Accutron and Bulova have parted ways and, to start a new era, the Accutron Spaceview 2020 & DNA mark a new solution to the high-end quartz movement. So, the future of quartz watches or an overpriced gimmick?
When writing about watches, there’s often a lot to repeat. With similar or identical movements, the same materials and comparable designs, most brands tend to stick to a fairly conventional formula. Consequently, when something different arrives it is all the more exciting. This is very much the case with the new Accutron Space View DNA & 2020 models.
Before delving into this new solution to a quartz movement, a few important points need to be explained. When originally launched in 1960, the Accutron was produced by the American brand Bulova. Whilst we often think that Swiss or Japanese watchmaking represents the forefront of horological innovation but, truth be told, Bulova did an awful lot to advance American horology. In 1920, they used the top of a New York skyscraper as an observatory to precisely calculate the time whilst their advert on television in 1941 — the first of its kind — made history.
The watch which most people remember with the Accutron name is the Spaceview. When Bulova’s William Bennet devised the calibre 214 in 1959, it represented the last word in watchmaking. Using a tuning fork-shaped metal piece which vibrated at 360 Hz courtesy of a micro transistor which powered two coils, this watch was able to keep time with staggering accuracy for the period during general use. Observatory competitions demonstrated that Longines, Grand Seiko and others could keep a mechanical movement accurate to two seconds per day. However, these were far from everyday pieces produced to be sold. By contrast, the Accutron could do just this.
When launched in 1960, the Bulova Accutron was presented in shop windows in ‘Spaceview’ form which meant that the dial was removed and the indices were painted directly onto the inside of the crystal. These, as was understandable for the times, were purely offered to display the technology at the heart of the Accutron. The market, though, spoke for itself as dealers caved under demand from customers for this unique appearance and Bulova soon put the Spaceview into standard production.
However, today Bulova is a very different brand to the what it was in the 1960s when the original Accutron enjoyed major success as a phenomenally accurate alternative to contemporary mechanical watches. Consequently, Citizen, Bulova’s parent group since 2008, chose to separate Bulova and Accutron as its own brand. It is under this brand that a new chapter in Accutron’s history is to begin.
With this change to a separate brand for Accutron, Citizen is aiming for an altogether more adventurous, technically-minded and deep-pocketed audience. In this endeavour, two versions of the Accutron celebrate the 60th anniversary of this original electric watch.
The first and simpler version is the Accutron 2020 which takes the aesthetics of the Accutron Spaceview from the mid-1960s and brings them into the 21st century. To do this, the lugs are sharpened, the mid-case is vertically brushed and the crown is flat and discreet. Despite the more classically-inspired design cues, it is important to note that this is no small watch with a 43.5 mm diameter and a thickness of 15.41 mm.
The bolder and altogether more modern appearance is that of the Accutron Spaceview DNA. Launched as a re-imagination of the original from the 1960s, it uses a complex, multi-part tonneau case with an integrated rubber strap. To continue the dynamic design, the crown follows the contours of a turbine (an element more appropriate for this watch than one might realise) and the crystal rises up above the 45.1 mm case.
A clear theme which you will, no doubt, have picked up on is sheer size of these watches. This, however, is largely dictated by the movement used in these watches. Far-removed from the original Accutron of this 1960s, these modern Accutrons aim to present a different answer to a quartz watch — arguably a necessity if sales are to be driven in this day and age. The movement has been given the rather unflattering name of NS30-8YA, has 28 jewels and represents a tentative play with a new technology. Aside from the different colours available (which are loosely based on those of original Accutron watches), they are also identical between
Central to this movement is the electrostatic motor — something very different to the conventional stepper motors found in a conventional quartz watch. As has been explained by many others speaking about the new Accutron and in a heavily simplified form, these motors are composed of a rotor placed between two electrodes. As one electrode charges its side of the rotor, both consequently have the same electric charge. These repel each other and turn the rotor for the charge to be passed onto the other electrode. The result is the conversion of electrical energy to rotary motion and, ultimately, the movement of the hands. This is the function of the fast-moving rotor at the top of these watches’ dials. The other two — smaller and placed at the bottom of the dial — act as generators to collect energy for a capacitor through a reverse process when the watch is moved.
This movement does, however, remain very much a form of quartz as the movement is regulated similarly to any other high quality quartz watch. Beyond this, differences are very plain such as the smooth seconds due to the spinning of the rotor rather than the individual ‘ticks’ of a stepper motor even if the second hand has to be lighter as a consequence of comparably low torque.
As the first of its kind, the Accutron Spaceview’s movement was always going to have quirks and, unsurprisingly, it does. If the watch is left stationary for more than 10 minutes, the second hand will halt at 12 o’clock until the watch is moved again when it is returned to its rightful place. If, however, the watch is left for a longer period of 10 days or more, the hands all halt until the watch is picked up again. The exception to this ability to conserve energy is found after two years when, if unworn, the capacitor will need to be replaced by Citizen as it cannot be recharged from flat by the rotors.
So, appearance aside (very much a personal matter), where do these watches slot into the wider watch scene? Well, the obvious comparison will be drawn between the new Accutron, Grand Seiko’s Spring Drive and Citizen’s calibre 0100. To first address pricing, the Spaceview 2020 is available in limited and standard versions with prices to reflect the fact whilst the Spaceview DNA comes only in a standard form. For the Spaceview 2020, prices start at 3,450 USD and 3,300 USD for the Spaceview DNA.
When placed beside Citizen’s own calibre 0100, the objective seems clearly different. The accuracy of the Accutron is, at least at the moment, somewhat irrelevant beside the innovation needed to achieve its creation. By contrast, the 0100 lacks the rotors, the smooth seconds and the capacitor of the NS30-8YA and instead pulls out all the stops to be accurate to one second per year.
On the face of things, Spring Drive seems far more akin to the Accutron and its dream of perpetual motion yet the execution is far more traditional. Ultimately, the electrical component of Spring Drive is reserved to the escapement or, in other words, the marshalling of the release of potential energy from the mainspring. Here, Accutron is a clear step ahead although it remains to be seen whether this technology has a future beyond the rarefied world of luxury quartz watches.
Availability: Accutron Spaceview 2020: 3,450 – 4,000 USD / Accutron Spaceview DNA: 3,300 USD
- Dimensions: 2020: 43.5 mm x 15.41 mm / DNA: 45.1 mm x 15.41 mm
- Material: Stainless Steel
- Crystal: Domed Sapphire
- Display: Time on Three Hands / Luminous Hour and Minute Hands Hands and Hour Markers / Minute Graduations on Outer Chapter Ring / Skeletonised Dial to Reveal the Movement
- Water Resistance: 50 m / 165 ft / 5 ATM
- Movement: NS30-8YA: Hours, Minutes & Seconds / Smooth Seconds / 2-Year Battery Life (If Unworn) / Automatic Winding through Electrostatic Rotors / 28 Jewels