Bulova Accutron II “Snorkel” Review


B7A8CF4C-FD66-4794-93DF-19D0706A5CB4_zpsxwuw0zicThis week, I’m reviewing another great watch recently released by the Bulova Watch Company under their new Accutron II line of watches. Just to recount some previously covered ground, Bulova ceased producing watches under the Accutron name earlier this year and reintroduced that line as “Bulova AccuSwiss” to denote their high-end line of Swiss-made watches. Doing this accomplished two things. It righted a wrong in the minds of many purists who just could not connect the dots between the original Accutron tuning fork watch of the 1960’s/1970’s and the present day Swiss automatic watches that have now carried the Accutron name for many years. To many, it seemed that the watch that pioneered ACCUracy through elecTRONics had nothing to do with a mechanical wristwatch. It also freed up the Accutron name for use on something more befitting it’s heritage, which was the introduction of the Accutron II line in the Bulova portfolio.

Accutron II, the name of which implies a totally new generation of Accutron wristwatches, blends what is old with what is new. The line, which appears to be positioned between the standard Bulova line and the Precisionist line, is comprised of five distinct versions in a variety of styles, all of which are drawn from the original Accutron archives and updated to appeal to a modern audience. This particular review will cover one of the most interesting versions, the Accutron II Snorkel which, in the 96B208 version is a pure homage to the original in almost every way.

The Snorkel line is the only line of Accutron II watches that are rated to a 200 meter water resistance level. At this rating, the watch is acceptably designed for swimming and light diving. The original Snorkel was rated to a depth of 666 feet or roughly 200 meters so Bulova stayed the course with the updated version. More on that later.

Original Accutron Snorkel

Original Accutron Snorkel

First, the case of the watch is crafted in stainless steel, shaped to resemble the original. It has a distinctive 1960’s/1970’s style that was popular at the time but which went out as quartz watches and their new thin designs became prevalent. This funky retro, colorful watch style has come back in recent years, especially in brands such as Zodiac and Bulova has perfectly captured the design of the original while upsizing the case to 43mm to conform with the larger styles of the 21st century. The original was about 38mm, which at the time was considered to be a large watch.

0f91d29b-2632-45e4-addd-ce8cc5714dfe_zpsa834638aThe surface of the case is mostly rendered in a light brush finish with polished highlights such as the thin bezel ring around the crystal and a polished chamfer that runs up both sides of the case. The right side features two crowns like the original, the lower one used for setting the time and date while the upper one rotates an internal elapsed time bezel that surrounds the main dial. Oddly, the lower crown is  screw-down style while the upper crown is not. The lower crown also features the Accutron tuning fork logo introduced on the original Accutrons in 1960.

The back of the watch is a screw-in type back, which is not surprising given the watch’s 200m water resistance. It is simple, brushed with polished accents and is signed with the serial number as well as the year production code (B4 for 2014). So is it a serious diver’s watch? I don’t think it is but at 200m, it should be fine swimming, snorkeling and light diving.

The dial is black with thin chrome indices filled with luminous material. It is a stark and simple dial with the slightest hint of a sunburst pattern and is signed “Bulova Accutron II” with the Accutron logo above it. The bezel ring, in orange and white, surrounds the dial and rotates in either direction you turn it. The hour and minute hands are white with luminous materials while the second hand is bright orange and stands out noticeable against the black dial.

Protecting the dial is a K1 mineral crystal. According to various watch sources, K1 mineral is a type of watch crystal that is hardened, more shatter-resistant than sapphire crystal, and more scratch-resistant than regular mineral crystal. This will not deter those that won’t consider a watch unless it has a sapphire crystal but I suppose that Bulova was trying to keep the price as reasonable as possible. On this example, the crystal is slightly raised and domed, which adds to the vintage appeal of the watch in a way that a flat mineral crystal could not.

