Hands On Review – Accutron DNA

The Skinny

  • Diameter: 45.1 mm
  • Thickness: 15.6 mm
  • Movement: Accutron Proprietary Electrostatic Movement
  • Water resistance: 50M
  • Price: $3,300
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Why Accutron?

Bulova was a popular New York based American brand with Swiss production that had purchased the first known radio and television ads. In 1960 they launched a new electric watch that they branded “Accutron.” The Accutron movement developed by Max Hetzel used a tuning fork instead of a balance wheel to keep time. This was a major advance over earlier electric movements which used electric impulses to drive a balance wheel. The tuning fork movement was much more accurate than older watches and became a major cultural phenomenon. 

Accutron watches had two characteristics which a layperson could use to distinguish them from mechanical watches. First, the tuning fork made a “humming” sound instead of a “tick.” Second, the seconds hand was driven in 360 steps per second so it had a much smoother glide compared to the 18,000 VPH movements of the time which had 5 steps per second. 

The greater accuracy led to numerous technical applications including spy planes, clocks and timers on spacecraft, and wristwatches that met the rigorous standards of American railroads. It is a little appreciated fact that railroad grade pocket watches were made in American until 1969. The first wrist watch was not approved for railroad use until 1961 because no one believed a wristwatch could be accurate enough to use on the railroads. The Accutron watches were clearly much more accurate and were approved in 1963. 

Ultimately the superior accuracy, battery life, and lower cost of quartz watches led to the end of tuning fork Accutron movement production in 1977. The Bulova brand was sold to a conglomerate in 1979 and ultimately to the Citizen group in 2007. Some Accutron branded watches continued to be produced as a premium brand of Bulova using quartz and mechanical movements for some time. There was a limited edition Accutron spaceview reissue of a reconstructed tuning fork movement in a larger 42 mm case in 2010. Four years later there was an Accutron II spaceview released which had a high frequency high accuracy quartz movement with a sweeping seconds hand called the “Precisionist.”

In 2020 Citizen Group has launched Accutron as its own brand. The “Spaceview” and “DNA” are the premium lines which feature an openworked dial and novel electrostatic movement with a sweeping seconds hand. The DNA line is slightly larger with a more contemporary design featuring additional color choices, a tonneau shape, and integrated rubber strap. There is also the “Legacy” collection which I will discuss in a separate review which features vintage inspired Accutron designs with mechanical movements.

What’s Up with the Electrostatic Movement?

Most of the buzz surrounding the new Accutron line relates to the new movement. Jack Forster covered it better at Hodinkee than I could hope to do. I have to admit that the movement is a bit of a black box as far as I’m concerned. It is a novel movement in that it uses an electrostatic motor in a wristwatch so there is not much in terms of independent sources to reference. My simple understanding of it is that wrist motion powers a capacitor. This capacitor drives two motors. One is a conventional quartz stepper motor which drives the hour and minute hands. The second is an electrostatic motor which produces a smooth sweeping seconds hand. This visual cue relates the movement to the original tuning fork movements and justifies the application of a “Spaceview” style open dial.

How It Feels on the Wrist

On the wrist the novel movement manifests itself in two ways. There is a large rotor in the upper left portion of the dial that rotates along with the sweeping seconds hand. There are also two rotors in the lower portion of the dial which spin with movement of the wrist. All of the rotors spin with a mesmerizing flickering appearance due to the thin metal blades spinning over an orange background with black rectangles. One disconcerting aspect of the movement is that there is a power saving function that stops the seconds hand at 12 o’clock after 5 minutes of “non-activity.” Sitting at a desk apparently is “non-activity.” I was not expecting this feature and I thought the watch had stopped which was alarming. Fortunately I looked through the instruction manual which says to make a karate chopping motion for 3-5 seconds which starts up the seconds hand again. The seconds hand eventually catches up to where it’s supposed to be and the minute and hour hands are not affected. The rotor is a bit loud and you can feel it on the wrist but there is no “hum” as in the original tuning fork movement.

The dial is a spaceview style, being open-worked and skeletonized. The bridges are brushed with a dark grey finish and highlight the rotors. There is an applied Accutron tuning fork logo with the brand name printed below in white. Underneath there appears to be a blue tinted clear material which provides the various colors for the dial. There is a glimpse of a coil and some screws. The seconds hand is quite thin, presumably to conserve power. The hands are simple alpha hands with a central lume strip. There is an outer chapter ring with minute markers. Every five minute marker is luminous. The chapter ring appears to curve down at the edges. 

There is a thick curved sapphire crystal which follows the curve of the case and chapter ring. The case is mostly in dark gray steel except for a blue steel cutout at the lugs. There is an integrated rubber strap held in place with screws. The caseback has the Accutron logo and a rotor in relief. The crown is branded with the Accutron logo as well. The rubber strap is rather thick and highly curved with a deployant strap. The thickness and curvature of the strap along with the lightweight case make the watch sit fairly comfortably on the wrist. This may be one of the most comfortable watches of its size that I have worn. The overall shape of the tonneau case and integrated strap is reminiscent of the vintage Omega Speedsonic “Lobster” Speedmasters which notably featured a tuning fork movement.

Overall, I enjoyed this watch. Some people might criticize the watch for the lack of a tuning fork movement. However, I think Accutron should be commended for offering a novel electrostatic movement that is shown well by the thoughtful design of the rotors and dial. The ergonomics are handled well through the case shape and rubber strap design. Although it is large by any standard it is comfortable and light. The power saving feature of the sweeping seconds hand can be distracting at first but after a while it becomes fun to do a few chopping motions to rev up the seconds hand. Although it does not suit my personal style, I think it is an attractive option for someone in a engineering or technology field who wants to wear a bold and assertive watch for a moderate price. As a conversation piece for the technologically inclined, this new Accutron DNA is a true heir to the original Spaceview.