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1966 Bulova Accutron Astronaut GMT (Caliber 214) Vintage Watch Review/Measurements

GXAlan

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1966 Bulova Accutron Astronaut GMT Vintage Watch Review with Measurements

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"The Accutron movement made its official appearance in October 1960. Designed as an electronic movement, the Accutron, designated the Caliber 214, utilizes a 360 Hz tuning fork and battery to replace the traditional balance wheel and spring. The Accutron movement was so precise and capable of handling extreme temperatures and pressure, that NASA utilized it in the instruments of the Gemini and Apollo cockpits. Chosen by the CIA for wear during missions with the A-12 and X-15 aircraft at the height of the Cold War, the Accutron Astronaut GMT has become a symbol of ingenious engineering and design, as well as a piece of aeronautic history."

Hodinkee has a great advertorial on the technology.

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Specifications
1966 Bulova Accutron Astronaut GMT
Caliber 214 with rated 99.9977% accuracy; 360 Hz
Acrylic crystal
38mm case width
13.5mm case height
17mm lug width

Test Setup
A UMIK-1 pointed toward the watch. Windy and rainy day.
Given that the ambient noise is so high relative to the signal, the THD+N is impossible to interpret.

Objective Results
Using @JohnPM 's REW's RTA function, you can see that the tuning fork in the Accutron watch had a measured frequency of 360.01 Hz. It should be 360Hz.

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Looking at the manufacturer's advertisements, it should offer 99.9977% accuracy...
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I repeated the measurements again, and this time with shorter FFTs and this time, REW actually reported a measurement of 360.00 Hz.
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In order for this 57-year-old watch to meet the advertised specification, it should not run faster than 360.008 Hz. Since REW rounds to two decimal points, it's very possible that this watch is continuing to meet its advertised performance. It is certainly safe to say that it is "at least 99.9972% accurate" which is only a maximum deviation of 0.0005% from the advertisement even though the real accuracy is likely better.

Next, I ran the watch through @pkane 's Multitone Analyzer. Here, I told the software to generate a 360 Hz tone so that it could assign a jitter value but no audio was being played. This is just the recording. The Multitone Analyzer software does not account for the UMIK-1's calibration but the range from 360 Hz to 1800Hz (for H2 and H3) is 0.177 dB to 0.003 dB of variance.

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With 2M FFT and 128 averages, the rms-jitter was an impressive 6.1 microseconds. That's great for a 57-year-old watch!

Measuring it again with a smaller, less-precise FFT, and fewer averages, I was able to get a result showing "zero" measurable jitter.

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Subjective Impressions
No firmware update was needed. I experienced no crashes or compatibility errors during my testing.

The Accutron was easily ABX'able against several mechanical watches in collection. The watch was free from any extraneous "ticks" or "tocks." Imaging was poor though the dispersion was superb as the 360 Hz tone was consistent on- and off- axis.

When assessed in a non-blinded fashion, my impression was that the second hand glided effortlessly without any of the jitter seen with mid-fi quartz watches, nor the "grain" one sees in the seconds hands of mechanical watches. There were no microphonics against the watch case which can be heard with many mechanical watches. In my opinion, the smoothness of the Accutron's seconds hand was equal to the performance of watches costing several times its price, including a $103,000 platinum Grand Seiko with a 9R02 Spring Drive.

Although "burn-in" is considered an audiophile myth, I am confident that the luminescent hands were brighter without being shrill after exposing the watch to bright light. The enhance visibility of the luminescent hands quickly faded though, potentially suggesting that I was adapting to the product or the burn-in would be better described as warm-up. Given the energy efficiency, I certainly recommend leaving it on all the time and keeping the watch exposed to bright light before relying on the luminescence.

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Conclusion
Highly recommended. PRaT (Pace, rhythm, and timing) was beautiful. This watch easily performs as well or better than watches even 10 or 100 times its price. There are certainly better-measuring solid-state watches out there and certainly more musical mechanical watches for true audiophiles in search of luxury and exclusivity. Based upon my experience, however, the Accutron Caliber 214 certainly is worth an audition.

