In the 1950’s, many wristwatch companies started to try their hand with creating the very first generation of electronic watches. Lip Electronic and Elgin were the first to introduce battery powered designs, and Hamilton introduced the first electronic watch. However, these early models were just mechanical watches with an additional motor and battery, making them prone to failure, poor accuracy on par with mechanical watches, and were difficult to repair. But on October 25, 1960, Bulova released the Accutron – a watch that we still can see the influence of and would go on to shape the designs of the past and the aesthetics of the future.
In 1866, Louis Francois Clement Breguet patented the tuning fork timepiece, which used vibrating metal coils to divide each second into 360 equal parts. He created a timepiece with smooth sweeping hands rather than ticking with a characteristic humming sound. In 1953, Max Hetzel, a Swiss engineer, was recruited to miniaturize the technology, going on to create a pawl and jewel system attached to one end of the tuning fork.
This used the vibration to push microscopic teeth on a tiny gear to keep track of time. Both of these innovations led to the creation and releasing of the Accutron, the world’s first fully electronic watch. This watch had no crown as it was so accurate they were able to move the adjustment mechanism to the back and was made of 14 karat gold to attract the attention of passersby.
Inner Workings and the Coolness Factor
A special “open dial” demonstration sample was developed as a salesman sample to better explain the inner workings of this new watch. However, this window model gained massive amounts of popularity, thus prompting Bulova to release the Accutron Spaceview with no face on the watch to allow an even better view of the inner workings. This watch was worn famously by figures such as Elvis Presley, who frequently was photographed wearing several Accutrons from his collection, Paul Newman, and Joe DiMaggio.
The Accutron technology was used in more than fashion or just to keep time – it even took us to the moon. The Accutron Astronaut was developed to meet the demands of high speed flight and space travel, featuring higher operating temperatures, extra resistance to shock and high g-force disturbances, while still maintaining its signature extreme precision.
The CIA, US Air Force, and NASA all adopted this technology and used it in many Apollo and other space missions. It could be found in in-flight instrument timers, panel clocks, and navigation instruments, as well as worn by a number of pilots and astronauts. Robert M. White wore an Accutron Astronaut while flying the X-15 rocket plane – the fastest manned aircraft which can hit 4,519 miles per hour at its fastest. Gordon Cooper used an Accutron Astronaut to time retro burn on his Faith 7 mission, resulting in the most accurate splashdown achieved during the Mercury program.