Common Accutron Problems

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Running Very Fast | Water Entry | Rust & Corrosion | Coil Damage | Index Mechanism | Time Setting
 Intermittent Battery Contact  | Battery Contact Spring  |Jump-Starting | Bent Lugs | Discolored Dials

Running Very Fast

Most 214's can be adjusted to run properly through years of normal use without any difficulty but there are some movements which can only be described as over-active. The adjustment of an over-active movement is so tenuous that any external force will cause it to speed up. This explains why some watches run great on the dresser but too fast when worn while others will run well for a while until a hard bump causes them to slip out of adjustment. 

The bottom of each tuning fork tine was notched at the factory to set the frequency (photo). A relative few have tuning forks that were cut to the lower end of their tolerances. This was OK when the magnets were energized by 1.3 volts, but at 1.5 volts these forks are over-active. This causes them to  index two teeth instead of one either periodically or with every stroke.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know in advance which movements have this problem. The problem is usually found while adjusting the movement but it is possible for a very few to slip by undetected.

Previously the only way to correct the problem was to replace the tuning fork with one that has thicker tines but the supply of good forks is rapidly decreasing. Fortunately though, I now have a better way to eliminate the problem. A diode which lowers battery voltage in the circuit by 0.2 volts can be installed in the coil. This is really the best possible solution. The watch will perform as it did when new and battery problems will not occur again. This inexpensive modification is not noticeable and it is reversible.

The micro-thin coil wire used in your 214 is already working against the ravages of age. Running an over-voltage of .2V through the delicate wire can't possibly be a good idea. The other delicate components in the circuit will not benefit either. Even if your 214 runs well with the new batteries, the longevity of your coil could be at risk. There is no longer any doubt that all 214's will benefit from a reduction in voltage back to the original 1.35 volts.


 Water Entry 

Bulova was overly optimistic in 1960 when they first marked the 214 model as "waterproof". Accutron 214's have always been susceptible to water damage. There are 4 places where water can enter.

The setting stem (crown)
The crystal
The battery hatch
The back cover

The recessed setting stem on the back cover of a 214 is it's signature feature. The stem assembly has a built-in "O" ring which is difficult to replace without damaging the crown. From 1960 through the late 80's In order to remain "waterproof", Accutrons received a new crown every five years or so. Since new replacements are no longer available, the crown remains a weak link for water entry. 

1968Waterproof.jpg (30207 bytes)     1969Waterproof.jpg (30033 bytes)     1969WaterResistant.jpg (30106 bytes)     1969NotWaterproof.jpg (30068 bytes)     1970NotWaterproof.jpg (30431 bytes)    

The photos above show a progression of five case backs.

The first is dated 1968 (M8) and is marked "WATERPROOF".
The second photo shows an early 1969 (M9) case back marked "WATERPROOF".
Sometime during 1969 the waterproof stamp was replaced with "WATER RESISTANT" as can be seen in the third photo.
By the end of 1969 all reference to water has been removed from the 69 case shown in the fourth photo.
As can be seen in the last photo of a 1970 (N0) case back, the words "WATERPROOF" and "WATER RESISTANT" are conspicuous by their absence.

In 1969 as 214 sales lagged behind the newer, more popular 218 models, Bulova introduced a new series of Spaceview watches which sported wide gray chapter rings. They were very popular and sold well in 1969 and 1970. Most of these post 69 models have back covers that are not marked "WATERPROOF" or "WATER RESISTANT".


If you notice moisture in your 214 don't panic. Any watch that has been serviced within the last 5 years still has an oil film on the steel gear shafts. if outside, use a dime to remove the battery cover and place the watch, battery side up in the sun for approximately 5 minutes (caution: do not allow the watch to become overheated). On cloudy or rainy days, go to an air conditioned place, remove the battery cover and leave it off long enough for the moisture to evaporate out of the case. Either way, when you close the hatch the humidity in the case will be at an ambient level.

On hot humid days moisture problems are exacerbated by a sweaty wrist so keep the watch in a pocket or briefcase until you are in a comfortable environment.


 Rust & Corrosion  

This kind of damage is commonly found in watches that have been exposed to moisture when they have no protective coating of oil on the jeweled bearings.

These before and after photos show the bearing shaft of a center pinion gear that has been ruined by corrosion.

PinionShaft3.jpg (30488 bytes)          PinionShaft4.jpg (30603 bytes)          PinionShaft5.jpg (31071 bytes)

CenterPinion001.jpg (30717 bytes)          PinionShaft1.jpg (30208 bytes)          PinionShaft2.jpg (30359 bytes)          CenterPinion1.jpg (17648 bytes)          CenterPinion01.jpg (30207 bytes)

CenterPinion00001.jpg (30238 bytes)
Photo of the cap jewel with it's rust plugged center hole.

Sherman10.jpg (19834 bytes)Contrary to popular belief, the grade of stainless steel used for watch cases will rust over a period of years. Water gets in between the metal parts where it can stay wet for days and the inevitable result is shown in the photo of the Astronaut with its bezel removed at the left.


Corrosion inside of the rotating bezel ring will eventually weaken the hub which is pressed over the crystal. The hub is under tension and so it tends to crack at the weakest point.

The rust on an old bezel ring tends to lock the ring onto the old crystal so it will generally not fall off even when a crack develops. The problem comes when the ring is disassembled, cleaned, and an attempt is made to press it onto a new crystal. At this point the hub will break at the crack and becomes useless. 

 The moral of this story is plain. Now that we are in the 5th decade of Accutron history, please keep your fine old  Accutron 214 away from water. After preserving it for such a long time, it would be a shame to lose it to corrosion now.


