The Art of Craft: How Accutron Evolved From Keeping Time for NASA to Connecting With Watch Collectors Across Generations
Once part of Bulova, Accutron has been reborn as a standalone watch brand.
Even in name, Accutron—which stands for “ACCUracy through elecTRONics”—is more than the sum of its parts. Introduced 61 years ago by the manufacturer Bulova as the world’s first electronic timepiece and re-launched in 2020 as a standalone brand, it has had a pioneering impact that goes well beyond watches. And that’s saying a lot, considering that Accutron invented the world’s most precise timekeeping mechanism in 1960.
Functioning with a tuning fork—a device that was until then mostly used in music, splitting each second into 360 components and producing a hum instead of a tick—its technology played a key role in the U.S. space program. In the late 1950s and into the ’60s, Accutron accompanied 46 NASA missions; Apollo astronauts even placed its timers on the moon.
Back on Earth, the company created the first certified watch for North American railroad staff in 1962 (its precision helped ensure punctual trains). But its styles didn’t just help propel American industry—they are a reflection of American culture, too. To wit: In the early ’70s, as television sets became ubiquitous in living rooms across the country, Accutron’s “TV Watches” became as covetable as the tubes that shaped them.
Today, both Accutron and the broader culture are in revival mode. Amid the current Golden Age of Television, the brand has re-introduced its retro “TV Watches,” which are now unisex, with exaggerated domed sapphire crystals.
They’re part of a new Legacy Collection that has been modernizing old styles, all selected by Accutron collectors, in limited editions. Updated with Accutron’s Swiss-made, 26-jewel movement, much of the collection is customizable, with straps ranging from orange calfskin to periwinkle alligator grain.
Other revived styles include the R.R.-0, inspired by the aforementioned railroad watch (complete with the original red second hand for accurate monitoring). Meanwhile, the Spaceview 2020 is a unique riff on its 1960 namesake.
An avant-garde masterpiece with a deconstructed, open-dial design that puts the tuning fork on full display, the Spaceview was and still is the brand’s most iconic style. (It also feels particularly apropos at a moment when space travel has become luxury’s latest frontier.)
While the new edition has the same signature green accents as the original, it is powered in an unprecedented way: with electrostatic energy created by twin turbines that rotate via human motion. It’s another world-first, resulting from a decade’s worth of research and development.
“The brand was founded on innovation,” says Jeffrey Cohen, president of Citizen Watch America (CWA), the company that oversaw Accutron’s relaunch. “The vision was to stay true to that DNA, but not only from a design and technological perspective. Nowadays, no one needs a watch to tell time—they have it on their smartphone. It’s more than that.”
Born one year after Accutron was originally founded, Cohen has been collecting watches ever since he graduated from high school, and regularly sports a pre-production Spaceview 2020 model. “People ask me all the time, ‘What is that?'” he says. “I’ve run a lot of watch companies [and have] a lot of watches, but Accutron is something that’s unique to the industry.”
He notes its forward-thinking advertisements—like a 1974 Accutron ad for its men’s and then-new women’s watches that stated, “Equal Pay, Equal Time.” More recently, Don Draper pitched a tagline for the company in an episode of Mad Men—“Accutron, it’s not a timepiece, it’s a conversation piece.” As Cohen notes, “We didn’t pay for that. That was organic.”
While under the Bulova umbrella, Accutron was a name that if you knew, you knew. It was a favorite of pop stars, sports stars, and astronauts (even off-duty ones). According to the Artnet Price Database, 139 watches by the brand have hit the auction block over the years—including baseball legend Joe DiMaggio’s ca.-1970 model, which sold for $20,625 in 2013.
These days, standing alone and at more accessible price point than CWA’s other luxury brands (such as Alpina, Frederique Constant, Ateliers deMonaco), whose watches command up to half a million dollars, Accutron is also attracting a new generation of collectors who are getting to know it by way of their elders (and also, perhaps, through the new Accutron Show podcast—another first in the watch world).
“We see so many new things that have cute branding and events and influencer marketing, aestheticized to the point [of being] watered-down,” says Brynn Wallner, creator of the popular Dimepiece blog and author of a Harper’s Bazaar column that explores watch collecting from her perspective as a pop culture-savvy Millennial. “With Accutron, what’s interesting is the history, and the fact that it’s been around for so long and broke the mold. When I’m introduced to a brand that’s as old as my parents, with actual heritage—I want to know more.”
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