Bulova’s Accutron – like the 1973 example here – was a watch and radically new technology at the same time; when the first Accutron tuning fork watches were released in 1960, it revolutionized the watchmaking profession. Accutron watches were not quartz watches, which remained a decade away, but rather, electric.
The Accutron watch was unlike any other wristwatch at the time, as it did away with the conventional balance and balance spring used by more inferior predecessor electric watches, which oscillated at the same rate as a mechanical watch and could not in principle produce consistently better accuracy than a standard mechanical watch. It went on to claim fame as the first electric watch to achieve widespread success.
The Accutron has no balance or balance spring. Instead, it uses a tuning fork oscillator, driven by a transistor-controlled circuit. The Accutron's tuning fork vibrates at 360 Hz and attached to one limb of the fork is a minute pawl tipped with a nearly invisible ruby jewel. As the tuning fork vibrates the pawl moves back and forth and this drives an index wheel with 360 miniaturized teeth, invisible to the naked eye. The high frequency meant Accutron movements offered unprecedented reliability, and its reliance on electric power with no requirement for a mainspring made it highly suitable for use in aerospace applications.
Accutron’s electric tuning fork mechanism was seen as revolutionary technology, and it found wide acceptance within astronautics and aeronautics. This notably included in the cockpit of the fastest plane ever made, Lockheed’s A-12 spy plane. The A-12, while highly similar in appearance to the SR-71 Blackbird, was the latter’s immediate predecessor. Like the Blackbird, the A-12 was made by Lockheed's famous Skunk Works division, which handled classified aircraft development programs for the U.S. military, and U.S. intelligence agencies.
This led to the adoption of Accutron movements as cockpit instrument panel timers for manned space flight in the U.S.’s Gemini and Apollo programs – and also made them highly suitable for use in the cockpit of the A-12.
Another well-known user of the Accutron were pilots in the hypersonic X-15 rocket plane program, which were launched from under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress at high altitude and flew at speeds of up to 4,500 mph. Many X-15 pilots qualified for astronaut's wings as they flew high enough to have been considered to have reached the fringes of space.
Regardless, the A-12 and its sister, the SR-71 Blackbird, set speed records that remain unbroken to the present, leaving both aircraft the fastest ever built, despite being based on designs from the late 1950s. Likewise, the Accutron as a mechanism was an ingenious example of how far mechanical timekeeping can be taken. The Accutron remains a fascinating instance of a revolutionary period in watchmaking.
This Bulova comes with a stainless-steel mesh strap, nylon NATO strap, Pelican travel case, and springbar tool.
1973 Bulova Accutron 214 Electric Watch
DIAL: Original Bulova-signed silver dial and hands; dial lume shines.
CASE: Original 37mm x 40.5mm stainless steel case, with original caseback.
CRYSTAL: Original crystal, no scratches.
BAND: This Accutron features an 18mm stainless-steel fine meshn bracelet, which nicely compliments its vintage nature. It also comes with a nylon dark blue, white, and green NATO strap.
MOVEMENT: Original Bulova Accutron 214 tuning fork movement, which vibrates at 360 Hz and uses a button-cell battery.
CROWN: Original Bulova tuning fork-signed stainless-steel crown.