The Nixie Clock: A clock that is both retro and futuristic

The Nixie Clock: A clock that is both retro and futuristic

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Nixie tube displays, commonly known as Nixie clocks, are surprising machines. They project a retro look thanks to these mysterious neon lights (which display the time) that attract and intrigue fans of scientific and unusual objects.

wooden nixie clock

History of the Nixie Clock

The Nixie clock appeared in the mid-1950s. More precisely, it was developed by Haydu Brothers Laboratories, a small manufacturer of electronic tubes and began to be marketed in 1954 by Burroughs Corporation which created the Nixie brand. This name, according to an article in Scientific American magazine (1973), refers to "Numeric Indicator eXperimental No.1". 

Characteristics of a Nixie Clock

Knowing that this clock appeared in the 50s, it is normal that it has a retro charm while reflecting a modern and futuristic look and design. Thanks to this mix of genres, an original and elegant touch is brought to your interior decoration.

Generally, the Nixie clock is presented as follows: six small glass bells placed above an electrical box (often a wooden box) which takes care of the power supply. In each of these glass bells, there is an assembly of superimposed metallic filaments representing the numbers 1 to 9. Thanks to a counting system that is integrated into the box, each of these numbers is illuminated in turn. Thus, this system allows the clock to indicate the hours, minutes, and in some models the seconds and the date of the day. In other words, when the time needs to change, a different tube (number corresponding to the hour) lights up. Note also that the arrangement of the tubes within a bell has been designed to prevent the light emitted by one of the tubes from being disturbed by the other tubes that are switched off.

nixie clock history

How the Nixie clock works

The clock's tubes contain a low-pressure gas that glows when an electric current passes through it. Usually this gas consists of a mixture of neon and a certain amount of argon or mercury, this is what is considered a Penning mixture.

When the tube is subjected to a voltage of about 170 volts, the glow discharge system is activated. The electric current flows through the gas and generates a red-orange plasma that illuminates the tubes and the filaments inside. This system is called the cold cathode system. This denomination is due to the fact that this system has the advantage of little heating, improving the efficiency of the clock but also its lifespan. It is indeed rare that a Nixie tube reaches 40°C when it is running. In addition, this system can reach up to 200,000 hours of lighting, which shows how long the life of the clock can be.

If we detail a little more the mode of operation of the clock, you should know that the clock is controlled by a microcontroller PIC 18F2525 which is provided by a quartz oscillator. There are usually two buttons for settings, the first one increases the number of hours and the second one increases the number of minutes, otherwise other settings for seconds or the day may also be present.

Nixie clock operation

Advantages of a Nixie tube clock

Firstly, a Nixe clock is made (handcrafted) from recycled, sustainable materials and therefore is much more environmentally friendly. All this allows us to say that these kinds of clocks are timeless but above all unique pieces.

Thanks to its particular style, combining retro aspect, mystery and originality, this clock is perfectly suited to enhance an apartment, a chic hotel, or a place of attraction (Haunted house, escape game, etc.). This object, which will be described as vintage, will bring a touch of fantasy, originality and authenticity to your living space, while giving you the time of course.

Moreover, the Nixie clock is customizable, but even if you choose to leave it as it is, its unique charm will still delight your eyes. Not only yours, but the eyes of others. Indeed, whether you are a professional or an amateur, if you want to create a retro futuristic atmosphere in a room, sooner or later, you will have to take an interest in this clock.

Finally, in addition to possessing an incredible charm, the Nixie clock is remarkably silent (contrary to normal clocks), it can therefore perfectly take place in your rooms as decoration (and as a clock of course). And thanks to its luminous display, it will be very easy for you to read the time, even if it is dark, without disturbing you or your sleep.

advantages nixie clock

The different models of Nixie clocks

Although originally the design of a Nixie clock was just to be a case overhung with small glass tubes, nowadays there are many models with different shapes and based on different materials. For example, some models nowadays prefer to integrate the time inside the case, which reflects a design a little more sober and refined than the original. Otherwise, it can also be found in rounded, rectangular or even curved shapes. As for the case originally made of wood, it can now be found in various materials such as aluminum, Plexiglas or glass.

The numbers displayed on the clock are now generally from 4 to 6, depending on the model. In addition, its system has 2 modes, one to indicate the time, the other the date. But other evolutions have also been added to the functions of the clock, such as the addition of an alarm, the possibility of adjusting the backlighting, or the ability to change the display effects. 

Which Nixie tube clock do you need?

When choosing a Nixie clock, it's important to consider your own tastes. However, you should also consider the ambiance you want to provide to the decoration of your living (or work) space. Retro enthusiasts, for example, prefer the original version. Futurist enthusiasts, on the other hand, prefer the more modern models in transparent backlit acrylic. All you have to do is choose your side.

🕒 Want to discover how some clocks indicate astronomical information in addition to the time? Find out by looking at our article on the history and characteristics of the astronomical clock. 🕒

The Master of Time