My First Real Watch


by Richard Paige

 
 



Being the son of a watchmaker, I suppose when I got old enough to understand that some things were toys and some things were not, my dad decided that I was ready for my first real watch. I was 13 years old in 1963 when I first laid eyes on the Bulova Accutron Space View. The regional Bulova sales representative came into our store to try and sell my Dad the latest Bulova models. He had a picture of the new, about to be released Space View, and I was completely smitten. I’m sure I hounded my dad day and night about the watch, and if I remember correctly I’m sure my dad told me I wasn’t old enough to have such an expensive watch (I believe they retailed for about $100). To my exhilarating surprise, my dad presented me with the watch on my 14th birthday, about 6 months after I first saw this wonderful watch.





  

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1963 was a watershed year for America: John F. Kennedy was assassinated in November and the country was in deep mourning, and 4 months later the Beatles invaded the United States with their Ed Sullivan showing. The country was ripe for a new concept watch, and the Accutron became an overnight success. It was billed as the first “Electronic Wristwatch”. In historical terms it had accomplished the impossible: the watch was accurate to within 1 minute per month. Bulova realized this accomplishment by a truly innovative engineering design. By eliminating the old power source, the mainspring, and replacing it with a small power cell, Bulova was able to free up the status quo movement design. This allowed them to eliminate the escapement, balance wheel, hairspring, and winding system. These parts were replaced by a tuning fork which vibrated at 360 cycles per second. The watch didn’t tick, it hummed, and many a night as I slept with my watch on, I would inadvertently sweep my arm past my head and hear this humming, which led me to believe that a hungry mosquito was strafing me.


The Accutron was a big gamble for Bulova. Hamilton had introduced an electric watch in the 1950′s which had a stellar rise in popularity but ended with a short demise. The electronic works in the Hamilton had some insurmountable flaws which eventually “killed” the watch. But Bulova overcame these flaws by designing a totally new concept in engineering. This new movement proved to be reliable and incredibly accurate. If you realize that good timekeeping back in the 1960′s was within 1 minute per day, then one must understand that one minute a month is a giant leap in accuracy. Even the name Accutron was a derivative of the this new concept: “Accuracy through electronics”.


To add to the mystic of this strange new timepiece, Bulova “accidentally” left off the dial in a prototype, thus was born the “skeleton” design “SpaceView“. The name Space View was the brainchild of Bulova’s marketing team, which wanted to capitalize on Bulova’s association with the beginnings of the USA Space Program. The watch was purchased by the US Air Force for every pilot in the X-15 project, and was used in the timing devices in the US Space Satellites and Telstars 1 and 2.


As Bulova describes their watch in an early ad: “The only timepiece that is guaranteed to be 99.997% accurate on your wrist, with just 12 moving parts.”






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I still have this watch, and treasure it dearly. My Dad had it specially engraved with my initials before he gave it me, signed from my Mom and Dad.



I still wear the watch from time to time, and ironically, when I met my future wife, it was the only watch from my collection that she thought was interesting, so interesting in fact, that she tried to “liberate” the watch for herself. I solved the problem by finding a mate to my watch for her. Here is the picture of the two watches together.

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