Accutron Watches: History and a Comprehensive Guide to the Collection

Accutron Watches: History and a Comprehensive Guide to the Collection

Accutron watches have been around since the 1960s, and yet the brand has become one of the freshest faces in the watch industry in the 2020s, anchored by its combination of uniquely innovative movement technology and a defiantly retro design language. When one considers how ahead of its time the original Accutron watches were — back when they were still called Bulova Accutron, part of that company's sprawling portfolio — their success in the 21st Century under a newly independent Accutron brand should surprise no one. Read on to familiarize yourself with Accutron and its pioneering role in watchmaking, from its early days to its most recent releases on the market now.

Made in America: Bulova History

Joseph Bulova

The history of the Accutron brand begins with the Bulova Watch Company, founded by Bohemian immigrant Joseph Bulova (above) in New York City in 1875. One of the most important historical watch brands with roots in the United States, the company is today part of the Japanese Citizen Group and can look back upon a history littered with milestones: the first full line of ladies’ watches, the first television commercial, some of the earliest wristwatches produced for American troops during World War II, and one of the earliest celebrity watch endorsements — by none other than legendary aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, for its Lone Eagle watch — to name just a few. Throughout this history, Bulova had developed a well-earned reputation for innovating and for adapting to the changing needs of its customers and the evolving trends of the market. In the postwar decades of the 1950s and 1960s, with the dawning of a new technological era of timekeeping, the company put forth some of its most memorable and influential efforts. 

Electronic Age: The First Accutron

Bulova Accutron Spaceview 214

The 1950s were an era of bold experimentation in the science of timekeeping as watch manufacturers began shifting their focus — from the traditional, all-mechanical style of watchmaking that had dominated since the 19th Century, to new inventions that would incorporate the electronic technology that was increasingly finding its way into people’s daily lives. It was Hamilton, an American watchmaker, that led the way with the original Ventura in 1957. That watch’s movement, Caliber 500, used a battery, magnets, and an electronic coil rather than a mainspring to drive the gear train and balance wheel. It was the first battery-powered watch and the first watch to use electric power in its movement. The Ventura, which first gained fame when it was worn by Elvis Presley (below) in his 1961 film Blue Hawaii, remains a staple of Hamilton’s lineup, but its original movement has long been rendered obsolete, replaced by mechanical or quartz-driven counterparts. 

Hamilton Ventura worn by Elvis Presley

Hamilton’s competitor, Bulova, at the time headed by World War II hero General Omar Bradley, who served as Chairman of the Board from 1958 to 1973, upped the ante in 1960. Envisioned by Swiss-born Bulova engineer Max Hetzel, the original Accutron, aka the Accutron Spaceview 214, was the world’s first fully electronic watch — distinguished from Hamilton’s invention by the small but significant fact that the latter incorporated mechanical elements like a balance wheel in addition to the battery’s electrical current to drive the movement. The Accutron, by contrast, ran on a revolutionary new technology that utilized a tiny, 360-Hertz tuning fork, powered by an electronic oscillator, to drive the timekeeping functions rather than a traditional balance wheel.

Bulova Accutron Vintage AdAs detailed in the vintage ad above, The Accutron’s groundbreaking movement, Caliber 214, achieved an oscillation rate of 360 times per second — nearly 150 times faster than that of a mechanical movement — and guaranteed an accuracy to just one minute per month. This unprecedented precision level, distinguished by the telltale humming of the tuning fork in place of the usual ticking, inspired the name Accutron, for “Accuracy through Electronic.” 

Accutron and the U.S. Space Program

Omar Bradley, Chairman of Bulova

Under the leadership of Bradley (above), Bulova’s ties to the United States government and its military branches strengthened, and as the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union gave rise to the so-called Space Race in the 1960s, Bulova played a key role, establishing a decades-long partnership with the recently founded National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

As a NASA partner, Bulova assisted in outfitting numerous space missions with Accutron timekeeping technology, starting in 1958 with the Vanguard 1, the first Earth-orbiting satellite successfully launched since the USSR’s Sputnik 1, and the first equipped with solar electric power. Throughout the missions that followed, culminating in the historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969, all manned NASA spacecraft carried onboard timekeeping devices, including instrument panel clocks, that were driven by Bulova’s Accutron tuning-fork technology, for reasons that were entirely practical: NASA scientists had no idea how mechanical timekeepers would function in the low-gravity conditions the spacecraft would encounter. 

