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“Accutron becomes a brand in its own right”

INTERVIEW

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September 2020


“Accutron becomes a brand in its own right”

For the 60th anniversary of the first fully electronic timepiece in history, Accutron has not just launched a commemorative limited series; it has relaunched itself as a fully-fledged brand, distinct from Bulova. What is the strategy behind this more exclusive positioning? We interviewed Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America, who is in charge of the project.

I

n 1960, a model that would change the history of watchmaking was introduced in New York: the Accutron, considered the world’s first fully electronic watch. With its open dial and futuristic design, it marked the industry’s entry into the electronic age. In the following decades, electronic timepieces would supplant – in volume, if not in value – the traditional mechanical watch.

For the 60th anniversary of this event, the Citizen Group (which in 2008 bought out the Bulova brand that introduced the Accutron) is not content merely to launch a commemorative edition. A new Accutron brand, separate from mass-market Bulova, has been launched in a different niche, with more exclusive distribution, a higher price point and more limited production.

An article published by Europa Star in 1960 introduces the Accutron, “the world's first truly electronic watch”, invented by Swiss engineer Max Hetzel. The word Accutron was coined from a combination of “accuracy” and “electronics”.
An article published by Europa Star in 1960 introduces the Accutron, “the world’s first truly electronic watch”, invented by Swiss engineer Max Hetzel. The word Accutron was coined from a combination of “accuracy” and “electronics”.
©Europa Star 6/1960

The timing of the revival is telling, given that the future of watchmaking seems more than ever linked to the re-evaluation of its immense heritage. However, to mark the occasion in a way that avoids falling into pure vintage nostalgia, a calibre deemed (almost) as innovative as the original Accutron has been developed, this time using electrostatic energy – a first.

Everything in this revival seems to aim for a delicate balance between heritage and innovation.

“Watchmaking and electronics”: the Space Age Accutron on the cover of a 1964 issue of Europa Star
“Watchmaking and electronics”: the Space Age Accutron on the cover of a 1964 issue of Europa Star
©Europa Star 2/1964

At the same time, echoing the spirit of the Space Age (the Accutron team worked closely with NASA) and “Americana”, a dedicated podcast provides updates on the fetish themes of an era that has captured the imagination of a new generation. A book entitled “Accutron: From The Space Age to the Digital Age” published by Assouline and written by Jack Forster, Hodinkee’s editor-in-chief, carefully traces the epic story of the model with the tuning fork logo. Everything in this revival seems to aim for a delicate balance between heritage and innovation.

“Beyond being a watch, the Accutron brand has been an integral part of American culture since the ’60s,” said Jeffrey Cohen, president of Citizen Watch America, who is in charge of this ambitious project. He took us behind the scenes of the Accutron relaunch.

Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America, is in charge of the relaunch of Accutron as a separate brand from Bulova.
Jeffrey Cohen, President of Citizen Watch America, is in charge of the relaunch of Accutron as a separate brand from Bulova.

Europa Star: Bulova has revived the famous Accutron from 1960 several times in the past. What’s really different this time?

Jeffrey Cohen: It’s a completely different logic, for two main reasons. On the one hand, we’re launching permanent collections around the Legacy, DNA and Spaceview models, while a previous model like the Accutron II Alpha Watch in 2014 was a limited edition. And above all, Accutron is becoming, or rather becoming again, a brand in its own right, reviving the spirit of its origins. In fact, through our archives, we realised that there were multiple identities over time: sometimes it was the Bulova Accutron, other times Accutron was mentioned alone. We believe that today it has earned the right to be a brand in its own right, distinct from Bulova.

The Spaceview 2020 (left) and Accutron DNA (right) models are equipped with Accutron's exclusive patented electrostatic energy-powered calibre.
The Spaceview 2020 (left) and Accutron DNA (right) models are equipped with Accutron’s exclusive patented electrostatic energy-powered calibre.

What convinced you to opt for this distinct branding strategy?

First of all, a growing enthusiasm from the watchmaking community itself: Accutron has a solid base of aficionados. It’s also this whole era, that of Mad Men (the model is the topic of one episode of the series – Ed.) that fascinates young people today. In fact, when we presented the new models to our partners and retailers, their children were often the most enthusiastic. Sometimes, the youngest ones had received an Accutron from their grandparents, and it’s a bit as if the model had skipped a generation and now has a bright future again. We’ve actually been receiving requests for a real relaunch of the Accutron for years. The time has finally come!

