I have a nasty habit. Ok. I have two nasty habits. But the one I’m concerned about right now is my watch collecting. I like watches. I like buying watches. I like buying watches when I have the money to pay for them. My newest, soon to be addition is the Bulova Accutron Spaceview pictured here.
Cool looking huh? Well, it wasn’t always the cool kid on the block.
When the Accutron watch came out in 1960, it originally looked like the watch on the left.
I know- boring with a capital “B”. But it did have something unique. Unlike all the watches that came before it, this one did not use a balance wheel to keep time. Instead, it used a tuning fork that when stimulated by an electrical current produced oscillations at 360 Hz. In English, the vibration of the tuning fork was so precise that it could be used to counts minutes and seconds. It was far more accurate than any watch ever built.
The way it worked was the base of the tuning fork was set between two copper coils, and when electricity from the batteries flowed through them, the tuning fork would vibrate. A small wheel and gear was attached to one of the tuning fork tines, and each time the tuning fork vibrated, it moved the gear and advanced the time. This tuning fork watch was so accurate that NASA supplied it to their astronauts.
When the watch hit the stores, Bulova wanted the customers to see this amazing technology, so they supplied the stores with see-through display models. Well, the customers really liked the see-through models and began buying the displays. Bulova saw a demand, and began producing a see-through model for the consumer. And since NASA was using it, and NASA was all the rage at the time, they named it Spaceview.
They flew off the shelves. Not only was it cool to look at, but unlike other wristwatches, this one didn’t tick, it hummed.
About 15 years later Bulova stopped producing the watches as watch companies were moving to the more accurate and less expensive quartz watches. Quartz watches worked basically the same way- a current was applied to a piece of quartz, and it vibrated at a precise frequency.
Sometimes I hear people refer to a Rolex as the most accurate time piece available. No. Just because it’s expensive, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Rolexes are expensive because they are hand-made from fine or precious materials, but any $1 quartz watch from WalMart would still keep better time. Gears, wheels, and mainsprings are no match for quartz technology. Sometimes though, the old school solutions are the most enduring.