Accutron Spaceview 2020 Limited Edition
Sixty years ago, Bulova Accutron, one of the most outstanding achievements in watchmaking, hit the market. The technology, whose name stands for "Accuracy through Electronics," was conceived by Swiss engineer Max Hetzel and supported by the American visionary brand. The outcome was a timepiece so precise to give running precision rate a new meaning. The Bulova Accutron hit the spot for a decade, the technology became popular across different industries, especially in the US, but its lure began to fade when Seiko revealed the Astron in 1970.
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Max Hetzel's idea was simple: in summary, Accutron included two coils powering a tuning fork, whose high-frequency vibrations (360Hz), was turned into rotary motion via a finely engineered kinematic chain. The vibration of the tuning fork is controlled by a transistorized circuit. He thus introduced the first-ever fully electronic wristwatch.
Hetzel succeeded where Breguet had failed before while trying to apply the same principle to a mechanical watch. The outcome was a movement so precise to ensure a sixty-seconds-per-month accuracy.
Not only was it a landmark in watchmaking, but a Bulova Accutron watch also guaranteed proven reliability and serviceability back then. Today, there are plenty of product references around; Accutron is among the top-discussed topics, and the online market for Bulova Accutron wrist watches is hot. Sixty years in the making (unveil: October 25, 1960), Accutron still holds many records, including the so-called index wheel, a micro-mechanics marvel featuring a 2,4mm diameter, and 320 teeth measuring just 10 microns each, in depth. The latter proves how ambitious and stunningly engineered the original design was.
Bulova's tuning fork technology has extended its supremacy to foster space exploration, too, by consistently supporting NASA in their endeavor to bring a man on the moon with the Apollo space missions. If an Omega Speedmaster is the first watch worn on the moon and the only one approved by NASA for all human-crewed space missions, an Accutron timer was among the spacecraft's main instruments on the dashboard panel during the Apollo 11 mission, and beyond.
Also, an Accutron clock was standard equipment on board President Lyndon B. Johnson's Air Force One (photo above) and, yet again, an Accutron helped explorer Andrew Humphryes add 3000 square miles to Greenland's size. We will discuss Accutron's history and milestones in a separate chapter; however, such a legacy proves that designers and engineers were assigned a challenging task when asked to conceive the Accutron Spaceview 2020. The stakes were high.
With the reveal of the Accutron Spaceview 2020, the Citizen Group has spun off Bulova from Accutron while adding a new brand to its product portfolio. The launching offering includes a new proprietary technology flagship collection, alongside Swiss-made powered and vintage-inspired timepieces. Both will come in limited quantities per year. The brand's motto, "It's not a timepiece. It's a conversation piece," is a nod to the brand's visionary approach to watchmaking, that of developing breakthrough technologies and ultra-precise timekeeping to extend their influence outside the watchmaking community. I couldn't experience the Accutron age; what I have learned so far comes from my father's late evening stories. He was so blessed to have experienced the transition from analog to all things digital back then.
To me, the Citizen Group had two options: to rewind; that's what happened with the beautiful and quite sought-after Spaceview 50 Anniversary released in 2010, or reload while holding to the original storytelling. They've gone for option two, which is equally challenging and far more expensive, but it's reasonable from a mission statement point of view. The Accutron Spaceview 2020 electrostatic technology development began in 2010; being part of such a big and technologically advanced watchmaking group as the Citizen Watch Co. is, helped make the dream work.
As stated above, engineers replaced previous electromagnetic technology with electrostatic one whose operating principle is, on paper, simple. The movement, patented by Accutron, is powered by electrostatic energy created by the body's movement. Such energy, transformed by two turbines rotating at high speeds (hence featuring low inertia) between two electrodes applied to the movement itself, is stored in an accumulator. The accumulator powers two motors: the first-ever electrostatic motor powers the second hand allowing it to flow with a glide motion; the second one powers the hour and minute hands instead. Both motors are synchronized via integrated circuits to provide an accuracy of +/- 5 seconds per month. The working principle is straightforward, yet miniaturization (along with sturdiness and reliability requirements) was the most significant constraint.
From a product concept standpoint, technicians and designers gave the new Spaceview an original Accutron feel. I think they were (partially) successful: they preserved the green looking skeletonized bridges and, most significantly, the hallmark central seconds glide motion, the difference being there's no humming any longer. The new Accutron Spaceview first deserved my attention during Baselworld 2019. Back then, a concept watch standing amidst plenty of cabinets displaying vintage Accutron watches was announcing something utterly new in the industry. However, the stock Accutron Spaceview 2020 is slightly different from that concept watch. If we exclude Hodinkee officially and exclusively covering the forthcoming new Accutron Spaceview, this piece of news didn' hit any headlines until this year's September product release. It is something I hardly understand, considering what kind of breakthroughs are the new brand and products altogether.
To date, the Accutron Spaceview 2020's new electrostatic movement joins Seiko's Spring Drive technology in offering the second's hand's glide motion, along with a never-seen-before technology, at least on a wristwatch. Such an innovative technology required state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and highly skilled watchmakers; they assemble each movement by hand inside a cleanroom located inside a cleanroom.
As refined as it gets, the Accutron Spaceview 2020's everyday experience is familiar to any standard mechanical timepiece while providing a few useful functions to save energy, like the "Power save function" and the "Energy conserving function." The former stops the second's hand at twelve; the latter engages once the former has been active for ten days, stopping the hour and minute hands. The brand offers a five-year warranty to provide peace of mind to those who're not early adopters too.
Comparing an Accutron Spaceview 214 with an Accutron Spaceview 2020 is the wrong approach; they're so different from each other. The new one is impressive, coming in at 43,5mm in diameter and 15,9mm in thickness. It is a big watch indeed, something the brand's engineers should consider when developing future generations. On a personal level, the Accutron Spaceview 2020 resembles an HYT from afar, while the three-turbine layout feels like some modern mechanical skeleton or double tourbillon watches.
Whatever your feelings and inspiration, I feel the Accutron Spaceview 2020 is halfway between a unique and sometimes odd-looking wristwatch and a luxury sci-fi accessory. It is as distinctive as it is hard to classify.
As an "early adopter" and an Accutron fan, I placed my order soon, and I still believe this project deserves far more attention from the watchmaking community. Conversely, I don't think it'll be as culturally relevant as its forerunner was in the sixties. The De Luxe Edition you see pictured here retails for 3,600 Euros and comes as a single run of 300 pieces. It seems they're all gone unless you're ready to pay a markup to get yours. The Limited Edition package includes a watch box in wood and the Assouline produced "From the Space Age to the Digital Age" premium collector's book, uncovering inside stories of either the original Accutron and the Accutron Spaceview 2020.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Accutron, Marco Antinori for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®