You have also involved Accutron collectors and enthusiasts themselves in this revival.

We called on a panel of enthusiasts to define the most accurate DNA for this first series of new products. They came to New York and we worked closely together to review the most iconic Accutron models and the best styles for the new designs. This gave us the impetus for the project and helped us ensure that the choices were in line with the reality of fans’ expectations. Then the “professionals” went into action.

A model from the Legacy collection, directly inspired by Accutron watches that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s
A model from the Legacy collection, directly inspired by Accutron watches that appeared in the 1960s and 1970s

On the one hand, the new Legacy collection is based on the aesthetic codes of the 1960s; on the other hand, the Accutron DNA and Spaceview 2020 series reproduce the innovative spirit of the time, with a new calibre operating on electrostatic energy. Can you guide us through the R&D behind these models?

Research began ten years ago, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Accutron. We didn’t just want to relaunch a design, we wanted to create a calibre that would remain true to the electronic precision of the 1960 model while offering true innovation. From a technical point of view, the development was quite a feat: the electrostatic motor was miniaturised enough to fit inside a watch, while conserving the amount of energy needed to power the model. This also explains the 44mm size of this series, as sufficient space is needed to accommodate such a high-performance movement, while remaining absolutely wearable. The Legacy collection, on the other hand, has dimensions closer to the models of the 1960s and 1970s that inspired it.

There have been numerous relaunches of “vintage” or “retro-futuristic” watches in recent years, while the pre-owned segment has experienced significant growth. Who is the target audience for the new Accutron brand?

The target clientele is rather male and rather young, people in their twenties to their forties. That’s the great thing about this project: back then, the Accutron was the watch of the new generation. And that is still the case 60 years later, through this relaunch! We’re also releasing a book, written by Jack Forster, that highlights this exceptional story, and we’ve launched a podcast that revives the spirit of “Americana”, which is very popular with the new generation.

The distinctive asymmetrical case of a Legacy watch inspired by the Accutron 521 model of the 1960s
The distinctive asymmetrical case of a Legacy watch inspired by the Accutron 521 model of the 1960s

How has the pandemic impacted this launch?

We had planned to present the models at Baselworld, then at Couture, but finally thought it wiser to postpone the launch until this fall, in view of the cancellation of these events and the evolution of the public health situation. The models will be sold through our retailers in all markets.

This is another point related to the launch of Accutron as a fully-fledged brand: much more exclusive distribution. Some people were surprised at the price of the new products.

The objective is to offer a high-quality, technological and exclusive brand. With Accutron, we are no longer in Bulova’s price range: it is a new adventure with its own distribution, its own identity and its own codes. And given the amount of R&D and technology infused into these new models, we feel that the prices are underestimated!

An advertisement for the young Accutron brand published in Europa Star in 1963
An advertisement for the young Accutron brand published in Europa Star in 1963
©Europa Star 3/1963

THE MODELS

Spaceview 2020 & Accutron DNA: a revolutionary calibre

Relaunched as a brand in its own right, Accutron presents an innovation that is (almost) as striking as the original: the world’s first electrostatic calibre. The energy is created by twin turbines that rotate as a result of human motion at very high speeds between two electrodes affixed to the movement. The energy, stored in an accumulator, powers two motors; the world’s first electrostatic motor fuelling the fluid second hand, and a step motor powering the hour and minute hands. Both motors are synchronised through integrated circuits to provide accuracy to +/- 5 seconds a month.

The Spaceview 2020
The Spaceview 2020

This innovative process equips two new lines. The Spaceview 2020 aims to recreate the striking visual impact of the original design with its open dial and the green tones that constitute Accutron’s aesthetic signature. The electrostatic movement is fully visible inside the stainless steel case. This model is offered at $3,450.

The Accutron DNA
The Accutron DNA

Accutron is unveiling another line powered by an electrostatic movement, the simply named Accutron DNA, featuring modernist-minimalist aesthetics combined with sci-fi touches. The collection’s four new styles feature open skeletonised movements that showcase the precision of the electrostatic energy drive, and high-tech rubber straps with deployant closures, adding a sportier look. The collection retails for $3,300.

