Unusual 72-Bulb Display Mechanism Found In Vintage Clock

It’s hard to beat a vintage clock for something that you can hack, and that your significant other might actually let you display in your home. It’s practical and it’s art all at the same time! But, finding that perfect vintage clock for restoration can be a bit tricky. A crowd favorite is to choose something with intricate mechanisms and gears — the motion of a mechanical display is just so fascinating.


[Gavin] managed to find a clock that is every bit as interesting without any moving parts. The clock uses a unique system of bulbs and screen masks to project each digit of the time onto glass, which creates a pretty cool look you’re not likely to see on other devices. As cheap as LCD and 7-segment displays are these days, it’s hard to imagine a time when an intricate solution like this — using 72 light bulbs — was considered practical.

Of course, what isn’t practical is replacing 72 incandescent bulbs, just to have them start the process of burning out all over again. [Gavin’s] solution to this problem was to replace the incandescent bulbs with LEDs. After getting the color temperature right (to replicate the vintage warm glow), he was able to use a jig system to get the LEDs positioned correctly to project the digits properly.

This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen a unique clock design, but there is something intriguing about seeing a design like this that never quite caught on. It’s a little bit of technological history that even your significant other will think is cool.

33 thoughts on “Unusual 72-Bulb Display Mechanism Found In Vintage Clock

  1. I’ll go back in time and have that conversation with the responsible engineer… “Using 72 lightbulbs is silly” and he’ll be all “Well what do you use on your clocks now” me: “Well the default time display device these days is a sort of pocket sized multifunction device that handles wireless telephone calls and…” him: “Display?” Me: “Oh yah, an array of 1920 by 1080 light emitting diodes.” him: “That is 2 million elements!” Me: “But they don’t burn out.” him: “Diodes only emit a dull orange glow, unless you run high current through them, then they burn up faster!” Me: “Semiconductor diodes” him: “Oh, those faddy new things, they won’t last…”

          1. I forgot that, but it’s still not right for some displays, because one colour is more intense than the others, think it’s the blue, they only use one every second pixel or something so it’s…. RG RGB RG RGB or something.

      1. You are technically correct, the regular HD is 720p. 1080p is something like super HD, and 2160p (aka 4k) is Ultra HD.
        OLED will have that many elements, but an LED backlight LCD screen will have a lot less, but there will be that many elements in the LCD.
        So you’re not wrong, you’re actually quite right in several ways and also served as a good point for the annoyances of ‘HD’ branding!

      2. My modern HD display has 1920 rows of 1080 led’s. At least my OLED display does. Lower cost ones use less, or the really low end LCD displays.

        I also have a discrete tiny plasma dot 1920X1080 display that is 65″ in traditional measurement, but that one is ungodly out of date… It’s at least 3 years old. I’m a major luddite as I like the warm glow of the fluorescence over the harshness of an OLED display.

    1. That’s what I was thinking actually, they used them a lot in 80s car dashboards and people mostly weren’t having to replace them until the late 90s, 2000s, and that’s with all the vibration of being in a car.

    2. Even longer at reduced voltages.

      We used to buy 130v bulbs so they last longer when run on 120v.
      Screwing a 110v bulb into 120 or 130 will cause premature failure

  2. I was fiddling about trying to think how to make one these myself just this weekend!

    Problem is the lens, purchasing lots of lenses is much too expensive. I did a silicone mold of a lens and cast it in resin and it was good enough, but casting 4 digits x 10 =40 min lenses looked to be too much work….till i saw the internals from some of the links of a projecting display. The magic is a clear plastic molded thing that looks like a bunch of lenses welded together in a curved shape.

    Heres a plan.
    1) get a 3d model of a lens
    2) make a symbol sheet from rub on letraset letters
    3) position/repeat the lens model in sketchup into a grid, say 3×4 for ten digits plus symbols. Make focal points line up with the symbol sheet and point to a screen. The lenses will look like theyre sitting on a partial sphere, or maybe they will be oriented at different angles. Fill in the gaps, and casting spues. Creat a box, sheet holder, screen holders and mask.
    4) print the lens assembly and other bits, the lens as highres as possible
    5) now the hard part, prepping the lens grid for molding. Use spray putty to build up the spaces between the filament laminations and tediously rub back with wet/dry fine grit sandpaper till smooth. Will be very fiddly.
    6) mold and cast. Leave to set hard over several days, resin must set thoroughly with not soft spots or next bit will fail
    7) take cast and polish with metal polish.
    Repeat 5,6,7 for each digit.

    Assemble, add leds and control cct, repea

    Does anyone know of a program with will create 3d lens model in stl or similiar from a given set of parameters diameter and focal length?

  3. Thank you for sharing your great clock was unthinkable watchmaking as it .Most people really liked the hours that are unique to diliat because each design has a beauty to the viewer often unique in the rush hour by lovers of antique clocks. nor because of its beautiful but has seldom as meaningful .you can view information about the unique clock by visiting gudemeis.com

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