with the same green accents highlighting its exposed dial-side movement. The Spaceview 2020 is mounted on a black leather strap and retails for $3,450. Alongside the Spaceview 2020 model, and taking their visual cues from its neo-vintage design, are a quartet of models called Accutron DNA. Leaning heavily on the original’s sci-fi aesthetic, their skeletonized open-dial faces replace the familiar green hues of the original 214 model with an array of contemporary colors, including blues, grays, and gold tones. These models have sportier straps made of rubber, with pusher-operated deployant clasps, and slightly larger case dimensions, at 45.1 mm. The Accutron DNA models are priced at $3,300. The Spaceview and the DNA models will be showcased at WatchTime Live.
For a full report on the new Accutron collection, pick up the September-October issue of WatchTime, on sale in the WatchTime Shop. To learn more about WatchTime Live, its sponsoring watch brands, and details on its schedule of presentations and panels, and to sign up for tickets to the event, click here.