A book published by Assouline Editions and written by Jack Forster (Hodinkee) traces the Accutron saga from its birth in 1960 to its rebirth in 2020.
A book published by Assouline Editions and written by Jack Forster (Hodinkee) traces the Accutron saga from its birth in 1960 to its rebirth in 2020.

Legacy: a wide array of reinterpretations

Last year, Accutron invited collectors to the brand’s headquarters at the Empire State Building in New York to start the design of this collection and develop models that would reflect the characteristics of Accutron series from the 1960s and 1970s, which are among the brand’s most emblematic.

The collectors invited by the brand discussed their own relationship with Accutron and selected the most sought-after vintage models, which provided a source of inspiration for the relaunch. The Accutron Legacy collection comprises twelve watches, all limited to 600 pieces and equipped with a Swiss-made 26-jewel movement.

An Accutron from the Legacy Series, inspired by the model 565 from 1966
An Accutron from the Legacy Series, inspired by the model 565 from 1966

Reinterpretations include the reimagining of two 1966 originals, known as the 203 and the 565, which feature a visually distinctive asymmetrical case design and crown placement at 4 o’clock. The 203 model is offered in a 34mm gold- and silver-tone stainless steel case with a 3-hand champagne dial, Arabic numeral at 12 o’clock, and fine-line stick markers on the outer ring. The 565 has a cross-hatching detail added to the same visually distinctive asymmetrical case design.

Accutron draws inspiration from another 1960s original, the 521. The new Accutron 521 also has a visually distinctive asymmetrical case design and crown placement near 3 o’clock, however the 32.8mm x 32.5mm case dimension retains its original size for unisex wearability today. The first model has a gold-tone stainless steel case and mesh style bracelet with double-press deployant closure, featuring a 3-hand silver white dial and stylised double-stick hour markers. The second model is presented in a gold-tone stainless steel case with 3-hand silver white dial and stylised double-stick hour markers.

Staying within the 60s decade, Accutron releases two timepieces directly inspired by the vintage Accutron 505 from 1965. Showcased in a sleek, stand-out 33mm alpha case design with crown placement at 4 o’clock, the 505 is offered in a silver-tone or a gold-tone stainless steel case with a 3-hand silver white dial and matching applied hour markers.

The re-edition of the Accutron Legacy R.R.-0 (34mm) with its very distinctive “railroad” style
The re-edition of the Accutron Legacy R.R.-0 (34mm) with its very distinctive “railroad” style

The remaining watch within the Legacy collection that draws inspiration from this time period is the 1969 original 412, a tried and true classic model. Featuring a round case design and crown placement at 4 o’clock, the gold-tone 34mm stainless steel case comes with a 3-hand silver white dial with gold-tone applied and faceted hour markers.

Moving into the 1970s for influence, the brand presents first a model inspired by a 1970 original: the first ever railroad-approved watch in wristwatch form. The Accutron R.R.-0 has a uniquely faceted railroad case design with crown placement at 4 o’clock. Offered in a 34mm stainless steel case with bold Arabic numerals and a bright white 24-hour dial, the timepiece features a 0 at the 12-hour mark to meet Canadian Railroad specifications, and a red second hand for accurate monitoring. The watch also includes a calendar feature and is completed with a black leather strap with double-press deployant closure.

The year 1971 recalls two Accutron models, the 261 and the Day and Date “Q”. The new reimagined 261 timepieces offer a unique and stylish cushion case design with crown placement at 4 o’clock. The Accutron Day and Date “Q” is another 1971 vintage timepiece primarily remembered for its beautifully streamlined oval case and crown placement at 4 o’clock. Seen with a silver-tone 34.5mm stainless steel case and dark blue dial, the piece is presented with cool grey applied Roman numerals and a blue-accented day/date feature.

An Accutron Legacy inspired by the 1966 model 203
An Accutron Legacy inspired by the 1966 model 203

To round out the Legacy collection, Accutron looks to the year 1974 and reinterprets the distinctive 21343-9W model. The new 21343-9W watch boasts a uniquely handsome cushion case design with its crown at 4 o’clock. The 38mm silver-tone stainless steel case features a rounded-corner shape and a three-link bracelet with double-press deployant closure.

The Accutron Legacy Collection models range in price from $1,290 to $1,550.

The reissue of the Day and Date “Q” model with a streamlined oval case, crown at 4 o'clock and dark blue dial
The reissue of the Day and Date “Q” model with a streamlined oval case, crown at 4 o’clock and dark blue dial
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