Don't Call It a Hum-back: Accutron Spaceview 214 Anniversary Edition
By Jonathan Poet
Can you hear the hum? Watch-maker Bulova is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its famed Accutron by selling a Spaceview 214 remake. The company says only 1,000 will be made and each will be individually numbered. With a stainless steel caseback, sapphire crystal, luminous hands and markers and an alligator strap, the new Spaceview 214 will set you back 5,000 Swiss francs (about $5,200), complete with glass display case and a plaque.
Since the model's debut in October 1960, Bulova has applied the Accutron name to a bunch of other watches — both quartzes and automatics — but it initially stood for a unique timekeeping mechanism: a tuning fork that vibrates 360 times a second. Put your ear to an Accutron and you hear not a tick, but a hum. The mechanism had fewer moving parts than manual-wind watches, and the company touted it as the world's most accurate watch.
You can still find old tuning-fork Accutrons for much less than $5,000. The Spaceview models have always been popular, because they show off the innards so nicely. Some of the old Spaceviews sold today are actually "Spaceviews" — other Accutron models that have been stripped of their faces.
The new version is not a part-for-part remake. You can plainly see a few small differences between the new version and the old ones. The original model also was powered by a 1.35-volt mercury battery. Back in the day, those cells were prized for their consistent voltage output from birth to death. With mercury cells long gone — they do have mercury in them for goodness sake — the anniversary model is instead powered by a 1.55-volt silver-oxide watch battery.
The company still bills the Accutron as the world's first all-electronic watch, a claim I am not sure I buy. After all, it needs pawls and wheels to turn the tuning fork's predictable oscillations into a readable time display. (I would think LEDs would have a better claim.) But the tuning fork seems to me to slot in nicely between some of the other early electronic watches, which used motors or simple circuits to drive the balance wheels of mechanical watches, and the now-ubiquitous quartz movement.