For about 10 years in the 1960s, Bulova’s Accutron tuning fork-based watch collection was a star of the timepiece industry. Its popularity and impact on the timepiece market then remains something that collectors and industry folks still talk about today. The “open-view” dial that allowed viewers to see the movement of the original Accutron Spaceview watches was never initially meant to go into production. The open-dial versions of the watch were sales samples intended to help dealers understand that these were not traditional mechanical watches. This marketing exercise turned into a consumer success, and Bulova ended up mostly producing the open-dial Accutron Spaceview watches that collectors think of today.
Bulova re-released a limited-edition Accutron Spaceview a few years ago, which sold out and was very cool given that they needed to both reverse-engineer a tuning fork movement and hand-wrap each copper coil. Nowadays, Accutron is back again but in a slightly different way. The Citizen Group, which owns Bulova, decided to make Accutron its own new brand, officially launching in August 2020. The new Accutron brand will produce a series of traditional and modern-looking watches with an emphasis on the $1,000-plus price point for the “Accutron Legacy” models. More high-end at Accutron are the new Spaceview watches that all have a retail price of over $3,000. What’s the story there?
The most important thing to say is that Accutron will not be focusing on tuning fork electronic watch movements. Rather, the contemporary Accutron Spaceview watches (such as the Spaceview 2020 and the Spaceview DNA models) will have a new movement that is visually reminiscent of the old tuning fork watches but is actually a novel “electrostatic” system that I’ll talk a bit more about below. The Spaceview 2020 watches are meant to look a bit more classic, while these Accutron Spaceview DNA watches have more of a futuristic vibe, the idea being that whereas the original Accutron Spaceview watch was very modern in 1960, the Spaceview 2020 and Spaceview DNA watches are intended to similarly capture the hearts of enthusiasts today.
Bulova’s Accutron Spaceview watch had an amazing run until the late 1960s when quartz-based electronic watches debuted. While both tuning fork and quartz movements use batteries, their regulation systems are distinctive. Tuning fork movements are best known for their sweeping seconds hands and slight buzzing hum that comes from the movements themselves. Quartz watches ended up offering both better battery life and timing performance.
According to Accutron, the new electrostatic motor movements in the Spaceview 2020 and Spaceview DNA movements required about a decade of research and development to make, probably via engineers in Japan (which is exactly who I want designing my electronics hardware, to be honest). So what is an electrostatic movement, anyway? This is gonna take a bit of explaining… OK, so let’s begin with the premise that the movements are quartz-based in terms of the regulation system and are powered by a battery. Only the battery doesn’t need to be replaced because it is recharged kinetic energy. In principle, this is similar to Seiko’s rotor-charged Kinetic quartz movements. This is something a bit different.
The Spaceview electrostatic movements have two small turbine-style rotors that move with the motion of your wrist to create energy. They do this not via a directly connected gear that turns a traditional generator. Rather, they create electrostatic energy which is then captured via dual electrodes and sent to an accumulator, which is where the electricity to power the timing system comes from. I’ve not worn the watch, so I really don’t understand how it performs in terms of battery life (Accutron isn’t really talking about that right now). Accutron does, however, promise accuracy of within five seconds per month — which is about two to three times more accurate than standard quartz movements, though it is not as accurate as the Citizen Caliber 0100 (more high-end) and the Bulova Precisionist (more affordable), which are both part of the same company.
So, why Accutron Spaceview Electrostatic versus other quartz watch movements? It looks cool… Citizen Group is going for an emotional play with the Accutron Spaceview DNA collection. The brand must agree with me that high-end quartz is about to have its heyday among timepiece enthusiasts. What collectors will seek in a high-end quartz movement is visual and intellectual splendor. Just look at the complex and animated dial of the Accutron Spaceview 2020 and DNA watches, and you’ll agree they are nifty. I just also wish the movements came with a more “and Accutron has now solved this problem” engineering story. I’m saying that I want to enjoy the Accutron Spaceview 2020 as a tool as much as a piece of art — just as consumers were able to do with the Accutron Spaceview 1960.
