If you’re not familiar with Nixie tubes, let me explain. Nixie tubes are glass electric tubes that light up with specific cathodes. The cathodes have number-shaped filaments in them, allowing for use in such 1970’s applications as Geiger counters and calculators.
It was originally designed as American technology by the Burroughs Corporation, and later modified for use by the Soviets. And today, those Nixie tubes are being retrofitted into cool-looking clocks.
I’ve always thought at a Nixie clock would look super-cool, but owning one wouldn’t be easy. The tall NH-18 tubes for Nixie clocks are expensive, and you’d need six of them. And then you need the motherboard and you’d need a plastic or wooden enclosure for all the equipment and you’d need some serious soldering skills and you’d need lots of patience and you’d need at least three years of apprenticeship at a Radio Shack to make this work.
So I went to the next option. Let’s see if there’s a pre-made Nixie clock available on eBay.
And sure enough … there was. A company in Michigan imports smaller four-digit IN-12 Nixie clocks from a supplier in Ukraine. The clocks can display time, as well as the day and year. As long as I don’t mind that the “5” in the tube is really an upside-down “2”, I’m good. And as an added bonus, the clocks come with a special Nixie tube called a “Dekatron,” which looks like a spinning roulette wheel. That one’s used for calculating the seconds.
Setup was quick and easy, and although the installation instructions had a bit of a Ukrainian-to-English clumsiness, they were enough to properly follow and start the clock.
And here’s what one minute of operation of my brand new Nixie clock looks like.
A couple of things here. That weird strobing effect on the dekatron tube only occurs because of the phone camera I’m using to film this. After 30 seconds, the clock shows the day and year. After 30 more seconds, it cycles through to the next minute with a “slot machine” strobing pattern, which prevents filament decay and allows the tubes to last longer.
And it’s manufactured in Ukraine, so in my humble opinion, purchasing this little timepiece means I’m supporting some Ukrainian horologist who understands that his country and his lifestyle is worth preserving. It’s a win all around.
Plus, this clock is kinda swank. Chuck-tested, Chuck-approved.