How the Bulova Accutron Changed Watches Forever


Joseph Bulova was 23 when he opened his first jewelry shop in 1875 in New York City. By 1911, he was making table clocks and pocket watches. Since they were such a novelty at the time, they sold quickly. A year later, he decided to increase production and moved his factory to Switzerland. Women’s watches were introduced in 1917. When World War I swept across the world, people began seeing how handy wristwatches were compared to pocket watches. According to Bulova’s website, the company was not known as Bulova Watches until 1923. They began to work towards a precedent-setting measure, ensuring all watch parts were made the same. Precision was a key reason Bulova wanted this to happen because he understood how crucial this was to the high quality of his watches.

During president Calvin Coolidge’s term, the company’s watches made it to the White House when the President presented Stanley “Bucky” Harris to win the world series. This inspired Bulova to design a new look called President to honor this occasion. Throughout the company’s history, they had many more historical moments. In fact, Bulova was the country’s first radio commercial. Joseph’s son Arde offered a thousand dollars a prize to the person who could fly across the Atlantic. After Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris, Bulova created a line of watches known as the Lone Eagle with pictures of the famous aviator. Over the quarter century, the company made many changes and continually pursued perfection in the watchmaking craft. Bulova became the first company to manufacture a clock radio and also the first to produce electric clocks. Not only were they first in many innovations, but they also paved the way for advertising. After releasing the country’s first radio commercial, Bulova did the same thing with the first television commercial in 1941. During World War II, a quarter of their income was invested in War Bonds and Stamps. Then, in 1951, they began developing the watch that would change watches forever.

Making History

The term Accutron stands for accuracy through electronics. Bulova’s watch was the first to use a tuning fork, which had only been used in music. According to Watchonista, Max Hetzel, a Swiss engineer, developed the technology to make Bulova famous in 1950. Since the company had seen an ill-fated attempt when the Elgin Watch Company tried something similar, they wanted to bring watches to the next level and allow people to have greater accuracy with their timepieces. According to The Watch Company, it took Hetzel less than a month to study the watch and find where improvements could be made. His idea was to use a transistor to help the movement of the eye. Then, he added the tuning fork between the transistors to further improve accuracy. A patent was issued on June 19, 1953, and the first prototype was finished a year later. William O. Bennet, an American engineer, added to the technology in 1954 when he developed the Caliber 214, which had the first tuning fork movement. This also provided shock protection for the watch. There were several other things that Accutron helped usher in for the watch industry. Previous models of watches had second hands which got stuck and had a huger jump forward. Additionally, there was a noticeable tick on models before the Accutron because they needed to be wound.

Cleared for liftoff

Until the Accutron, there hadn’t been any advancements in the watchmaking industry since 1657, when Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens created the first pendulum clock. Bulova’s Accutron was the first electronic watch carrying a guarantee of being only two seconds off the correct time. On October 10, 1960, General Omar Bradley, former chief of staff for President Eisenhower, was the first to introduce the watch to the public. Two years earlier, it was used for the Vanguard project, which sent satellites into space. In 1961, retailers who sold the watch dubbed it Spaceview since it didn’t have dials and instead showcased the revolutionary movement. The nickname was a harbinger for things to come for Bulova. In 1963, an Accutron saved Gordon Cooper’s life during an electric incident. The chronometer function allowed him to determine the time to start the engines, allowing him to return safely. NASA asked the company to add an Accutron to its computers. Since then, these watches have been an essential part of almost 50 different missions. Part of the equipment placed on the moon by Apollo 11 was the Accutron movement. There’s a second piece of the watch in a vehicle that was abandoned in the Sea of Tranquility. When quartz watches became available in 1969, the tuning fork technology Bulova pioneered became obsolete. However, the company decided to create an Accutron with quartz movement in 1976. A year later, Accutrons were never made again.

I’ll make you famous

Although many people think the Bulova Accutron was the first company to introduce an electronic watch, it was actually Hamilton in 1957 with its Ventura collection. However, the Accutron had something the other watch didn’t have, the transistor, which was never used on a wristwatch. The Accutron watch was famous because it changed the face of how watches are made. Additionally, it’s had a few additional fifteen minutes of fame when Elvis Presley started sporting the watch. He had a vast collection of watches, including the gold case asymmetrical Accutron. Once, he even gave one to his fans. The TV show MadMen also showcased the watch in an episode. During the seventh season, a copywriter goes through paperwork before addressing the camera and giving his pitch for the Bulova Accutron.

Final thoughts

Clive Owen once said, “jewelry isn’t my thing, but I’ve always got my eye on people’s watches.” The iconic Accutron by Bulova was one that everyone had their eye on during its golden age. Even though it faded with the passage of time and new technology, it blazed the trail for future watch technology. Bulova is a company that enjoyed numerous firsts, and they were undoubtedly the first to bring Acctron technology into the mainstream.

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