On 25 October 1960, NYC-based brand Bulova unveiled the immediately iconic Accutron watch: an innovative timepiece that disrupted three centuries of watchmaking as the world’s first fully electric watch. Inside, a first-of-its-kind electronic movement used the vibrations of a tuning fork for precision. This component—which was markedly different from the mechanical alternatives that came before it and Quartz items after it—provided an accurate, future-forward power source.
To convey the spirit of this groundbreaking technology (which would find its way into the US space program) Accutron’s designs evolved beyond simple shapes and employed stylish, unexpected alternatives. In fact, Accutron’s designs were as iconic as the technology it shielded.
In 2020, Accutron returned as a standalone brand and many of their heritage models also came back to dazzle a whole new generation. More than a nostalgic reissue, the revival is a design lesson on retro-futurism that resonates with a different, younger audience. Further, the flagship model, Spaceview 2020, is powered by electrostatic energy, another technical innovation done first by Accutron. Sixty years after its arrival, Accutron remains a sophisticated pioneer in technology and design.
Accutron was not then, and is not now, just the Spaceview. In fact, the current Accutron DNA collection (which draws inspiration from the original Spaceview’s architecture) and the Accutron Legacy line (which includes other retro-inspired design developments, but with Swiss movements) demonstrate the breadth and depth of the portfolio. Many of the watches that inspired pieces in the Legacy line had iconic pop culture moments themselves—from their placement on the likes of Elvis Presley to their position in milestone print ads in 1974 demanding equal pay for women.
That said, the original Spaceview is among the rarefied class of instantly recognizable luxury watches. Its design origin also happens to be serendipitous. Following the 1960 launch, samples of Accutron were sent without dials so that retailers could see the technology at work inside. The retailers loved observing the electronic components within so much that they requested an exposed-face version of the watch to sell to their customers. Bulova listened—and produced a “demonstrator” model under the name Spaceview, which would go on to shatter expectations. An evolution of this Spaceview led to a case shape that would culminate in 1975’s tuning-fork-inspired case.
“Accutron was relaunched with the world’s first electrostatic energy movement in a timepiece. This unique proprietary technology could only be introduced with a luxury positioning, which warranted a stand alone brand within a different distribution channel than Bulova,” says Jeffrey Cohen, President at Citizen Watch Co of America.
“We have a museum in our Empire State Building offices,” Cohen continues, “and our historian and internal team worked with collectors who are passionate about the brand to select the best Accutron designs to relaunch. The styles selected to launch the Legacy collection all have a unique and fascinating story.”
Designers and engineers worked hand-in-hand to transform the past into the present for the new Spaceview and translate the cutting-edge technology into visual delight. In fact, the new electrostatic movement was designed to be seen—and the open dial shows that the inner workings of the movement are inspired by the original Spaceview that showcased the tuning fork. One can see that, with this new movement, three large turbines are the main elements. Thus, the dial design was updated with them as focal points. Further, each turbine is accented by a three-pointed bridge above it, drawing wearers’ attention to their motion.
As for the Accutron Legacy designs, they capture the beauty of the original Accutron timepieces from the ’60s and ’70s, which were known for unique cases, with bold lugs and asymmetrical shapes. Many of these elements have made their way into Accutron’s updated collection. For example, the 521 watch, owned by Elvis Presley, is characterized by its skewed rectangular shape and mismatched lugs. Also common to many of the designs are double domed sapphire crystals that best showcase the beauty and details of the dials and hands. The dials and hands are curved as well to minimize clearances between these components.
“I have all of the original pieces in my collection from the Legacy line but the new ones feel more relevant now,” says collector Richard Callamaras. “In size, weight and movement. Whereas the Accutron DNA collection understands the past and innovates the lines and flow of several iconic cases into one cohesive design. Juxtaposing that extreme modernism in design with organic rubber straps, and dropping a movement that pays homage to both, is wonderful.”
“How does it work, what purpose does this movement serve and why am I excited about what I’m seeing?” Callamaras continues. “The new electrostatic movement begs these questions…. as did the tuning fork, and as did the mechanical movement to those who first saw those technologies. With Accutron, it seems that every piece has purpose in design form and function. Every screw, train, bridge and motor need to stand alone and simultaneously together with all of the other components as did the tuning fork. In short: It was made with the same passion and delivers the same emotions!”
Accutron has always been more than just a watch brand; it extends to broader popular culture and represents a lifestyle. To support their relaunch, Accutron collaborated with several brands of equal stature for premier product launches. From a shimmering, space-age Esterbrook Pen to a single barrel craft rye release by Hudson Whiskey and the handsome hardcover book Accutron: From The Space Age to The Digital Age published by Assouline, these partnerships underscore Accutron’s story. Further, the brand’s The Accutron Show podcast continues to explore stories of innovation in America.
Last year, Accutron released an even more luxuriant 60th anniversary watch, limited to 60 timepieces, in 18k gold. This year also sees an expansion to the Spaceview 2020 collection with two new models that affirm the brand’s advanced design position. Featuring ethically sourced American alligator straps in either matte green or bright orange, the watches present an even bolder personality.
Accutron stands for accuracy through electronics, but the brand symbolizes more than that. As the seminal TV program Mad Men told us, “It’s not a timepiece. It’s a conversation piece.” From the lifestyle collaborations to the Legacy collection, the Spaceview expansion to a continuation of the heritage, Accutron is positioned among the watch greats—and rightfully so.
Hero image of Spaceview 2020 with bright orange genuine American alligator strap, by Chris Coe