Significant watches through time #1 The Bulova Accutron

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Since the beginning of time (or at least the accurate measurement of it), clocks have been kept running using a balance wheel – a spring for power, an oscillating mass to regulate the movement and some gears (cogs, or ‘wheels’) to connect this all to the hands and to make sense of it.

In 1969 the quartz movement was invented in order to make watches more accurate – accuracy has to do with how fast the critical parts can oscillate and quartz movements move over fifty times faster than mechanical ones.

But there is a different type of movement that’s rarely seen these days but seemed like a genuine option before quartz movements were perfected – Max Hetzel’s tuning fork watch.

Patented in 1953, the tuning fork watch became the Bulova Accutron that you see in the photos above – inside was a tuning fork, a battery for power and just twelve moving parts. Twelve. Nothing that really needed servicing or could ever go wrong surely, and in the age of science fiction it must have genuinely seemed like the future.

Two other key things – when the Accutron’s tuning fork vibrates, it does so so quickly that the movement actually hums from the vibration… and it was so precise that on its release in 1960, Bulova claimed accuracy to a minute a month. For the day that was pretty accurate, especially for a watch that was relatively inexpensive and should need little attention.

The solution wasn’t perfect though, partially because the tuning fork movement could be a touch fragile, and by the end of the 1960’s the quartz watch had taken its place as the only real alternative to a mechanical watch in the new age.

I’m delighted to say that the Bulova company are still very much alive and well and while they mainly make quartz and automatic watches now, they also still make a few different Accutrons complete with the tuning fork movement.

Of the photos above, the first four are of a superb 1970’s Accutron that we had in stock a while ago and the last two are watches from the current range – as you can see they still make the classic design but also some more modern designs too.

Little known but not forgotten, the Bulova Accutron is an important piece of horology’s history of development.

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