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

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