Accutron isn’t under any illusions — the new brand and its flagship movement are going to take a few years to really sink into the watch consumer market. These days, the watch industry is a mixture of products intended to make snappy sales with short-lived appeal and those with a more long-term approach where a new product requires a few years to truly gain momentum with enthusiasts. Accutron has no short-term play here outside of common watch collector novelty value. The Spaceview 2020 and DNA watches, while imminently cool, are also unfamiliar technically and don’t currently fill any particular market gaps. That translates into a lot of effort needed to first reach and then educate consumers. None of that happens quickly under normal circumstances, and in a world where physical interaction with other watch lovers is on hold for a while, Accutron will be deprived of seeing these interesting watches in action.
Seeing the Accutron Spaceview DNA in person is important because the dial really comes to life when you see it in operation. Bulova wanted to maintain the emotion of tuning fork movements given the sweeping seconds hand. There is also one of the spinning dial turbines that spins as the seconds elapse. Seeing the dial in operation is probably the best part of the Spaceview for 2020 watches, in my opinion.
Detailing for the dials themselves is pretty good. Then again it should be for this price range. The green colors of the Spaceview 2020 watches are reminiscent of the popular originals, while the Spaceview DNA watches use a similar dial design but with a slightly expanded color palette. The rear of the watch is a bit less spectacular. It doesn’t lack design, but rather is a simple solid caseback with a couple of turbine-style ring motifs.
In the future, I’d like to see Accutron engineer a more symmetrical version of the Spaceview dial. I feel this request is acceptable to make at the outset since one of my favorite things about the original Accutron Spaceview watches was, indeed, their dial symmetry. Here, Accutron goes more modern and masculine-rebellious with the style — a look certainly right for some but one that will leave other timepiece traditionalists waiting to see something in the future from Accutron that is intended to match their particular sensibilities.
My primary concern with both the Accutron Spaceview 2020 and DNA watches is the relatively large size of the cases. It isn’t that they are too big, but the proportions are sort of funny on them. My understanding is that this has to do with the size of the movement itself (known as the caliber NS30-Y8A), which case and dial design need to work around. The Spaceview 2020 is going for a more oversized retro case look and is 43.5mm-wide. The Spaceview DNA is even larger at 45.1mm-wide and 15.41mm-thick. Normally, that would not be an issue — but the lugs with integrated strap assembly jut out quite a bit, making the Spaceview DNA watches wear visually quite larger on small- to medium-sized wrists. Those with larger watch tastes and a penchant for quirky and cool electronic toys will certainly get a big kick out of the Accutron Spaceview DNA.
The cases are all steel and offered with various coatings. The various-toned movement dials are topped with a unique domed sapphire crystal, which, despite being AR-coated still has some unavoidable-with-this-crystal-shape glare. At launch, Accutron offers the Spaceview DNA watches as the reference 2ES8A001 (natural steel case with green dial periphery), 2ES8A002 (rose gold-toned case with black dial), 2ES8A003 (mostly black case and dial), and the 2ES8A004 (natural steel case with blue dial).
Accutron is a promising concept that has a ripe market to enter when it comes to interesting watches like this within this price range. It will be up to Accutron to painstakingly explain to consumers why they should care about electrostatic-powered movements and that their design ethos and history is cool. Accutron of today loves showing off the segment from the AMC network television series Mad Men, for which the show’s writers created an actual ad concept for the Accutron of yesterday. A key phrase from the ad is “Accutron: It isn’t just a timepiece, it is a conversation piece,” and this seems to be what drove the creation of the new brand concept and how to position it. It will certainly require a lot of conversation to explain what the Citizen Group has done here, but it should be worth consumers’ time to stick around and give Accutron a chance to demonstrate what it is all about. Price for the Accutron Spaceview DNA watches is $3,300 USD each. Learn more at the Accutron website here.