 Coil Damage  

These photos show a problem that can occur when a battery is installed incorrectly and then is forced against the plastic battery housing when the battery hatch is screwed down.

CoilCrack2.jpg (30017 bytes)     CoilCrack.jpg (29936 bytes)                   


When not in use, your 214 should be stored away from high humidity or places where the temperature swings are wide or frequent. The wire on an Accutron coil is so thin (0.0006" diameter) that it can easily be broken. Coil wire can become brittle while the watch is in storage with no battery installed due to repeated expansion and contraction of the wire over the course of many years. Excessive thermal expansion and contraction of the coil wire will eventually cause it break..


Index Mechanism.

This photo shows both jewels on the Index Wheel. IndexMechanism1.jpg (84837 bytes)

MissingFinger.JPG (30182 bytes)In this photo, the tuning fork is missing its index jewel. Both fingers have been lifted away from the wheel for clarity in the photo. The steel finger that used to hold the index jewel had been grinding against the index wheel causing damage to the teeth. The index wheel is the heart of the mechanism. It is a ratchet wheel that is pushed by the vibrating tuning fork.


 Time Setting Problems 

1Set.jpg (18748 bytes)The great majority of setting problems are caused either by over-tightening the back cover, or by a dried out case gasket which has lost it's elasticity and has been compressed until it has become too thin. To diagnose/fix this problem the back cover should be loosened until it backs out of the bezel enough for the setting gear to engage. The 214 back cover is held on by a threaded ring. The ring has 6 evenly spaced slots for a spanner wrench. If you have a wrench that works properly, back off the ring a few degrees and test the setting stem. Repeat this process until the hands move. If the case gasket is old it should be replaced in order to insure a good seal.


Intermittent Battery Contact

If your 214 kept decent time right up until the battery was replaced but has been losing time ever since, the problem is most likely poor battery contact. This is a fairly common occurrence which can often be avoided (or corrected) by doing the following:

1)  Make certain that the plastic insulator is not hanging up on the battery nest, preventing the battery from having solid contact with the coil. After dropping a battery into your 214s battery compartment, it may appear to be seated properly even when it is not. Always press the center (metal part) of the battery down firmly until it seats against the bottom contact. This is necessary because the plastic spacer is often too large to enter its opening thus preventing the bottom of the battery from seating all the way down.

2) Check to see that the contact spring installed on the under side of the battery hatch has not been flattened. Check to see that the spring moves down freely when pressed and that it pops back up when released. The spring must provide positive pressure against the top of the battery.

Left: Early battery contact spring (1960/1961)
Right: Common battery contact spring (1962 on)

EarlyBatterySpring.jpg (30132 bytes)                                          BatteryHatch.jpg (30017 bytes)     BatterySpring.jpg (30536 bytes)


Early Battery Contact Spring

The very first battery contact spring was a circular design with three contact fingers protruding inward toward the center and bent upward to contact the battery.

This design had a nasty habit of losing one after another of the contact fingers as they became work hardened due to bending. The fingers often became seriously bent when the battery was not placed correctly in the battery nest. Attempting to straighten one of these badly bent fingers usually results in the finger breaking off. Worst of all, the contact spring is permanently swaged onto the hatch and is not replaceable. Precisely because of this problem, that design was changed to one that incorporated a replaceable spring early in 1962.

Back in the day, damaged contact springs were repaired by installing new hatches. Today, stainless steel hatches with replaceable springs are available. The supply comes from still  plentiful parts watches but with very few exceptions, solid gold 214 cases are not scavenged for parts.

HATCH SPRING CONVERSION: Fortunately, conversion of solid gold hatches can be accomplished by machining the hatch to accept the standard contact spring design. (see photos below)

BEFORE  Early 14k Unmodified Hatch.jpg (30035 bytes)         Early 14k Modified Hatch.jpg (29998 bytes)  AFTER


Jump Starting a New Battery

Most 214s will start spontaneously when a new battery is installed but some will not. Over the years the permanent magnets on the tips of your tuning fork may have lost some of their strength. If this is the case you will need to jump-start the movement. A sharp smack with the palm or knuckles of your hand at the 3 or 9 o'clock position should cause the tuning fork to start to vibrate. Once started the watch will perform normally until the battery dies.  


Bent Lugs  

     bentlugs.jpg (30050 bytes)    
Good Lugs                         Bad Lugs  

The lugs on gold-filled bezels are easily bent. The lugs on the above 214 (center and right) are seriously bent inward. Aside from looking terrible, no standard band will fit between them, but straightening them is not as easy as it would seem. The problem is that the bezel is made from a brass base metal which becomes hardened when bent and more often than not, lugs bent as badly as this will break off while attempting to straighten them.

To safely straighten bent lugs, the bezel must first be stress relieved. The process involves heating the metal until it turns to a dull gray color and then allowing it to cool slowly. After cooling, the lugs can be moved back to their original factory configuration.  The bezel must then be buffed to remove oxidation, and restore the gold finish.  



Discolored Dials

baddial.jpg (30048 bytes)     baddial2.jpg (29943 bytes)

When the dial was manufactured, it was nickel or gold plated and then coated with either a clear or an amber colored coating. The coating helps to protect the plating from oxidation. The spotted areas on old dials could be the coating which has darkened with age but it can also be the plating. As the coating ages, it becomes crazed, allowing air and moisture to reach the plating below. Often, air and moisture can penetrate the plating to the base metal and the nickel plating becomes peppered with tiny bumps which are caused by corrosion blooms beneath the plating.


More To Come......

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