The movement of this watch is one of the defining factors that makes this a unique timepiece. To get the size it wanted from the new Accutron II watches, Bulova built a new movement based on the Precisionist model, but smaller and thinner. To accomplish this and use a smaller battery, they had to make some modifications that lowered the accuracy rating from that of a Precisionist (accurate to within 10 seconds a year) but is still up to six times more accurate than that of a standard quartz type wristwatch. The torsional resonator movement beats at a rate of 16 beats per second, which gives the second hand the appearance of a completely smooth sweeping action, a hallmark of the original Accutron.

photo copy 31This particular model is only available with a mesh bracelet, which works well for this design. There are other versions of the Snorkel with different dial configurations and these feature a 60’s style coffin-link bracelet. The mesh bracelet, while attractive and vintage appropriate, fits oddly on my wrist. Rather than use a conventional clasp, Bulova elected to use a butterfly clasp and the bracelet is a combination of solid mesh with several removable bar links on either side of the clasp. Removing more than 6 links (the bracelet is quite large) resulted in difficulty closing the clasp as the bar links do not bend to conform to the shape of it. I decided to remove the bracelet and replace it with a period appropriate rally strap which I think goes well with the watch.

Overall, I think that Bulova has developed a credible vehicle from which to launch a reimagined Accutron watch line. The combination of proven designs from the 1960’s, accuracy much higher than probably 98% of the watches made today from a unique movement, a good price point ($450 to $650 USD), quality construction and a company with a storied history makes for a watch that should be a home run for Bulova.

Bulova Accutron II Astronaut Homage


AstronautOriginalThere once was a time when the name “Accutron” meant something very significant to people. When it was introduced on October 25, 1960, it was the most significant technological leap in timekeeping since the invention of the clock…the world’s first electronic watch that keep time to the precise vibration of a tuning fork. There was nothing else like it when it came out and it had the effect of rendering watches like the Hamilton Electric, as well as all mechanical watches obsolete in the dust from an accuracy standpoint.

For ten years, it dominated the watch scene and was “the” watch to have. Even when quartz came along at the end of the 1960’s, the Accutron tuning fork movement soldiered on for another seven years or so, finally giving in to the realities of the market, which quartz would, somewhat violently, reshape. Bulova would continue to use the Accutron name on a variety of watches including both quartz and mechanical, all the while squandering seventeen years of hard-earned brand equity in the process.

A significant attempt to revitalize the Accutron name occurred around 1989 when Bulova begin to market Accutron as a high-end, Swiss-Made division of Bulova but there was nothing innovative or unique about them and legions of original Accutron fans cried foul. It was considered heresy for a watch which which had broken the mold by not being a conventional, mainspring-driven watch to have its name ascribed to the very watches Accutron was created to outperform in every way. These watches, while very well made and worthy of the “Swiss Made” title were never considered to be the logical successor to the original Accutron…that honor went to the Bulova Precisionist when it came out in 2010. The Precisionist was the first quartz based watch whose second hand did not hack but which flowed with the smooth motion of “a satellite in orbit”, the most noticeable attribute of an original Accutron.

Moonview1If the Precisionist had the technology DNA of a true Accutron, it never had the appealing design and looks of one, going mostly for oversized, overly designed cases that turned off many would-be buyers. It also left many asking the question: why didn’t Bulova utilize this revolutionary new movement to completely relaunch Accutron instead of creating an entirely new line under a different name? Fast forward to 2014.

Bulova announced in March of 2014 that Accutron would be relaunched as a line of vintage inspired watches borrowing designs from the original Accutrons and featuring a new Precisionist-based “UHF” or “Ultra High Frequency” movement that would allow the use of more conventionally sized watches. Dubbed “Accutron II”, these watches are now the only Bulova product that carries the Accutron name. Several months before the introduction of the Accutron II, Bulova quietly began removing the name from its Swiss line of watches and replacing it with a new branding called “Bulova Accu-Swiss”. I’ll leave that particular name alone for this review.