@amirm @LarryRS @rdenney @watchnerd @pseudoid
 
Based upon my experience, however, the Accutron Caliber 214 certainly is worth an audition.
So what's it's current value on the used market?
 
So what's it's current value on the used market?
The Astronaut GMT is about $1000–1500 depending on condition. Can be cheaper if it’s in rough condition.

To get a vintage Accutron with the same tuning fork mechanism, there are several under $500 on eBay right now. Some of these will have aftermarket components or mix/match from different watches.

Great history of the company too:
 
There’s a new model! Based on tbe 1968 version and $3500.

Not really my thing.

The newer models don’t use tuning forks. They just have the same looks. Accutron has an electrostatic movement but the contemporary models either use a 262 kHz quartz or conventional mechanical movement. Citizen is the parent company.

There was an anniversary tuning fork model which is silly expensive.
 
The newer models don’t use tuning forks. They just have the same looks. Accutron has an electrostatic movement but the contemporary models either use a 262 kHz quartz or conventional mechanical movement. Citizen is the parent company.

There was an anniversary tuning fork model which is silly expensive.
There’s a 2023 anniversary replica which is what I found, but yes, on reading further it’s also mechanical. Descriptions get mixed up with a previous anniversary model, and at least one seller of the new replica claims that all the Astronaut models were mechanical…
 
$1195! No thanks, I will take my no-name Chinese made watch.
There are (as @GXAlan has pointed out) cheaper Bulovas with the tuning fork mechanism if all you wanted was to collect one for that. It's a historical artefact these days really.
 
Excellent testing and write up of the results. About the accuracy, do you know the accuracy of the ADC involved in terms of timing? Could be 50 ppm off. :)
 
You should have saved this 'review' for April 1st.

I thought about it, but this week of products from JPS were pretty big jokes already and I figure we will want some thing laugh about when we see the AVR-X4800H. Maybe it’ll get bumped to front page on April 1. :)
 
Telling time with these is a harsh, sterile experience. Telling time in space requires something warm and forgiving. Something that is pleasing to the inner soul. That something is a Speedmaster.

:D
 
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Telling time with these is a harsh, sterile experience. Telling time in space requires something warm and forgiving. Something that is pleasing to the inner soul. That somehting is a Speedmaster.

:D

It's sort of interesting. The Bulova Accutron was used in spacecraft but not used in exposed outer space. Sort of like the X-33. The Speedmaster Professional has the bragging rights of actually passing the NASA tests to be used in exposed outer space!
 
Conclusion
Highly recommended.
I am sorry @GXAlan
At times, I get this notion that I should resurrect one of the Accutrons in my inventory but it appears that their SINAD seems absolutely deplorable.
I am afraid that my "audiophile" creds would be ruined if I rejuvenated one with a new battery and wore it.
Your fault!:rolleyes:

Do you have the Accutron Calibration/Service rig, which used to come in its own tan leather case (~18"x9"x9").
I recall my father saying that 3 of them had to get together to 'afford' one (I recall a price being north of USD$1k back in mid 1960s).
 
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To get a vintage Accutron with the same tuning fork mechanism, there are several under $500 on eBay right now.
...or if you like one of these... contact me.
But ONLY if you want it to wear it and NOT for resale value.
Perhaps audio-hw in trade (instead of $$)?
But not that guitar you got slingin' on your avatar!;)
 
Lol. But you spent how much on your bling speakers?

Its all relative. I probably spend too much on bling cars

It was tongue in cheek. Same reaction I see on ASR whenever an expensive DAC, IEM, or expensive anything is reviewed. I have a Lange, IWC, and Omega and a few others.
 
It was tongue in cheek. Same reaction I see on ASR whenever an expensive DAC, IEM, or expensive anything is reviewed. I have a Lange, IWC, and Omega and a few others.
As was my response - I really should add emojis.
Iam an Omega fan but this thread has got me looking up Bulova
 
I am an Omega fan but this thread has got me looking up Bulova
Omega watches allow more braggin' rights than Bulovas but that is my penny's worth!
And for my dime; I would have to concede that my 'unobtainium' is a simple 3-handed Panerai.
 
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