The original Bulova Accutron, introduced in 1960 with a revolutionary tuning fork-driven movement was the first truly electronic wristwatch, eclipsing Hamilton’s 1957 electromechanical wristwatch and setting the bar for true accuracy several years before the quartz watch made them all obsolete.
Quartz watches, which are more accurate and much less costly to produce, came to dominate the market, resulting in the Accutron brand dropping the tuning fork movement around 1977 and jumping on the quartz bandwagon. All this did was dilute the brand equity of the Accutron name, which wandered on without a true sense of identity for the next few decades. Once the unique movement was dropped, there just wasn’t anything to differentiate a quartz-powered Accutron from the scores of other quartz watches on the market and the Accutron name became little more than just that.
Bulova made a genuine attempt at reintroducing the line in the 1980′s as a high quality, Swiss-made arm of the Bulova family, featuring quartz watches in superbly crafted cases and these enjoyed some success. When mechanical watches became associated again with luxury, Accutron added Swiss automatic and manual winding movements, creating fine watches to be sure, but the irony of having such a movement in a watch whose name first signaled a break from the traditional was not lost on watch collectors at all. Accutron originally stood for “Accuracy through Electronics”, meant as the watch to replace the mechanical movement watch.
In 2010, Bulova introduced the Precisionist line of wristwatches, featuring a new kind of quartz movement that was far more accurate than the traditional kind and which featured, for the first time, a smoothly sweeping second-hand. It harkened back to the appeal of the original Accutron with its unique movement beating so fast that the second-hand appeared to glide like a satellite in orbit, but in the end, it wasn’t called “Accutron”.
Purists like myself felt all along that Bulova should have used this new movement to reintroduce the Accutron line of watches rather than forge ahead with building a new line from the ground up. Instead of the classic good looks of the original Accutron watches, Precisionist buyers were met with a mostly-odd assortment of overwrought case designs, gargantuan in size, limited in choices. In the years since, only a few new Precisionist models have been introduced annually. Apparently Bulova decided to make some changes and while not killing the Precisionist line, Bulova has instead decided to take a new approach and has made some restructuring changes in their upper lineup of watches.
First of all, the top-of-the-line Bulova, previously known as the Accutron, which is now the Swiss-made arm of Bulova has changed its name to Bulova AccuSwiss. Ok, so it’s not exactly a game changing name that engages the chronometric hormones of watch envy or anything but it does free the Accutron name from the bonds of being only Swiss and allows Bulova to do other things with it….like maybe pop a modified Precisionist movement (which is made by parent company Citizen in Japan) into a vintage-inspired, successful design of the past and call it the Accutron II. That is just what they did and suddenly Accutron is back again.
The new Bulova Accutron II was introduced this past week at BaselWorld, the annual watch and jewelry fair held in Basel, Switzerland. Drawing from the first Accutron introduced in 1960, the case design, known as the “Alpha” (maybe because it was first?) very closely follows the characteristics of the original with its shield-shaped case and lugs. Where it differs though is that this one looks much more like the limited edition Accutron that Bulova built for the watch’s 50th anniversary. You know, the one that had a real tuning fork movement and cost between $4000 and $5000 USD. Way out of most people’s price range for a Bulova, no matter how limited the run.
Such is not the case with this new Accutron watch. The new model, which as I mentioned is driven by a modified Precisionist movement, is intended to retail for between $399 and $599 and comes in a variety of metal colors and straps. The entry-level model is the stainless steel “Alpha”, which features a “Spaceview” dial that allows the wearer to see the movement. Admittedly, the new movement is not nearly as detailed looking as the original tuning fork movement was but anyone that knows watches will know this for what it is: a Spaceview, reborn for the 21st. century.
The watch features a recessed and hidden crown for setting the watch, which is also in keeping with the original, although the crown is on the side of the new one instead of the back like the original. That’s quite alright, as the original was known to have problems with water leaking in the area where the setting crown connected with the back of the watch case. The new Alpha also appears to have a generous amount of luminous material on the hands and dial, hands which look identical to those found on many original Spaceviews. A black leather strap embossed with an alligator pattern completes the package.
Other configurations include a gold-plated model with a brown leather strap, a rose gold-plated model with a white leather strap and a black PVD cased model with a black mesh bracelet. The black metal model is anticipated to be the priciest version at a few hundred dollars more.
All in all, the new Bulova Accutron II promises many things. It has the vintage appeal of the 1960′s era Accutron coupled with the most modern quartz movement available. While it may not be a tuning fork Accutron, the modified Precisionist movement is the legitimate genetic successor to the original movement and promises a smoothly sweeping second-hand that glides effortlessly. It may not hum with the vibration of the tuning fork but those with good ears will likely be able to listen in a quiet room as the little stepping motor purrs rather than ticks. More than this, the reliability factor will be increased considerably. According to sources, the modifications that were required will make this movement slightly less accurate than a Precisionist but still six times more accurate than a conventional quartz watch. That is still far more accuracy than can be attained with any mechanical watch.
While there are many original Accutron watches still out there working every day, they are getting harder and harder to fix when damaged, as parts become increasingly scarce and Accutron expert repairers become fewer. Those who still wear them have to take extra care and precaution that the tiny transistorized electrical movement is not damaged from the rigors of day-to-day wear. For those who love their original Accutron watches, the new Accutron II promises to be a much more robust watch that is more suitable for everyday wear. Plus, they are just plain cool.
Look for them in stores later this year.