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Old School

There's an object in my living room that never fails to capture people's attention. They are drawn to it like an insect to light. The object is a nixie clock--a simple, yet elegant nod to a bygone era before LEDs dominated the digital landscape.

The clock features nixies--vacuum tubes filled with neon gas and 10 thin wires in the shape of numbers (0-9) that are stacked in front of each other. When an electrical current hits a wire it ionizes the gas around it and emits a fiery orange glow, illuminating the digit. These tubes were used from the 1950s to 1970s in everything from the NYSE ticker board to elevator displays. The much cheaper and smaller LEDs eventually rendered the tubes obsolete.

A few years ago, a group of nixie enthusiasts began scouring warehouses around the globe in search of abandoned stockpiles of nixie tubes (they found many in Russia and Eastern Europe). The tubes can fetch anywhere from $16 to $400 each, depending on their size and rarity. These enthusiasts then turned the tubes into clocks. Some of the clocks are pretty rudimentary, simple cigar boxes with the tubes attached; others are quite sophisticated and elegant, incorporating polished steel bases and alarms. One of the more popular models was the Karlsson Clock, created by Dutch designer Peter van der Jagt. It's no longer available because the type of nixie he used can no longer be found.

You can find nixie clocks in a few catalogs featuring modern design and some boutique stores. However, one of the best places to find them is nixieclock.net. The site carries a range of high-end, designer nixie clocks that range in price from $309 to $600. The one shown here is the Chronotronix V400, which sits on a cherry wood base and retails for $375.

Staff Writer

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