28 August 2007

Ghost In The Gears... Revealed

So I've been wearing my grandfathers 1971 Accutron. It was a gift from Chase Manhattan Bank for 25 years of "service".

After he returned from WW2, where he managed to survive the war unscathed flying fighter jets and bombing shit but was shot while suntanning on the hood of a jeep at an army base in Germany, he got a quiet suit and tie gig at Chase, met my grandmother and had my dad.

Anyway, so I gave his watch a new battery, a new band and a new life.

And I noticed the most amazing thing today.

If you put your ear right up to it, you don't hear the typical second-hand clicking or the tick-tick-tocking you'd imagine but you hear the dull but steady ring of a bell; almost like when someone rubs their wet finger around the lip of a wineglass.

It's like a ghost from the past on my wrist; hearing the workings, the gears and the complications of Joseph Bulova.

I did some research and found that there is in fact a tuning fork inside the watch! That's what I was hearing!

"Accutron" tuning fork watches, first sold by Bulova, use a 360 hertz tuning fork to drive a mechanical gear train. The inventor, Max Hetzel, was born in Basel, Switzerland, and joined the Bulova Watch Company in 1948.

This outstanding engineer was the first one to use an electronic device, a transistor, in a wrist watch. Thus, Max Hetzel developed the first watch in the world that truly deserved the qualification "electronic": the world-famous "Bulova Accutron". More than 4 million were sold until production stopped in 1977.

Y'know, I'd always wondered what the fuck that Bulova logo was... it's a tuning fork! DUH!

In 1964 the "Bulova Accutron" was chosen to be buried for 5,000 years on the grounds of the New York World Fair in order to save it for future generations as an example of one of the 44 most innovative objects to be invented during the last two and a half decades.
"To this day, Bulova and Accutron watches bear a tuning fork logo; a curious symbol for a watch company. Anyone familiar with the Accutron brand prior to 1977 may recognise the Accutron watch as "The tuning fork watch". If you are lucky enough to have examined an old Accutron tuning fork watch, you may have heard the faint ringing hum of a tuning fork emanating from the watch. Any Accutron watch dealer will tell you that they are still questioned from time-to-time: "Whatever became of the tuning fork watches?"

An American success story in an industry dominated by the Swiss, Bulova was founded by Joseph Bulova, then a 23 year-old immigrant to the U.S. from Bohemia in 1875. Bulova began as a jeweler and didn't begin manufacturing timepieces until 1911, but from there quickly developed into a watch industry powerhouse.

In the middle of the 20th Century, a few manufacturers began producing electric watches. Mechanically, these watches differed from traditional spring driven mechanical watches only in the fact that the same mechanism was driven by a small electric motor instead of a mainspring. They offered no gains in terms of accuracy.

In 1952, Bulova began to develop the Accutron. It would be, the company claims, the first real breakthrough in timekeeping technology in 300 years. Indeed, to that point, all watches and clocks operated on the same basic set of mechanical principles.

The Accutron watch would be something completely different. A small tuning fork device, would oscillate at a nearly constant frequency when an electrical current was run though it. The tuning fork was fitted to a ratcheting mechanism that turned a geared wheel forward one notch at a time with each oscillation cycle. Because it incorporated transistors, it became the first "electronic" watch.

The Accutron watch entered production in 1960. It promised accuracy to within two seconds a day, or one minute a month. An immediate success, Accutron was the first wristwatch to be certified as "railroad approved". To that point, railroad engineers had used approved pocket watches which had to be frequently serviced and regulated. An examination of the history of horrific train collisions in the 19th Century will convince one of the importance of accurate timekeeping in the rail business.

The eventual development of the quartz watch made Accutron technology obsolete, and by the end of the 1970s, Bulova had phased them out. But if quartz technology is sometimes characterized as "soulless" by watch aficionados, the Accutron was an electronic watch with soul."

1 comment:

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