We take for granted the incredible technology that we have at our fingertips today. I recently took an NAWCC introduction class to pocket watches, and if solid-state technology is more advanced than the miniaturization of mechanical movements, then I’m truly living in a world where for most of us technology is, as science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke describes, “indistinguishable from magic.”
That’s why it’s refreshing to encounter artifacts that reveal gaps between two species of technology. The Bulova Accutron 214 wristwatch is one of these artifacts that demonstrates the bridge that spans the mechanical and quartz divide.
Released in 1960, Accutron’s uniqueness is the application of a battery-powered vibrating tuning fork, which eliminated the mainspring, escapement, winding mechanism, balance wheel, and hairspring found in a traditional mechanical watch. In 1957 Hamilton Watch Co. USA released the Pacer, which had a battery-powered mainspring but didn’t nearly reach the commercial success and world recognition of the Accutron.
The Bulova Accutron, much like disco music in the 1970s, enjoyed a decade-long reign of popularity but then abruptly ended into obsolescence. More accurate and inexpensive quartz watches began to flood the market by the 1970s and in 1975 the production of tuning fork watches across the globe ceased.
Today, Accutron watches enjoy a healthy community of collectors and enthusiasts. Although millions of these watches were made, original functioning pieces become increasingly scarce because of the rarity of parts and the special knowledge that is required to fix them.
Blair, Harry. “The Bulova Accutron Story!” NAWCC Bulletin, No. 283 (April 1993): 154-160.
Sigelmann, Rubens. “The Tuning Fork Era in Horology.” NAWCC Bulletin, No. 359 (December 2005): 706-725.