In 1960, when Bulova launched Accutron, a retro-futuristic timepiece powered by an inventive, proprietary tuning fork movement, it set the record as the world’s first fully electronic watch. Now a standalone brand infused with history, Accutron continues to teleport legends of its past into its tech-forward future. The latest release, the Accutron Astronaut, is a limited edition revival of a 1962 milestone that commemorates the brand’s relationship in the ’60s with NASA and the US Space program. During the Space Race, these organizations utilized about 2,000 precision instruments and timing devices from Accutron—and the pioneering brand participated in 46 NASA missions. To learn about the reissue, which is made in Switzerland and sports an automatic Sellita SW330 GMT movement, as well as a simultaneous release from sibling brand Bulova (the Lunar Pilot), we spoke with Michael Benavente, the managing director of Bulova and a steward of Accutron’s iconography.
Can you tell us a little bit about why the development of the original Accutron Astronaut was so important and what happened in May 1963?
The Accutron Astronaut watch was worn for the first time in space in May 1963 on mission Mercury-Atlas 9, which orbited the Earth. The watch was ideal for aerospace usage as it was electronic and not relying on your typical mainspring. With its high frequency, it could withstand high G-acceleration and extreme temperatures with unprecedented accuracy. This led the Accutron Astronaut to become the officially issued watch for all pilots of the USAF X-15 experimental rocket-powered aircraft program and was later issued to CIA pilots in the Lockheed A-12 program who traveled at three times the speed of sound.
What is distinct about the 1968 “T” version?
The 1968 “T” Astronaut features the day/night bezel, making it easy to use as a third time zone. The “T” is one of the most collectable and rare of the Astronaut series. Iconic designs and historically significant timepieces are what collectors and enthusiasts were asking for. Accutron is deeply connected to this community so we take their feedback into account when introducing new styles. When we relaunched the brand in 2020, the Astronaut was the most requested timepiece as a model we should re-introduce.
Did it have initial commercial success? If so, why do you think that was?
It was the perfect storm for this watch. In 1953 Glycine created the Airman watch, which tracked two time zones and the following year Pan Am asked Rolex to create a GMT watch for their pilots. The popularity of this just intensified as did the airline industry. The pilots were rockstars and then the Astronauts came into being and they were true heroes. You knew the name of every person who donned a spacesuit, and this watch was the astronauts’ GMT. This was the most accurate watch in the world and the most significant timepiece being used on moon missions and issued to CIA astronaut pilots.
How was the wristwatch updated for 2023?
The design is the same that we knew the collectors and watch enthusiasts wanted, but the case size was updated from a 38mm to a 41mm. The movement is now a SW330 Automatic movement—while the original Astronaut had the iconic tuning fork movement. The bracelet has also been updated from a three-piece to a five-piece. Everything else has stayed the same as the original.
Why is this limited to 300 pieces? Any chance it will come back as a permanent addition?
The Astronaut is an iconic launch from Accutron and we wanted the first one to be a numbered limited edition that watch enthusiasts could add to their collection. We have limited editions of 600 in the Legacy collection, but wanted to make this one more exclusive so we decided to make it a limited edition of 300.
There were many Astronaut launches throughout the ’60s and ’70s and this re-edition is one of many to come. Stay tuned for additional Astronaut timepieces in the near future.
How important is Accutron’s history with the space program to the spirit of the brand today? And how is this a sibling to the Bulova Lunar Pilot?
On 2 August 1971, Apollo 15’s mission commander, the seventh man to walk on the moon and the first to drive the Lunar Rover, made lunar history while wearing his Bulova chronograph. Crafted specifically for astronomical conditions, the Lunar Pilot watch was used in space to track time, ensuring no one ran out of oxygen, water or battery power in the portable life-support-system backpack. It was also used to back up the on-board timers for the critical reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Accutron was one of the key technologies utilized by the US government and NASA in instrumentation and timepieces for 46 space missions starting in the late ’50s through the early ’60s. Accutron’s historical significance and significant design contributions are the driving force behind the brand. It is very important for us to share this with modern watch collectors. We feel we are uniquely aligned with this new generation of enthusiasts.
Images courtesy of Bulova