"The gallery remains a constant surprise to us," says Charris Yadigaroglou, chief communications officer at MB&F, the avant-garde watchmaker that opened Geneva's M.A.D.Gallery in 2011. The acronym stands for Mechanical Art Devices. "An impressive number of artists and designers contact us with suggestions and ideas, and some are really cool," he added.
One in particular is the Nixie Machine (about $26,000) by German artist Frank Buchwald, who created a sci-fi-looking clock using six luminous Nixie tubes produced in East Germany during the 1960s.
When Alberto Schileo, a friend of both MB&F's founder Maximilian Büsser and Buchwald, discovered a stash of mint condition Nixie tubes in a Bulgarian army depot, he contacted Büsser and suggested a collaboration with Buchwald, a former science-fiction illustrator, whose distinctive light fixtures have been featured at the gallery since it opened.
Buchwald arranged the rare, 90 mm-tall tubes in three pairs to display hours, minutes and seconds, or day, month and year spanning across the top of the burnished steel and brushed brass sculpture in his characteristic steampunk style. Buchwald will produce 12 Nixie Machines exclusively available through the M.A.D.Gallery in Geneva.
Schileo sourced the electronic circuit board with a GPS receiver and DCF77 receiver for easy setting. A dazzling flashing sequence is triggered every five minutes when all the digits rapidly light up in succession before settling back to the designated display. The rapid-fire process actually prolongs the life of the tubes, which can be replaced from a stock of extras.
The quirky name Nixie is attributed to the Burroughs Corporation's NIX I, short for Numeric Indicator eXperimental No.1. The ethereal orange glow of the numbers is produced with a combination of neon-based gas, a wire mesh anode, and layers of cathodes, each shaped like a different number that light up when energized. The technology was used for early computers, clocks, and counters before it was replaced by light-emitting diodes.
Also recently on display at the Geneva gallery were MB&F watches, including the new Space Pirate ($230,000), an other-worldly timepiece that evokes the classic television show Battlestar Galactica.
The massive titanium case with multiple curves and domed sapphire crystals posed a daunting challenge to watchmakers. "It is a nightmare to produce because nothing is flat or straight," says Yadigaroglou.
Spinning twin turbines that are linked to the main rotor serve to slow the rotor's speed and absorb shock. A retractable shield protects the tourbillon from UV rays that can impact lubricants. MB&F will produce 50 pieces in titanium and has reserved 50 movements for future pieces in cases made from other materials.
Here's a video showing the movements of the Space Pirate in action: