Accutron History

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The history of the "Spaceview" model is a story in itself. Interested?  click here.

In 1875 Joseph Bulova, a 23-year-old Czech immigrant, opens a small jewelry shop on Maiden Lane in New York City.

In 1950 Swiss engineer Max Hetzel joined the Bulova Watch Company in Biel, Switzerland.pgerat1.jpg (15581 bytes)

In March 1952 watchmakers Elgin and Lip, introduced electric watches. These watches were heralded as the greatest advance in the field of watchmaking in 450 years. Arde Bulova, who was the president of Bulova Watch Company at the time, asked Max Hetzel to research these new watches. Mr. Bulova was concerned that his company would lose market share if it did not also produce a battery powered watch. Max Hetzel reported his findings to the management of Bulova in April 1952. His report basically stated that the new battery driven watches still used a conventional balance-wheel movement and therefore could not lead to an improvement in accuracy. His report predicted that the newly-developed transistor would be the key component for future electronic watches.

Bulova began developing Accutron in 1952. Accutron is to be an electronic watch that will be guaranteed accurate to within 2 seconds a day, or 1 minute a month. The secret behind this inherent accuracy will be a tuning fork which will divide each second into three hundred and sixty equal parts.

In March 1953 Hetzel received the first low voltage transistors (Raytheon CK 722) from Bulova Headquarters. These transistors and a tuning fork frequency filter which he had previously developed, enabled him to construct his first simple tuning fork oscillator on a piece of wood! It had a frequency of 200 Hz, ran on a 1.5 V dry cell and used a simple ratchet system whereby a pawl attached to a tuning fork tine pushed a ratchet wheel one tooth forward with each cycle. The wheel had 120 teeth 1/10th of a mm long. The first prototype watch movements were produced in Switzerlandprototyp1.jpg (31709 bytes) in 1955.

In 1959, Max Hetzel and William Bennett completed the development of the Accutron 214 at Bulova Headquarters in New York.

In 1960 NASA asks Bulova to incorporate Accutron technology into its equipment for the space program. The CEO of Bulova at the time was Omar Bradley, 5 Star General, US Army, Retired. During those early years Accutron timing mechanisms were used in 46 US space program missions. An Accutron watch movement sits on the moon's Sea of Tranquility today, in an instrument placed there in 1969 by Apollo 11 astronauts, the first men on the moon.

Mass production of the 214 began in 1960 and they were introduced to the public in November of that year.

Railroad Inspection Card
In 1962 the Accutron 214 becomes the first wristwatch certified for use by railroad personnel. Previously, engineers used pocket watches which had to be frequently calibrated in order to "run the railroads on time".

Accutron wristwatches were given to world leaders as a presidential gift and in 1964 President Lynden Johnson declares Accutron to be the official "Gift of State".


By 1967 Accutron clocks were the only clocks aboard Air Force One and many instrument panel Accutrons were used in military ships and aircraft.

The last 214's were made in 1977. During the 17 years that tuning fork watches were made they were the most accurate production timepieces on the Earth, and in space.


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Copyright  2002 by Martin Marcus. All rights reserved. These pages may not be copied without written consent.