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A Gift That Inspired History

The power of a simple act of giving a gift can has an enormous impact. Learn the origin story of the Bulova Accutron and how it sparked a creative movement, including iconic Nike designs in the infographic below:

A Gift That Inspired History

A Gift That Inspired History

How the meaningful gift of an Accutron wristwatch, rooted in disruptive technology, led to the creation of a culturally iconic sneaker 


On October 25, 1960, Bulova released the first and most advanced electric watch in the world — which has continued to influence our culture for 60+ years


The First Of Its Kind

  • In the 1950s, watch companies started experimenting with the first generation of electronic watches 
    • 1952: Battery-powered designs introduced by Lip (France) and Elgin (US)
    • 1957: Hamilton introduced first electronic watch
    • These early models functioned like a mechanical watch, with an added motor and battery
      • Similar accuracy as traditional mechanical watches
      • Prone to failure and difficult to repair
  • Bulova with the development of Accutron
    • 1866: Louis Francois Clement Breguet, patented the tuning fork timepiece
      • Vibrating metal coils mark the passage of time
      • Vibrations divide each second into 360 equal parts
      • Tuning fork created a characteristic ‘hum’ sound
      • Watch hands made a smooth sweep rather than ‘ticking’ across the face
        • The result of a very high beat rate
    • 1953: Max Hentzel, a Swiss inventor, was recruited to miniaturize the technology
      • Created a pawl-and-jewel system attached to one end of the tuning fork, 
      • Vibrations pushed microscopic teeth on a tiny gear to track time
  • In 1960, the Accutron was released as the world’s first fully-electronic watch
    • Accutron: Portmanteau of ‘Accuracy Through Electronics’
    • To better explain the watch’s inner workings, “Open dial” demonstration model was developed as a salesman sample
      • 14 karat gold – to attract the attention of passersby
      • No crown – Accutron was so accurate the adjustment mechanism was moved to the back, away from view
    • The window model gained popularity so quickly that it was introduced as the official Accutron Spaceview in 1961
      • Movement-view watch designs became so popular that conversions were made to existing watch dials to allow view of the inner workings
    • Since 1961, over 200 models of Accutron have been released 
      • Elvis Presley was frequently photographed wearing several Accutrons from his collection
      • In 2013, Joe DiMaggio’s 1970-model Accutron sold at auction for $20,625
      • Paul Newman was photographed by Life Magazine wearing an Accutron 214 Spaceview during the filming of his directorial debut, ‘Rachel Rachel’ 
    • Worldwide, by 1976, over 5 million Accutron “tuning fork models” were sold 
    • And the timepiece has continued to evolve, paying homage to its original design
      • 43.5 mm polished steel case
      • Domed scratch-resistant sapphire crystal
    • Accutron’s new electrostatic movement has also pulled concepts from the original Spaceview
      • Uses new technology to generate power for the watch and move the hands
      • Two small turbines generate a magnetic field, which moves the rotor and turns the motor — essentially powered by arm movements
      • Achieves an extremely stable rate of just five seconds per month
      • Relies on an open-worked dial view to showcase interior engineering


Accutron technology did more than just keep time — it even took us to the moon


Air & Space

  • The Accutron Astronaut was developed to meet the demands of high speed flight and space travel
    • Operated at higher temperatures: up to 210 degrees Fahrenheit (98.89 degrees Celsius)
    • Resistant to disturbances: continued operations against shock and high g-forces
    • Extreme precision: a deviation of less than 2 seconds per day
  • Accutron technology was adopted by the US Air Force, The CIA, and NASA


