Since I started collecting vintage watches, back in 2012, there have been many models that are considered "Holy Grails" that I wanted to own. After all, it's a natural consequence of being a collector: you begin to crave for the rarest and most uncommon watches ever made, something that is unique or at least distinctive enough to make your collection different.
In a way or another, I can't deny that I had my fair share of satisfaction at acquiring several watches I only saw in pictures on forums and magazines. But there's been always a particular watch I never, ever managed to get.
The Bulova Accuquartz LCD, the Loch Ness monster of digital watches. Everyone says it exists but almost no one has ever seen one in the metal. Is it a mythical watch? Is it real? Well, theoretically it is, considering that Crazywatches owns a working one and two forum members (one is even registered here) own two unfortunately dead specimen. Information about this watch are scarce, almost non existent. There's no mention of the Accuquartz 226 anywhere, not even in Pieter Doensen's books. There's no advertising of this model, and I found no Bulova catalog of the era that would shed some light on it. It's almost as it belongs to another dimension, perhaps something has disrupted the space-time continuum and a batch of those LCD Accuquartzes have accidentally landed in our dimension.
Until, one night, I saw one on eBay.
It came from Canada, a pawn shop owner sold it for spares, as he didn't test it, but to avoid issues he sold it as non working and as soon as I saw it, I told to myself that I had to make it mine. However, there was a big issue: the seller didn't want to ship internationally, and since I live in Europe, that was a big blow to my self esteem. Shortly after that, the watch was sold. Yay, I lost that opportunity forever... Until a month later: the same watch resurfaced, at a lower price. Who knows what's the reason behind its relisting? Maybe the buyer had a second thought? We'll never know.
Anyway, this time I resorted to a forwarding service which dealt with Canada and so, I put a Canadian address in my profile, made an offer and bam, it was accepted. And in a couple of weeks, the watch arrived at my doorstep.
Aesthetically speaking, it was in good condition, although its 10KT rolled gold plating was a little bit worn at the corners, but I didn't care too much. I opened it and I sighed in relief when I saw that there was no battery inside and the module was squeaky clean, but I noticed that the plastic wings that apply pressure to the LCD panel when the caseback is in place, were missing and so, the display most likely would've malfunctioned.
I took a fresh 386 and plopped it into the watch, only to find out that... It was dead. No sign of life, nothing. Obviously I felt disheartened, but I thought to leave the battery inside for a while, because sometimes old digital watches (particularly LCD ones) tend to require some time before they start working again after decades of inactivity. And after circa 5 minutes, lo and behold:
Several segments were missing, but for the first time, I saw something on the display!! I felt almost moved by such a sight... At this point, I knew that I had to persevere and think about something that would put pressure on the LCD panel, replacing the factory-installed plastic bar. But why's that?
The Bulova 2260 module has a huge design flaw, one of its many. Basically, the display does not completely touch the contacts on the module and the metallic frame that keeps it in place is insufficient to provide a good and constant contact with the PCB. So, the manufacturer adopted a quick and dirty workaround of a plastic piece with two "wings" that would apply pressure to the display once the caseback was tightened. Unfortunately, plastic tends to get brittle with time (and most likely, it got brittle after a couple of battery changes) and breaks. On mine, the wings were missing and so, I first attempted to replace them with two cardboard pieces:
Then I've promptly replaced them with two hard rubber pieces on the rear and two thin thermal pads on the front part of the module. The result left me astonished...
IT WORKED! All the missing segments reappeared, so I put a brown leather strap I had in the drawer and set the time. I simply couldn't believe my eyes, I was wearing probably one of the rarest LCD watches ever made, and it was working, upping the count of these little "Digital Nessies" to the astonishing amount of two, in the entire internet. Only two working specimen. Only. Two. Working. Specimen. Simply unbelievable...
The Accuquartz 226 (module 2260) is a quite simple watch, functions wise. It just tells the time, nothing else. It has two small and protunding setting buttons at 2 and 10 'o clock, which gives the watch a bizarre look, almost like the head of a robot. If you press the right one you can set the hours, if you press the left one you can zero the seconds and to set the minutes you have to press both. The buttons require the owner to press hard and fingers hurt after setting the time, making the process not exactly what I'd call a breeze. Something that makes it different from its competitors of the time is the lack of the usual flashing dot or colon to represent the seconds. Instead, it uses a little flashing star which looks like it came out of a 1950s graphic design job and gives the watch a lot of attitude. Unfortunately, while it works, the LCD display turns black after wearing it for some time, returning to normal after taking the watch off the wrist. Searching for a spare panel is in my list of things to do before I die, and I mostly hope to find one in this life, as I want to wear it just like my other watches, instead of keeping it as a "winter watch". 🤣
But many are the unanswered questions. Who developed this module? On the PCB there is nothing that can be a clue. No logo, no inscription except for Bulova USA and 2260. There is no mention of it in official documents, almost as if it never existed and was subjected to damnatio memoriae. Plus, the reason behind the module name, 226. Perhaps, as Crazywatches thought, it was developed before the more famous Hughes Aircraft-developed Accuquartz LED "Big Block", whose module name was 228?
Maybe it was discontinued due to the reliability issues that plagued this module, or maybe the tricky way to set the time made it unattractive to the general public? Maybe it could've even been made in a small batch for testing purposes and then they were recalled and destroyed, like the infamous Elgin 725?
I guess we'll never find the truth behind this mysterious watch. But the greatest satisfaction is that I own one, and I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts...