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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Nixie Machine at MB&F’s MAD Gallery

The Nixie Machine

MB&F is a company that has built its reputation on radically challenging traditional watchmaking in appearance and function. 

The small, lean young firm, founded by Maximilian Büsser, is equally known for its partnerships (the “F” in the name stands for “friends”) as much as for its innovative products. The company teams with independent horological professionals, artists, craftsmen, retailers, jewelers, established companies and others to create their limited editions timepieces, known as “horological machines.”

Extending the limits of watchmaking even further, the brand produced a table clock inspired from Star Trek and a music box in the shape of a futuristic spaceship that plays modern rock songs and the theme from the Star Wars movie. In both cases the company teamed with long-established makers of these items. In the former it was table clock manufacturer, L’Epée 1839, and the latter it was luxury music box maker, Reuge. 

In 2011, the company took the next logical step and opened a commercial gallery in Geneva near its headquarters that specializes in contemporary kinetic art, named the M.A.D. Gallery (mechanical art devices). I recently received a tour of the place from Juliette Duru, the gallery’s new communications manager, and Charris Yadigaroglou, MB&F chief communications officer. It’s not a large space but one could easily spend hours studying and even playing with the exhibits.

The item of the moment is the Nixie Machine by German artist Frank Buchwald (above and top photo). It’s a sculptural clock that tells the time using six glowing 1960s Nixie tubes. A Nixie tube is an electronic device that is a variant of a neon lamp, which displays numbers and other information. It also is known as a cold cathode display. 

The six tubes are presented as three pairs for hours, minutes and seconds; or day, month and year. They rest atop a long burnished steel and brushed brass structure with four extended legs. The clock consists of no fewer than 350 components hand-made by Buchwald. It is a available in a limited edition of 12. How it keeps accurate time is a mystery to me. 

It is by no means the only item to see at the gallery. There are many more art pieces of interest, including fingers made of iron that move at the flick of a switch, hand-made motorcycles that are both a work of art and riding machines, and a futuristic looking electric guitar that is considered by some to be the finest in the world. Of course there’s also an extensive collection of MB&F timepieces.

Among my favorites was the A.W.E. (Automated Winding Engine) by Martin Smith with Laikingland, a creative label based in the UK and The Netherlands. It’s a mechanical watch winder that is a large robotic arm powered by cam driven motors, gearboxes and safety sensors. It goes through a long elaborate series of playful movements to wind the watch. 3D printing was used to create the elbow joint and the sculptured forearm and fingers.

Also there was a disk made of watch components that was spinning and floating over a teak table. It is called the Apesanteur II by Quentin Carnaille. The artist describes the piece as “an invisible link between astronomy and mechanical watchmaking.” Magnets are used inside the disk and the teak base to allow the disk to levitate. 

In 2014, MB&F opened its second M.A.D. Gallery in Taipei, Taiwan. The concept seems to be ready-made for further expansion. 

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