By Jerome Piguet
It does not require a deep knowledge of watches to have heard the word “quartz” and somehow associated it with a feeling of cheapness. It is true, quartz movements today are very affordable to produce and yet still more accurate than any mechanical watch. However, this was not always the case, and there was a time when having “quartz” written on a dial was something to be proud of.
1974 Bulova Accuquartz – Note the addition of a crystal icon on the dial, if the name was not enough.
From the late 1950s with the Hamilton 500 to the early 1970s with the emergence of quartz, brands fought with ingenuity to find ways to power watches with electricity, replacing the centuries-old mainspring. We could fit a battery in a watchcase, but we still needed to harness the energy to rotate the hands at the correct speed.
The crown at 4 was a famous feature of the Accutron watches equipped with the caliber 218.
One of the solutions was the tuning fork. The most famous and earliest model to use this technology is the Bulova Accutron Spaceview with the electric beauty of the caliber 214 shown by the absence of the dial.
The Accutron was a success, but Bulova had to follow the quartz trend in order to stay in the race.
They participated in the development of the first Swiss quartz movement, the Beta 21. With 17 other brands, Bulova released a Beta21 powered watch in 1970 named Accuquartz. The name, a contraction of Accutron and Quartz, had already been used a year before on an electric clock. But it is only two years later, in 1972, that Bulova will release its first in-house quartz movement, the caliber 224.
The Beta21 equipped Accuquartz compared with the slim and more affordable 224
(Picture: Europa Star EJW 127, 1972, via grail-watch.com)
Way more affordable and mass produced than the Beta21, the 224 is the movement that most deserves the name Accuquartz. It is indeed a modified tuning fork caliber 218 with a quartz module added to it. This results in a quartz crystal timing the vibration of a tuning fork driving the hands. The tuning fork was vibrating at 341.3 hertz instead of 360 for the previous caliber 218. A new gear ratio was developed to fit this change. This odd frequency was due to the possibility of dividing the quartz signal by 32 and 3, going from 32.768 vibration per second to, roughly, 341.3. A frequency that the tuning fork could handle and transfer to the gear train.
Caliber Bulova 2242 (day and date) – The tuning fork can be seen around the orange coils all the way down the movement, as well as the quartz module (on the left side)
This unique solution was a hybrid of the peak of pre-quartz technology with the quartz itself who will soon dominate the industry. The Bulova Accuquartz was the first quartz watch to hit the US market and aimed to be affordable with prices quickly going from $395 to $250.
Steel case with a brushed finish, Tapestry dial with applied indexes, this simple yet detailed design can very well fit in today’s fashion.
The last use of the name Accuquartz was in 1974 for a LED watch and finally in 1976, the Accutron Quartz using a conventional stepper motor rang the end of the tuning fork era. Despite only being on the market for 4 years, the Accuquartz can be considered a success with many different case designs, materials and dials to chose from.
From left to right: Caliber 218 tuning fork, 224 Hybrid “Accuquartz”, 242 Quartz
Accuquartz watches can still be easily found today on the secondhand market and are more affordable than the caliber 218 and 214. Coming in comfortable sizes (36mm for the one showed here) with steel cases, attractive dials and of course a very interesting movement that can still be serviced today, Accuquartz watches merit a look when in search of an unusual yet affordable vintage watch.
(Pictures, if not specified: @AstieganWatches / Jerome Piguet)