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More than 60 years ago, an electronic engineer challenged the watchmaking status quo by inventing the Accutron, the world’s first electronic watch. Today, the brand that emerged from that revolution in timekeeping continues to live up to its groundbreaking legacy.


Most people know the difference between a mechanical watch and one equipped with a quartz movement. What many don’t know, however, is that for about a dozen years beginning in 1960, the height of portable timekeeping technology was a wristwatch that bridged the gap between them.

Known as the Accutron, the model exchanged the tick-tock of a mechanical watch for the hypnotic humming sound generated by a tuning fork movement, The Accutron made its official debut on October 25, 1960, when American watchmaker Bulova introduced it at a press conference in Basel, Switzerland.

The Accutron was the first watch to employ a tuning fork as its regulating organ, replacing what in mechanical timepieces is known as the balance wheel or pendulum. It marked a turning point in the history of watchmaking, not only because it pioneered an entirely new approach to timekeeping, but also because of its radical design, which placed the inner workings of the timepiece front and center.

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Spaceview tuning fork movement / Spaceview watch 1960

Spaceview 2020 watch

As the world’s first electronic watch, the Accutron—its name is a contraction of “ACCUracy through elecTRONics”—also paved the way for the quartz revolution of the 1970s, when cheap and accurate battery-powered wristwatches built by the Japanese nearly obliterated the Swiss mechanical industry. And yet without the tuning fork movement, none of those developments would have been possible.

It’s clear that the Accutron occupies a vaunted place in the annals of watchmaking history. But its story is far from over. The brand, reborn in 2020, continues to produce watches that push horological boundaries—notably, with its proprietary new electrostatic movement, which has bestowed another first upon the brand: Accutron now produces the first watches to be powered by electrostatic energy.

The brand’s role in the advancement of timekeeping science is indisputable. A matter of some debate, however, is whether its contributions to pop culture have been even greater. Decide for yourself after you learn about Accutron’s technological innovations, then and now, as well as its boundary-breaking approach to communications.

Discover Accutron's Legacy

Click below or scroll for more.

Technological
Innovation

Cutting-Edge
Design

In The Cultural
Conversation

Spaceview 1961 / Spaceview 2020 Limited Edition 18k gold

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A Legacy of Technological Innovation

To appreciate Accutron’s horological significance, it’s important to understand that in the 300 years that preceded its introduction, watchmaking was, first and foremost, defined as a scientific pursuit of ever-increasing accuracy.

In the mid-1950s, Max Hetzel, a Bulova electronics engineer based in Switzerland, began working on a timekeeping solution that, unbeknownst to him, would change the course of horological history. His tuning fork oscillator movement, the predecessor of Accutron’s famed Caliber 214, contained just 12 moving parts, including a battery-powered tuning fork that vibrated at 360 Hz, moving a pawl finger onto an index week. It was accurate to within 2 seconds per day, a metric that placed it far and above its mechanical competition.

The technology was so impressive that it soon became an integral component of America’s space program. Bulova’s chairman of the board from 1958 to 1973, the retired five-star general Omar Bradley, helped ensure that Accutron played an integral role in 46 missions to space. A seismometer programmed with an Accutron master timer was placed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility in 1969 by the astronauts of Apollo 11, the first men on the moon, and, astonishingly, it remains there to this day. (While the instrument stopped sending signals a few years ago, the clock is, presumably, still humming.)

“Like the tuning fork Accutrons,” he writes, “the result is an aesthetic that cannot be found anywhere else in modern watchmaking.”

Today, as Accutron recently celebrated its 61st anniversary, its commitment to invention and innovation is stronger than ever. In 2020 the brand unveiled a new electrostatic movement regulated by a tuning fork-shaped quartz crystal. The result of 10 years of development, the mechanism is the beating heart of Accutron’s two most contemporary timepieces, the Spaceview 2020 and the Accutron DNA. It operates much like a self-winding mechanical movement in that all it requires is a moving wrist.

“As the wearer moves, an oscillating mass in the movement rotates, and this drives an electrostatic generator that creates an electrical charge," explains Jack Forster in Accutron: From the Space Age to the Digital Age, a coffee-table book published by Assouline in 2020.

“Like the tuning fork Accutrons,” he writes, “the result is an aesthetic that cannot be found anywhere else in modern watchmaking.”

With the Spaceview 2020, time has just changed — again. This luxury watch for men re-imagines what a timepiece can be with the proprietary electrostatic movement, unique to the Accutron line, an intricately engineered motor and turbine system that generates power. This is a men’s watch that is designed to be as individual as you are.

Learn More

ELECTROSTATIC
SPACEVIEW 2020

With the Spaceview 2020, time has just changed — again. This luxury watch for men re-imagines what a timepiece can be with the proprietary electrostatic movement, unique to Accutron, an intricately engineered motor and turbine system that generates power. This is a men’s watch that is designed to be as individual as you are.

ELECTROSTATIC
Accutron dna

Reimagined for a new generation, the Accutron DNA showcases the precision of the proprietary electrostatic energy movement, with its intricately engineered motor and turbine system that generates power and the forward glide of the second hand. This is a luxury men’s watch made to work hard, and look great.

On the Cutting‑Edge
of Design

When it comes to aesthetics, you don’t get much more distinctive than Accutron’s original Spaceview model, an icon of retro-futurism that embodied the innovation and future-thinking ethos of the American century.

