Kes Crockett | Watch Department
Watches generally fall into one of two categories; mechanical or quartz, a topic covered in one of
my previous posts here. There is of course the Spring Drive mechanism from Grand Seiko which
is a combination of both and a worthy subject for a future blog. However, our upcoming Luxury
Watch Sale on January 17th includes something a little bit different, a watch with an interesting
variation on the quartz genre – the Accutron Spaceview.
A Brief history
Many watch enthusiasts will be familiar with Accutron from its Bulova years but it is now an independent brand, and 2020 saw the debut of its first two models – the Spaceview 2020 and the Spaceview DNA. The history of the Accutron watch is interesting, with development starting in 1952.
The primary aim, to manufacture a watch that is accurate within 1 minute per month. This would be facilitated by the use of a tuning fork dividing each second into 360 equal parts, and anybody who has held one of these timepieces will be familiar with its unmistakable buzzing sound alongside a smooth sweeping seconds hand.
By 1960 Bulova had been asked by NASA to incorporate Accutron technology into equipment for
it’s space program and during the early years was used in 46 US space missions. In fact an
Accutron is still present on the moon today, after being left there by astronauts from Apollo 11 in
1969. That’s assuming the little troublemaker E.T. hasn’t found it in the meantime and claimed
“finders keepers” before zipping away on his flying saucer.
Whilst many watch lovers will know of Accutron’s space credentials, they may be unaware
of its significance on land. It was the first wristwatch certified for use by railroad personnel.
Up until this point, pocket watches were tasked with ensuring the trains arrived on time but they
needed frequent calibration and were inferior because of it.
Many of these watches ended up in the hands of foreign dignitaries and world leaders over the
years, following Lynden Johnson’s declaration that the Bulova Accutron be the “official gift of
state”. More useful than 500 tins of pineapple, which is what the Queen received from the
Queensland Government for her 1947 wedding gift.
A brief bit of technical detail
So what’s so interesting about the current Accutron? Well, for one it is a limited edition piece and with only 300 produced, demand undoubtedly exceeds supply. But more important than that is its technical prowess (If the insides of a watch aren’t your thing, you can safely scroll down to the pictures below).
Electrostatic Drive System
Still fundamentally a quartz watch, the Accutron uses an “Electrostatic Drive System” seen for the first time in watchmaking. Whereas the original Accutron watches had a tuning fork on show, these new examples instead have two small turbines to the lower half of the dial and one large turbine to the upper half. When the watch is moving, these two lower turbines, which are actually electrostatic generators, rotate. Much like the rotor of an automatic watch movement does in order to wind the mainspring. The upper turbine is an electrostatic motor and is responsible for driving the second hand in a sweeping fashion. During normal use, the wearer’s arm movements will cause these lower turbines to generate a current, which is subsequently stored in a capacitor and delivered to the large motor. The blades of this large turbine are also attracted and repelled by an electrical charge and the rotor turns as a result of this. The hour and minute hands are powered by a conventional stepper motor as seen in everyday quartz watches but the smooth sweeping action of the second hand is the result of this electrostatic wizardry.
OK, but what’s the point? Umm, there isn’t one really. It is very accurate I suppose – within 5 seconds a month. But so is a Seiko Spring Drive and your mobile phone will beat them both.
However, that’s not why we buy watches in the 21st century. We buy them for their aesthetics, and for a significant number of people, rapidly spinning turbines and a smooth sweeping second hand provide exactly the look they’re after. And why not.
Pictured below is a limited edition Accutron Spaceview – number 217 of 300. An eye-catching skeletonised dial with its three distinctive turbines and exposed copper coil, housed in a stainless steel case measuring 43mm. Accompanied by it’s original box and papers from November 2020, this watch is available in the Fellows Luxury Watch Sale, taking place on January 17th and has an estimate of £2600 – 3600.
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However, thats not why we buy watches in the 21st century. We buy them for their aesthetics, and
for a significant number of people, rapidly spinning turbines and a smooth sweeping second hand
provide exactly the look they’re after. And why not.
Pictured below is a limited edition Accutron Spaceview – number 217 of 300. An eye-catching
skeletonised dial with its three distinctive turbines and exposed copper coil, housed in a stainless
steel case measuring 43mm. Accompanied by it’s original box and papers from November 2020,
this watch is available in the Fellows Luxury Watch Sale, taking place on January 17th and has an
estimate of £2600 – 3600.