  • Moon missions would not be possible without the accuracy of Accutron technology
    • Present on 46 Apollo Missions, as both body worn and instrument panel timing devices
    • Worn by USAF pilot Joe Walker during his record-setting high altitude flight
    • Worn by Robert M. White while piloting the X-15 rocket plane
      • Fastest manned aircraft 4,519 miles per hour
      • Highest altitude flight until 2004
    • Norman Thagard wore an Accutron Astronaut aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-7 – long after tuning fork models had gone out of production
    • Gordon Cooper used an Accutron to time retro burn on his Faith 7 mission, resulting in the most accurate splashdown achieved during the Mercury program
  • First American-made watch in space: Astronaut watch
  • Gemini program capsules featured a 24-hour dial
  • Widely used during Apollo program
    • In-flight instrument timers
    • Panel clock
    • Navigation instruments
  • Used in all 5 lunar orbiter satellites


Back on earth, the Accutron Spaceview continued inspiring cultural movements


Transparency & Inner Workings

  • Pompidou Centre, Paris
    • Centre Pompidou, first opened to the public in 1977
      • Designed by architect Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano
      • Intended to appear transparent, with column-free spaces for added flexibility
      • Open design moved all ductwork, plumbing, and electrical conduits to the exposed exterior of the building
    • Located in the 4th arrondissement, the design initially sparked controversy
      • Contemporary, high-tech style clashes with nearby traditional buildings, including Notre Dame
      • But over time, the Centre Pompidou gained admiration
        • 1980, National Geographic “love at second sight”
        • 2007, Pritzker Architecture Prize
  • What inspired the “inside out” design? An Accutron Spaceview Gifted by Rogers’ Mother, Dada
    • “I have a very beautiful watch from my mother . . . it wears its machine on the outside . . . in a way it encapsulates what I do.” – Richard Rogers
    • “Materials are a very key part of the aesthetic . . . All those little bits in the watch give scale” – Richard Rogers


The strong and attractive design of the Accutron Spaceview inspired many designers to try something different, including Tinker Hatfield — creator of the Air Max 1

    • Nike Air Max 1
      • “The Centre Pompidou was one of my must-sees when I was in Paris… this large almost machine-like building sort of spilling its guts out into the world… I remember being really super influenced by it. I’m fully convinced that had I not seen the building I might not have

        I might not have suggested that we actually exposed this air bag and make it visual and and actually let people see inside the shoe” – Tinker Hatfield
  • In 1981, Tinker Hatfield was a corporate architect, designing buildings for Nike 
    • By 1987, he switched to shoes and created some of the company’s most iconic styles — all containing a visible air bubble
      • Air Jordan III – VI
      •  Nike Air Tech Challenge III
      • Nike Air 180
  • It all started with the Air Max 1 — considered by many to be one of the greatest sneakers in history
  • Inspired by the exposed inner workings of the Pompidou, Hatfield created the transparent air bubble element
    • The inner workings of the shoe were directly visible through a ‘window,’ just like the Accutron Spaceview
    • “The shoe was designed to breathe, be flexible and fit well but the fact it had the air window in the sole and the frame color around it meant it looked a lot different than other shoes in its day” – Tinker Hatfield
    • Functional: The shoes were developed from ‘blow rubber molding’ that was originally created to reduce shock on NASA spaceflights
    • Fashionable: Air Max 1 shares a similar success story to Accutron in that its transparent design left a lasting impact on culture
  •  Air Max 1 gave rise to culturally relevant norms that have resonated with the sneaker community for generations
    • Popular even today with hip hop and gabber subcultures
    • Air Max originally retailed for $75 — and the silhouettes appreciate 28% per year  
    • An official Air Max holiday was established on March 26th, 2014
  • It was not by chance that some of Nike’s most revered and coveted collaborations were centered around this iconic shoe
    • Atmos
      • In 2002, Japanese boutique Atmos broke the seal and snagged the first-ever Air Max 1 collaboration
    • Patta
      • First collab in 2006 with the Nike Air Max 90, referencing one of Amsterdam’s most popular pastimes
    • Travis Scott
      • Released the first collab in 2017 with the Nike Air Force 1 Low


  • Air Max 1 still resonates with the sneaker community as a culturally iconic piece


Accutron’s legacy has shaped the designs of our past and the aesthetics of our future.