Inside the Accutron DNA: The world’s first twin-turbine electrostatic watch

Watching the gears, springs, and other mechanicals working away inside a traditional watch is a thing of mesmerizing beauty. This is a key feature of the Accutron DNA, as the dial actually exposes the inner workings, but what you see is unlike any other watch. Instead of gears turning, the dial is dominated by three turbines that shimmer as they rotate, while the second hand sweeps around the dial without interruption.

The visual excitement is only part of the Accutron DNA’s appeal. It uses a unique twin-turbine electrostatic motor — a world’s first — adapted from the first widely available electronic watch movement developed by Accutron in the 1960s, which was known for its incredible accuracy. It has taken years of development work to bring Accutron’s electrostatic motor back, and to help understand the work involved, and what makes the watch so special, Digital Trends spoke to an Accutron representative about it via email.

What is an electrostatic motor?

Watches are usually powered by a mechanical movement or a quartz movement, or if it’s a smartwatch, just a battery. The Accutron DNA watch’s NS30 movement is slightly different, as it uses an electrostatic motor. The Accutron team explained what this actually means:

Close up of the Accutron DNA's watch dial
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

“The movement is like an automatic quartz. It recharges itself using electrostatic energy activated with the movement of your arm, the same as an automatic mechanical timepiece. But it has the benefits of quartz with a very high level of accuracy, just plus/minus five seconds a month versus 15-plus seconds a day [for a mechanical movement].”

The Accutron DNA uses your movement to charge the electrostatic motor, which is visualized on the dial by those three turbines. The two in the lower half of the dial are the generators that spin up depending on your movement, sending energy to an accumulator. This is distributed to the larger turbine, which powers the second hand, and a step motor to power the hour and minute hands.

Today I’m writing about this, the Accutron DNA watch. It’s technically exciting due to the electrostatic power source, and it also has a fascinating history behind it.

I love the smooth sweep of the second hand, and that spinning turbine 🔥 pic.twitter.com/8iCqwZIDL8

— Andy Boxall (@AndyBoxall) May 25, 2021

It’s utterly beautiful to see. The turbines are covered in positive and negatively charged electrodes, which generate the movement, and they spin very rapidly, resulting in a stunning shimmering effect. The lower generators rotate extremely quickly, while the large turbine is slightly lazier, and the second hand sweeps smoothly around the dial. The Accutron’s dial is full of life and movement.

Years of development work

The unique electrostatic movement is rooted in the brand’s history. Accutron first developed an electrostatic watch movement in the 1960s, when it was part of the Bulova watch brand. The watch was the Accutron 214 Spaceview, which instead of turbines and movement powering the watch, used a “tuning fork” oscillator powered by a battery. Bulova Accutron watches found their way onto the wrists of pilots, astronauts, and a lot of watch fans between its 1960 launch and eventual discontinuation in 1977, before becoming the inspiration for the new movement.

The Accutron DNA watch from the side, on a wrist
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

However, bringing it back was not that simple. Despite the Accutron DNA’s electrostatic motor being based on established technology and influenced by a watch the company has made before, the team was essentially starting again with the NS30 movement because it was no longer possible to build the motor it had used before.

“The equipment used in the ’60s and ’70s to industrially produce the tuning fork Accutron no longer exists,” the team said, revealing the reason why the new Accutron watches have turbines. “With no documents to refer to from the past, discovery was through repeated tests on prototypes. The inspiration for the new movement was the Accutron 214, and the goal was to have an open dial to showcase the amazing movement.”

The Accutron DNA's case back
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The turbines solved the problem, but there were still many challenges ahead in creating the watch itself.

“The design team had to work with the engineering team, and it was first thought one generator was enough. It wasn’t, and we added a second turbine. Electrostatic generation and electrostatic motors are not new technology, but using two within a timepiece has never been done before. There were many challenges in developing this world’s-first technology. An unprecedented level of component accuracy is required to keep the clearances needed in the mechanism in order to generate power by static electricity and activate the motor. Steps had to be taken to improve the precision of parts in mass production, and it was difficult to select the best materials to generate the required levels of electricity and the best charge.”

The watch

The Accutron DNA is made from stainless steel and has domed sapphire crystal over the dial. The pronounced dome gives the bezel shape and depth without excessive distortion. The 45mm case is 15.6mm thick, and the version seen here with green accents is joined by three other models with either bronze, blue, or grey accents. The rubber strap is easily adjusted for your wrist, and is thick and strong without getting sweaty.

Adjusting the crown on the Accutron DNA watch
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Despite the size, the watch isn’t heavy, and the integrated lugs and sharp taper of the rubber strap ensure it doesn’t look large either. It slips under the cuff of a shirt without a problem, but I’ve worn it with my cuff pushed back. The wonderful blend of high-tech components and traditional watchmaking materials really appeals, and I enjoy showing it off. It feels special, there’s some fascinating horological history behind it, and the design is modern without looking outlandish.

If you’d prefer a more traditional style, Accutron also produces the Spaceview 2020 watch, which uses the same NS30 electrostatic motor, but inside a slightly smaller 43mm case attached to a more standard leather strap.

The future is electrostatic

Accutron is now a stand-alone brand, spun off by the Citizen Watch Group, which now owns the Bulova brand, and the years of development put into the NS30 means it’s unlikely to only be used inside the DNA and Spaceview 2020 watches. We asked the team about the future:

The Accutron DNA's crown, in close up
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

“For now, we are very proud of this new movement, and our energy and focus remain on continued quality control and ensuring we are able to produce enough timepieces to stay with the current demand. Looking forward, we can imagine perhaps smaller diameter, thinner watches, and perhaps adding a complication to the movement.”

Interestingly, despite its inability to use the old tuning fork-style oscillator inside the latest watches, the company has not given up on the concept.

“When we launched the Accutron Spaceview LE in 2010 with a tuning fork movement, all 1,000 timepieces were handmade. Many Accutron collectors have expressed an interest in the return of the tuning fork movement, and this is something our research and development teams are working on, so stay tuned.”

The Accutron DNA is available to buy now starting at $3,300, or 2,790 British pounds, while the Spaceview 2020 model starts at $3,450, or 2,990 pounds.