Long before the quartz revolution of the Seventies and Eighties, manufacturers were attempting to harness the life-enhancing performance offered by the new sciences of the age and make previously bulky things small enough that you could wear them or stick them in your pocket. It's been half a century since we started to take all that for granted, but a new version of a classic timepiece is bringing that mid-century optimism back this autumn.
See, one of the pioneers of this new thinking in miniaturised electronics was American watchmaker Bulova. In 1960, it was at the forefront of technology that was making tiny gadgets feasible enough to impact the lives of ordinary folk. The New York company’s groundbreaking 1960 Accutron – the first fully electronic watch to reach the market – featured tuning forks that oscillated in response to a small current from a cell. Their consistent and precise oscillation allowed the Accutron to regulate the timekeeping to an accuracy of as little as a second a month, something unthinkable in a mechanical watch then or since. The Accutron was wildly popular and made enough of an impact on the culture in 1960 for HBO’s seventh series of Mad Men (much later) to devote an entire episode to it.
Unsurprisingly, back in the age of the Jetsons and the US-Soviet space race, this state-of-the-art technology was something to be shouted about, and Bulova went out of its way to put much of the inner workings of watches like the Spaceview on show, creating a whole new aesthetic – as well as science – in watches. One of the most surprising things about an Accutron was that the tick of a mechanical movement was replaced with a constant, high-pitched whine, which meant you had to be a pretty heavy sleeper to leave it on your bedside table. To tech nerds of the time, sleepless nights were probably a small price to pay.
Less than two decades later, the global quartz revolution did to Bulova’s tuning fork technology what it did to so much of the watch world – generously, let's say "retired it" – and the Accutron faded from the scene in 1976. But 60 years after the Accutron hit the US market, Citizen (which bough Bulova in 2008) is relaunching Accutron as a standalone brand for the first time. But we’re not talking retro-styled electronics or high-pitched whine here. The new 2020 Accutron Spaceview is a world away from its forebears and carries new groundbreaking microelectronics in the form of turbines, which are akin to automatic watch rotors driven by the movements of the wearer. The electrical energy they create is stored in an accumulator then released to the second hand via an electrostatic motor and to the minute and hour hands via a step motor.
In looks the new Spaceview echoes the skeletal style and green colourations – perhaps they were thinking of little green men back in the day – of the most collectible Accutrons from the Sixties. Plus, you can leave it on the nightstand without disturbing your sleep. Call it a win-win-win.
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