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

As watch history buffs are well aware, it was Switzerland’s Omega, not America’s Bulova, that won the coveted title of First Watch Worn on the Moon, with its Speedmaster Professional, still the only watch officially certified for NASA missions. However, Bulova’s Accutron established its own, arguably even more enduring connection to the moon on that original mission. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the same Apollo 11 crew member who wore that history-making Speedmaster on the lunar surface, also placed an Accutron timer inside the lunar vehicle parked in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility — a large, basaltic plain on the lunar surface, created by ancient asteroid impacts, that was mistaken for an actual body of water by early astronomers who saw it through telescopes. That Accutron clock, which was installed to transmit critical information to the crew remains there to this day. America’s political leadership took notice of the role that Bulova’s timepieces played in the nation’s Space Race victory. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated Bulova Accutron watches as an official Gift of State, and in 1967, Accutron watches were installed on Air Force One, the presidential jet. 


Accutron Astronaut T

Bulova had installed the Spaceview’s tuning-fork technology into the company’s own Astronaut watch in 1962. Designed for the space-travelers it was named for, the Astronaut (modern re-edition pictured above) had a vastly different, more utilitarian look than the Spaceview, with a solid dial, a day-night 24-hour bezel, and a GMT hand to indicate a second time zone (modern re-edition pictured above). When Omega essentially cornered the astronaut market, at least from a government-contract perspective, Bulova shifted its focus to another Cold War demographic, the military aviators (some of them future astronauts) who were test-piloting the era’s new supersonic aircraft rather than journeying into space. The Accutron Astronaut found itself worn in the cockpits of early X-15 supersonic jets and top-secret, experimental spy planes like the CIA’s A-12 Oxcart, a predecessor to the better-known SR-71 Blackbird, which flew clandestine missions over the Soviet Union.

A New Independent Era: Accutron Spaceview 2020

Accutron Spaceview 2020

Despite all of these milestones, the Accutron’s tuning-fork-driven electronic movement would not remain on the cutting edge of  horological technology for long. The arrival of the first quartz watch movements in 1969 — the same year as the moon landing — heralded the end of all the other electronic timekeeping innovations that preceded them. Bulova itself would move much of its Accutron line to quartz movements, retiring the tuning-fork calibers (after experimenting briefly in the ‘70s with a hybrid “Accuquartz” version) in 1980. Accutron, by this point the flagship collection of the vast Bulova portfolio — Bulova even adopted the tuning-fork iconography in its logo — evolved into a collection of high-end quartz watches, still under the parent brand, for several decades hence. 

The event that planted the seeds of Accutron as an independent brand occurred in 2008, when Japan’s Citizen Watch Group acquired Bulova. Citizen, renowned in the watch industry for its signature technological innovation, the light-powered Eco-Drive technology, had already been making movements, quartz as well as mechanical, for Bulova watches since 1960, and Citizen’s horological braintrust adopted, as one of its first long-range initiatives for Bulova, the development of a new Accutron movement for the 21st Century — one that would be just as ingenious and impactful as the original Caliber 214 from 1960. 

Accutron Spaceview 2020 dial CU

The decade-plus of research and development that Citizen and Bulova devoted to the project bore fruit in 2020, with the high-profile launch of the Accutron Spaceview 2020 and its proprietary movement, which was not quartz or mechanical but something entirely new and unprecedented — powered by electrostatic energy generated by the motion of the wearer’s wrist. The movement’s fast-rotating twin turbines are affixed to two electrodes that power two tiny motors — one, an electrostatic motor driving the smooth motion of the seconds hand, the first of its kind to be used in a watch; the other, a step motor for the hour and minute hands — both synchronized through integrated circuits for an accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per month. Capturing the then-radical, retro-cool aesthetic of its 1960s predecessor, the Spaceview 2020 features an openworked dial with metallic green bridges and exposed turbines, giving the watch a high-tech look reminiscent of a vintage circuit board. Aside from the movement, the biggest change from the original Accutron Spaceview, and from almost all Accutron watches that had preceded it to market, was the logo on the dial, which read “Accutron,” rather than “Bulova Accutron,” signaling the payoff of the other long-range plan that Citizen mapped out: the spinning off of Accutron as its own independent brand with its own distribution channels and marketing strategies. 

Accutron Spaceview 2020 Collection - Price: $3,650 - $4,000, Case Size: 43.5mm, Thickness: 15.9mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Accutron Electrostatic

Accutron DNA gold watch

The first Spaceview 2020 made its debut in a 43.5mm stainless steel case with a polished finish, alongside four other new models outfitted with the electrostatic movement, collectively dubbed Accutron DNA. These models are generally distinguished from the core Spaceview by their slightly larger case dimensions (45.1mm); their use of various colors other than the classical metallic green — like blues, grays, and gold tones — for their dial details; and for their use of sportier straps, made of rubber and employing push-button deployant clasps. 

