The Right Stuff: Accutron Re-Blasts the Fabled Astronaut

The Right Stuff: Accutron Re-Blasts the Fabled Astronaut

The watch that launched a thousand collectors’ obsessions gets an apt but faithful re-release today.

By Mike Espindle
Executive Editor

In this gig, I get to meet a LOT of fellow watch collectors. Many are more traditional collectors who keyed off of early obsessions with major, haute horological brands in their youth. But some came to watches from the worlds of popular culture, design, art, and other outsider interests.

And in this atypical stripe of collector, I’ve heard references to the original Accutron Astronaut timepieces as the “gateway drugs” into collecting from more than one. Many more.

For example, one of our recent “Collectors Collect” subjects, Patrick Parrish, waxed poetic about his experiences with the Astronaut that kicked off his lifelong timepiece fascination in his interview. “Just so futuristic, the whole ‘no crown’ design...I finally picked one up at Brimfield [a legendary mega flea market/antique show event in Massachusetts] in the late 1990s/early 2000s,” he shared.

That Accutron purchase led to his collecting more space-related watches, then timepieces associated with flight, racing, and diving, with a focus on GMT complications, and eventually the opening of his “secret” watch shop in SoHo.

Early Authenticity

While there is certainly at least one major watchmaker (Hint: Its name begins with an “O”) that can lay solid claim to its association with NASA and Moon exploration, Accutron has its own unique history with U.S. space exploration.

Before the U.S. government created NASA, Accutron’s then-parent company Bulova collaborated with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, incorporating the prototype electronic Accutron time-keeping technology into the Vanguard 1 satellite when it launched in 1958. Then, in 1963, Astronaut Gordon Cooper used his hyper-accurate Accutron Astronaut equipped with a GMT during his 22-orbit Mercury-Atlas 9 mission aboard the Faith 7.

Under the direction of Bulova’s then-Chairman-of-the-Board General Omar Bradley (a.k.a. the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the U.S. military), other technologies provided by Accutron were on board spacecraft for 46 further U.S. space missions.

Early Collector-Appeal

In addition to high-orbit authenticity, the original Astronaut models also presaged an approach that became a natural attraction for collectors: Variation.

Starting in 1962, the inaugural model was the “A” variant of the Astronaut. And by the time the “M” variants were released, each got stamped with its year of production. Moreover, in addition to astronauts, models were also produced for X-15 test pilots and high-altitude CIA Lockheed A-12 aerial surveillance pilots. This ongoing series of letter- and type-designated iterations continued until (and beyond) the iconic 1968 “T” version.

While most of the Astronauts were crafted in stainless steel, a seemingly endless variety of alterations in materials, badging, logo work, bezel design, dial approach, and other details were a constant development right up until the original Astronaut’s final year of production, 1977.

Today’s Astronaut

So, where do you start when you decide it’s time to re-release such an important timepiece with so many variations? Accutron picked the same 1968 “T” version mentioned above as inspiration, and it is just a perfect starting point to communicate the zeitgeist of the Astronaut’s lineage.

The 41mm stainless steel timepiece embodies a classic black-dial approach featuring a GMT function, lumed hands and indices, and a black-and-white (day/night) steel bezel. A partial exhibition caseback gives a view to SW330 GMT movement while the vintage steel “bullet” bracelet amps that period authenticity. A very slim, recessed crown completes the futuristic look.

In Accutron’s press materials for the new Astronaut, it’s billed as the “very first” re-edition of the Astronaut, so is it a safe bet that, with such a large variety of original versions, there are more to come? I’d say, “Roger that, Houston.”

“There is no denying the outstanding history of both Accutron and Bulova with the U.S. Space Program,” says Jeffrey Cohen, President of Accutron-parent Citizen Watch America. “The significance of the relationship and specifically the tuning fork technology led to the creation of the Accutron brand as the standalone brand it is today.”

Pricing & Availability

Limited to only 300 pieces, the Astronaut “T” version re-issue retails for $3,500.

Learn more on Accutron’s website.

(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)

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