Reinventing the dunes of time – In a phoenix moment, ‘steampunking’ it’s way into our existence is Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III
Life can be a battle ground of decay. Products come and go. It’s just a matter to time before one technological wonder of today might become obsolete tomorrow. Anyone remember the ‘brick’ Nokia? More importantly, does anyone — besides my mother who refuses to even as much as dip her little pinkie toe in the waters of the modern civilisation — even use them these days? How about iceboxes being replaced by refrigerators, HD-DVD being replaced by Blu-rays, telegraph by telephone, mimeograph by photocopy machines, the list just goes on.
Amongst the inventions of the first credit card (Diners), super glue, power steering, radial tires, oral contraceptive pill, first nonstick Teflon pan, and Christopher Cockerell’s hovercraft there stands another invention, or rather the widespread use of a product, that marked the creative era of 1950s. This was the invention of the nixie tube construction by Haydu Brothers Laboratories — invented back in 1936 actually — that in 1954 gained steam when they were manufactured by Burroughs Corp. But the advent of LED lights in 1970s saw the demise of this technology.
Now in a phoenix moment, rising above the ashes of inventions lost in the dunes of time, is Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III, brought in partnership with MB&F’s M.A.D.Gallery. First introduced in 2015 and then again in 2017, this is the third and final return of this particular style of time display re-invention.
To be honest; I had not seen or even heard about these Nixie tubes until I received the press release from MB&F this weekend. And as much as I am usually not at a loss for words, I just didn’t know what to say. I have been used to seeing and expecting futuristic objects de art from Max & Co (not the fashion conglomerate). And the object we are reviewing today is in stark contrast to what I have seen so far: it’s more of a vision from the past, brought to life today.
Nixie apparently comes from “NIX I”, which in turn is an abbreviation for “=”Numeric Indicator eXperimental No. 1”.
Introduced in the 1950s, Nixie tubes – also known as cold cathode displays – became a popular way of presenting numerals using glow discharge. Think LEDs of yore. As the press release informs, Nixie tubes were often used for computers, clocks, and frequency counters, though these were eventually supplanted by more practicable, less costly — though arguably less charming — displays such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
Since these originals weren’t exactly the epitome of reliability, Frank Buchwald collaborated with Czech engineer Dalibor Farny, who helped build modern Nixie tubes that could be trusted to stand the test of the very time they are intended to display.
With their transformer like aesthetics, this marvellous assembly of six Nixie tubes seems to float above a futuristic looking solid stainless steel substructure, that sees all of its components hand-sanded and polished.
Bringing this contraption into the present day is the use of modern electronics: the machine’s core uses powerful, wi-fi enabled electronics that allow for internet connectivity, with all settings and special features — that include scroll effects, day/night mode, digital-light dimming, time-zone settings — having the function of being set online.
Describing his creations, Buchwald says: “The attentive observer will not fail to notice that the Machine Lights live from a source other than the hand of man. Although I have worked for over ten years on them, I don’t really regard them as my own work: they are beings in their own nature”.
Time is displayed in hours, minutes, and seconds through six glass tubes, with each glass tube being filled with a low-pressure neon-based gas that includes a wire-mesh anode and layered cathodes. These tubes stand on a support that extends from a duo-support bracket that is riveted with massive steel bolts, steel and brass discs to a solid base construction and a central cylindrical tower.
This is not the first time Frank Buchwald has presented us with their lights extraordinaire though. His work “Machine Lights” was first showcased at the inauguration of the M.A.D.Gallery in Geneva. This was followed by the 2015 “Nixie Machine” that could best be described as an alien-like, sci-fi time teller.
Watch Ya Gonna Do About It
When we first looked at the press pictures sent to us, they reminded my partner of the concept of steampunk. Steampunk is a retro-futuristic sub-genre of science fiction that is meant to symbolise and interpret the technological and aesthetic designs inspired of the 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.
To us at Watch Ya Gonna Do About It there is something undeniably cool about Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III; it is an object of the past but manages to look distinctively appealing in the modern era.
This blend of ‘craziness’ with genius is what we have gotten accustomed to when it comes to the forces behind this new table clock. We really treasure looking at the products that stem from the brilliants minds at MB&F and M.A.D.Gallery.
And in Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III I personally admire the “genuine” look of time display. See I am someone who still collects records and try my best not to listen to digitally recored music. I like the purity of sound and the fact that I can ‘touch’ music as it plays. In that essence, I really like Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III, it’s essentially a very visual, tangible and interesting way of looking at time.
There is a quote by author George Mann that goes: “Steampunk is… a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!”
Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III is essentially a joyous fun-ride that looks into the past but instead of just introducing a doze of nostalgia it presents a very tangible playground for time escapism and exploration. And yes, for those who have the dough for it, it sure is seems fun.
Frank Buchwald’s Nixie Machine III table clock comes in at CHF 32’000 incl. VAT. This final evolution of the Nixie Machine series in a collection of 18 pieces — unlike the previous two clocks that were available in 12 pieces — will be available exclusively from the M.A.D.Galleries in Geneva, Dubai, Hong Kong and Taipei, and the eShop. All images are courtesy ©MB&F SA 2018.