Accutron DNA Collection - Price: $3,500, Case Size: 45mm, Thickness: 15.6mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Accutron Electrostatic

Legacy Collection: Tributes to the Past

Accutron Legacy TV Watch Teal Dial

The re-edition of the flagship Spaceview model in 2020 was just the starting point for the launch of Accutron as a distinct brand. The same year, Accutron initiated its Legacy collection, which revives an array of less renowned but cult-classic Accutron designs from its Bulova days. The Legacy collection models — all limited editions, and all outfitted not with the electrostatic Spaceview caliber but with Swiss-made automatic movements, most of them variations of the ubiquitous, workhorse Sellita SW-200 — were all curated with the assistance of a select group of avid Accutron collectors that Bulova consulted in 2019; most duplicate or closely emulate the original models’ retro case dimensions. The first wave included the 261 “TV Watch” model, with a 38.5mm cushion-shaped case and a teal-colored dial with blocky applied hour markers, which reimagines a watch from 1971; and the 521, a reissue of an earlier model from the 1960s, worn by Elvis Presley, with a period-accurate, unisex rectangular case (32.8mm x 32.5mm) on a steel bracelet with an unorthodox 4 o’clock crown. 

Accutron Legacy RR Watch

One of the most well received of the Legacy collection has been the RR-0, a modern version of a piece made to the specifications of the Canadian Railroad in the 1970s. (Among the Accutron’s many 1960s accolades was its being adopted as the first watch certified for use by railroad workers.) Sized at a modest 34mm, its quirky dial design uses a “0” numeral in place of the “12” on the main hour scale and an unconventional winding crown at 4 o’clock. The black hands, orange seconds hand, and black date window aperture (on a white dial) also make it distinctive among its vintage-inspired siblings.

Accutron Legacy Collection - Price: $1,290 - $1,550, Case Size: 34mm - 38.5mm, Thickness: 11.6mm - 12.9mm, Water Resistance: 30m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Sellita Swiss-made Automatic

Accutron Evolution: Stepping into the Future

Accutron Spaceview Evolution

In 2023, Accutron unveiled the latest generation of the Spaceview series, the aptly named Spaceview Evolution, which literally adds a twist to the existing design. The new model achieves an entirely new and dynamic aesthetic simply by orienting the electrostatic movement 30 degrees counterclockwise, which changes the positions of the telltale turbines, reorients the openworked bridges, now enhanced with a fine knurled finishing, and shifts the winding crown to the 2 o’clock position. Blued and blackened screws add hints of eye-catching contrast to the movement. Both versions of the Evolution (likely the first of many to come) come in 43.5mm polished steel cases, just like their predecessors, and offer one of two colorways, either a smoke-gray openworked dial with silver-tone hands on a matte-black leather strap or a gray-and-silver-tone dial with metallic blue hands on a shiny-finish blue leather strap. 

Accutron Spaceview Evolution Collection - Price: $3,950, Case Size: 43.5mm, Thickness: 15.9mm, Water Resistance: 50m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Accutron Electrostatic

Return of the Astronaut

Accutron Astronaut T Limited Edition

The cult-classic Accutron Astronaut T model, released in 1968 and renowned for its cloak-and-dagger historical associations with CIA flights and covert missions, was resurrected in a limited edition in 2023. The watch’s steel case measures a whopping 47mm in diameter and boasts a water resistance of 100 meters, the highest of the contemporary Accutron line. Its matte black dial features a minute track of luminous-treated applied hour markers along with the model’s distinctive luminous triangles at each half-hour position. The hallmark black-and-white “day-night” bezel can be used in concert with the central, triangle-tipped GMT hand to indicate the time in 24-hour format — a useful feature for an astronaut in space needing to keep track of what time of day it was back on Terra Firma, thus helping to keep track of how many days have passed on the mission. The original Astronaut contained the Caliber 214HN, based on the original Accutron tuning-fork Caliber 214; the modern version, limited to 300 pieces, houses an automatic Sellita caliber instead, partially revealing it behind a half-circle sapphire window in the caseback.

Accutron Astronaut T Limited Edition - Price: $3,500, Case Size: 47mm, Thickness: 13.85mm, Water Resistance: 100m, Crystal: Sapphire, Movement: Automatic Sellita SW330

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