For this review, I’m writing about one of the five lines of the new Accutron II series, the Moonview. Anyone who knows the original Accutron Astronaut (pictured at the top of this article) will recognize the Moonview because it is directly inspired by the Astro and Bulova has been somewhat faithful to the design of the original. Here are the particulars:

Moonview2Build: The case and bracelet are Swiss made (the movement is made in Japan) and is crafted in stainless steel and the bracelet is pretty solid for this price range, nicely finished and it well made. All links are solid and polished on the ends and once sized to the wrist, it fits nicely. The bracelet is modeled after the old “coffin link” bracelets that some Astronauts had, brushed outer links and polished center links. It has a butterfly clasp with push releases on the sides and claps snugly together when closed.

The case is round and features a bezel which has engraved numbers for the hours and hash marks for the half hour. It is brushed and looks nearly identical to the original, although it is a twelve hour scale and not a 24 hour scale. It is stationary as this is not a GMT like the original. It is serrated around the edge of the bezel and brings the width of the case to 42mm. The crown is neatly tucked away at the 3:00 position, hidden from sight. Purists will no doubt long for a GMT version but that would likely require engineering a new movement just to add that feature. Still, a rotating bezel would allow the watch to be used for tracking two time zones if desired.

Moonview3The back is a snap-back, nicely polished and includes the various markings including “Water Resistant”. According to the manual, unless the watch is marked this way with a depth number next to it, it is not suitable for swimming. The lowest number in the manual with a depth rating shown is 50m and anything under that is suitable only for splashes, washing or cleaning. Another Accutron II model, the Snorkel, is rated to 200 meters if you want one for swimming and diving.

The original Astro’s cone-shaped lugs are not present here but there are vestiges of them. This was a missed opportunity to create a truly unique case design for the watch.

Dial and Crystal: The crystal is mineral but seems to be very thick, somewhat raised and nicely domed, giving it a vintage appeal. It does not warp the dial at an angle like some do. There is no A/R coating but the dial is matte black which, when combined with the dome effect helps cut down on reflections. The lume is decent, glowing brightly when energized for a few minutes but growing pretty dim after more than 15 minutes. The dial has applied silver markers and silver hands and is signed “Bulova Accutron II”. A date window appears at the 6:00 position. It is very readable and somewhat simple. The feature missing here is the original model’s use of alternating rectangular and triangular hour markers, which was a hallmark of the original design. If I had designed the dial for this model, I would have added these back, as well as signed the dial “Astronaut” on the lower part of the dial to break up the expanse of empty space. I would have also increased the font for the “Accutron II” designation and reduced the “Bulova” font.

This watch is thinner than any of the Precisionist models I have had and the depth of the dial is pretty good so the new movement must be thinned down a good bit. The second hand also seems to glide along smoother than the Precisionist as well. It was very hard to detect any trace of incremental hacking…think of an old electric clock and you get the idea.

Moonview5Things I like: Good build quality, nicely sized case, vintage looks and appeal, gliding Accutron second hand, highly readable dial with decent luminosity, nicely executed coffin link bracelet, machined bezel, hidden crown.

Things I would improve: I would have made the dial to as closely resemble the original Astronaut, including adding that name to the dial. I would have also gone to the extra expense to machine the lugs exactly like the original, giving that true original look in a modern format. Accutron did this with the Limited Edition Astronaut introduced in 2007 and reviewed on this blog separately. I would have made the watch water resistant to at least 50 meters and preferably to 100. I would have also used hands exactly like the original. The new one has hand which are close but obviously not the same as the original. A sapphire crystal would be nice too but all of my improvements would have added more to the overall price.

Summary

The first modern watch to bear the Accutron name that has a movement worthy of Accutron. The gliding second hand really brings back the feel of the originals and the accuracy and reliability should be a lot better. For the money, the watch has a lot of appeal and the battery life should be twice as long as the original, if not longer. It is good to see the Accutron name back on a watch that can truly claim direct lineage to the original. I’ve also noticed that since the Accutron line was introduced, the Precisionist line had been greatly reduced and, hopefully, will be laid to rest for good. Accutron is the true direction.

Authors Note: This is an expanded version of my article that appeared this month on Timezone.com