Introduced in 1961, the stainless-steel Spaceview turned the notion of a watch inside out, literally. In the Assouline book, Forster tells the story of how the model came to be:

“Because the watch was so revolutionary, there was a great deal of interest on the part of the public in actually seeing how the watch worked, which Bulova originally stoked by making a small number of demonstration watches without dials. Instead, the indexes and company name were printed directly on the underside of plexiglass crystal, and the watches were fitted with white-painted hands, to provide better contrast and visibility against the complexity of the Accutron mechanism.

The Spaceview started out as a low-production sales tool; it was meant to draw the attention of passersby and get them into the retailer’s store, where it would help close the sale. Of course, it ended up being so visually irresistible that people started asking to buy it outright, and Bulova soon realized that it had a hit on its hands.”

“…The Spaceview started out as a low-production sales tool; it was meant to draw the attention of passersby and get them into the retailer’s store, where it would help close the sale. Of course, it ended up being so visually irresistible that people started asking to buy it outright, and Bulova soon realized that it had a hit on its hands.”

The radical design of those original “demonstrator” Spaceview models transformed the watch into a technological object and helped pave the way for a new appreciation of timekeeping. That legacy resonates today in Accutron’s contemporary collections, chiefly the Spaceview 2020 and the Accutron DNA, whose elegantly open-worked dials pay homage to Accutron’s design history.

When creating the Accutron DNA, for example, the design team followed in the footsteps of its mid-century predecessors and let the movement guide their decision-making. Working from the inside out, they devised a minimalist, modernist ode to contemporary watchmaking. They also placed the watch on an integrated rubber strap, lending it a sporty yet refined sensibility.

Forster writes compellingly about how the 2020 electrostatic movement is both a celebration of Accutron’s past and a stunning ode to its present and future:

“If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool vintage Spaceview or vintage Accutron fan, you’re going to feel for a moment as if you’re looking at a 1960s-era Spaceview come to life—the colors, shapes and above all the gliding movement of the seconds hand (as well as the white-on-green contrast of the hands with the movement) are all immediately and irresistibly reminiscent of the heady days of the early 1960s, when to have an Accutron Spaceview on your wrist was to have the ultimate wristwatch bragging rights."

Spaceview 2020 and Accutron DNA

None of the above, however, should discourage fans nostalgic for Accutron’s 1960s and '70s heyday, for whom the brand has introduced the modern-day Legacy Collection. From the Date and Day “Q” timepiece, a reimagining of the 1971 original that retains its distinctive flying saucer-like shape, to a 21st-century redux of Accutron’s popular 261 watches, also known as “TV watches” because their cushion-shaped cases and domed crystals resembled the space-age look of the era’s television sets, the styles in the Legacy Collection are sleek remakes of Accutron’s most memorable timepieces. And with each model limited to 600 individually numbered pieces, they are the epitome of exclusivity.

The Legacy Collection

At the Forefront of the Cultural Conversation

Accutron billboard in Times Square, New York - 1963

Since its debut in 1960, Accutron has been a symbol of change, beloved by iconoclasts and risk-takers seeking a watch not only boasting technical prowess, but, even more importantly, a distinctive point of view.
The brand conveyed that point of view throughout the 1960s and '70s in boundary-breaking ads that touched on everything from gender equality to the then-nascent notion of wristwatches as bonafide collectibles. In 1971, for example, the company ran an ad featuring a close-up of a woman's face with her Accutron-clad wrist in the foreground, accompanied by the words: "Our New Accutron Watch: Equal Time for Women." Three years later, it doubled down on that message in an ad depicting the entwined hands of a man and woman, each accessorized with an Accutron. The copy consisted of four simple but powerful words: "Equal Pay. Equal Time."

Print ad 1971

Print ad 1974

Accutron's cultural relevance was such that the producers of AMC's hit series Mad Men featured the brand in the premiere episode of the series' final season in 2014. The episode, set in 1969, opens with Freddy channeling Don Draper when he pitches the slick and sexy slogan: "Accutron—It's Not a Timepiece, It's a Conversation Piece."
In a perfect example of life imitating art, those words now appear in the current marketing tagline.
For proof that Accutron is serious about its conversations, look no further than the Accutron Show podcast, which premiered on July 27, 2020. Helmed by a trio of hosts—entertainment reporter Bill McCuddy, journalist David Graver (Cool Hunting, New York Times, Vogue) and editor Scott Alexander (GQ, Playboy)—the podcast explores lifestyle topics that are guaranteed to pique the interest of anyone fascinated with the good life, including (but not limited to) cool cars, sneaker culture, art curation, winemaking history and human-centric design.

Listen to the podcast >

Daniel Boulud / Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri / Rod Lurie / Susan Rockefeller / Jean-Claude Biver

A testament to Accutron's enduring significance is the fact that the guests who've appeared on the show—including Chef Daniel Boulud; celebrity photographer, filmmaker, and social justice advocate Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri; director and screenwriter Rod Lurie; conservationist Susan Rockfeller and Jean-Claude Biver, aka "the godfather of Swiss watchmaking"—are luminaries in their respective fields.

A View from Tomorrow

As Accutron looks ahead to the coming decade and beyond, one thing is certain: The brand will continue to make good on its legacy of innovation, in both watchmaking and design, using its history as a thought leader to inspire new takes on timekeeping sure to enthrall future generations of watch lovers. Now, then and always, you can count on Accutron to be the talk of the town.

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