Accurate to a TBy Bhanu Chopra
When you are talking about an industry as old as clockmaking, it’s quite difficult to completely revolutionize the foundations it is built upon. Accutron, however, did just that in 1960 when it introduced the world’s first fully electronic watch with a tuning fork that vibrated at 360 hertz and that was accurate to within two seconds a day. While mechanical watchmaking then was still in high demand, the accuracy and ease of use provided by electronic watches shifted consumer demand and shook the very core of the horological world.
In 1962, Bulova introduced the Accutron Astronaut, based on the 214 movement that had a second time zone hour hand and hacking function, and a 24-hour rotating bezel. It was the only watch in the Accutron series that was based on the 214HN caliber, widely regarded by collectors to be the ultimate Accutron movement. Operationally, the second hour hand could not be set independently of the other hands, but instead relied on the owner turning the outer bezel to set the correct second time zone time.
The electronic capabilities freed Bulova from the need for a mainspring and extended the reach of Accutron beyond this world. As its ties with the NASA program strengthened, Bulova/Accutron would go on to contribute to 46 space missions. Accutron movements were used in the cockpit instrument panels of satellite missions due to their advanced tuning fork technology.
The Accutron Astronaut was worn for the first time in space in 1963 during the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission. Astronaut Gordon Cooper was the pilot of the mission’s spacecraft, Faith 7, which completed 22 orbits around the Earth. Towards the end of his spaceflight, Cooper’s spacecraft encountered a series of mission-threatening technical problems. He would later credit the Accutron chronometer with helping to save his life, revealing that he had used his wristwatch to accurately time Faith 7’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Due to the high frequency (360Hz) of the tuning fork movement, the Accutron Astronaut could withstand high-g acceleration and extreme temperatures with unprecedented accuracy. This made it an ideal choice for the U.S. Air Force, which officially issued the Astronaut watch to pilots of the supersonic A-12 and hypersonic X-15 aircraft.
Lockheed’s A-12 aircraft, developed for CIA missions, traveled at three times the speed of sound. This was the first stealth airplane that could fly over 2,000 miles per hour and reach an altitude of 95,000 feet. The USAF X-15 experimental rocket powered aircraft flew at speeds of up to 4,520 miles per hour and could reach an altitude of over 250,000 feet. This qualified most of the pilots for astronaut wings since they met the criteria of a spaceflight. To this day, X-15 holds the record for the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed, powered aircraft.
In 1968, the Accutron Astronaut “T” model found its way into the hearts of consumers with its distinctive bicolored day and night bezel.
Accutron Astronaut GMT Limited Edition
Today, Accutron has taken the design cues from its popular 1968 “T” version to present the Accutron Astronaut GMT mechanical watch. Fully Swiss made, the new timepiece is a tribute to the history of the brand with NASA space missions, harking back to the early watches that cemented the watches’ reputation for reliability and precision.
While the original Accutron Astronaut had a 38mm case, the current model features a slightly larger 41mm stainless steel case with a partial exhibition caseback. The bezel includes a distinctive day and night delineation with half the bezel, from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., in white and the other half in black. The black dial has high contrast indexes and a generous application of Super-LumiNova for low-light visibility.
The modern Astronaut is powered by an automatic Sellita SW330 GMT movement which features a standard GMT with quick-set capabilities and a second time zone indicated by a centrally located GMT hand. The bezel can also be used for a second, or even a third time zone. The new timepiece is limited to 300 pieces and is paired with a coordinated stainless steel “bullet” style bracelet.
The bracelet is based on the iconic 1964 JB Champion ‘Bullet-Link’ bracelet. Made for Bulova by J.B. Champion, the “bullet” bracelet complemented the conical lugs of the Astronaut. It featured polished sides that bevel inward and the surface with brushed finish. Vintage Accutrons were known for their quality bracelets.
Tribute to Legacy
Omega’s Speedmaster Professional is well known as the Moonwatch, but Accutron’s Astronaut has also earned its place in the history of space exploration, having been deployed in space missions as well as experimental hypersonic aircraft. “There is no denying the outstanding history of both Accutron and Bulova with the U.S. Space Program, says Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America. “The significance of the relationship and specifically the tuning fork technology led to the creation of the Accutron brand as the standalone brand it is today.” The vintage Astronaut “T” is a well-regarded timepiece with historical value, and this modern Astronaut GMT Limited Edition is a fitting tribute to the legacy of the space-age watch.
Accutron Astronaut GMT Limited Edition
Movement: Self-winding caliber SW330 GMT; 56-hour power reserve
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and GMT
Case: 41mm; stainless steel; water resistant to 100m
Dial: Black; Super-LumiNova hour markers
Strap: Stainless steel bracelet
Price: USD 3,500
Availability: Limited edition of 300 pieces