Mystery Nixie Clock From 2001: A Space Odyssey, And Pulsar

Pulsar nixie clock ala 2001: A Space Odyssey clock

Every now and then something old comes along which we’re surprised has never been on Hackaday. That’s especially the case here since it includes nixie tubes and is a clock, two things beloved here by many. Then again, it’s not a hack, but it just should be (hint hint).

This clock’s origins are a bit of a mystery. As detailed in [Asto_Vidatu]’s Reddit post, he found it when cleaning out his mother’s garage. Larger photos of the clock internals are on his imgur page and are sure to delight and intrigue you. It looks very much like a clock widely thought to be the one which the Hamilton Watch Company made for Stanley Kubrick. In 1966, Kubrick commissioned Hamilton to make a futuristic looking clock and watches for his upcoming movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The watches appear in the movie on the wrists of the astronauts but the clock was left on the cutting room floor. After the movie was made, Kubrick gave the clock back to Hamilton, and it ended up in the possession of [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather, who worked on the team which made the clock.

All this might lead you to think that this is the clock made for the movie, instead of the one with the name Hamilton on it but the name Pulsar is thought to have been dreamed up around the time the movie came out. So where did it come from? Was it a hack by [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather or others at Hamilton? Was it a product which Hamilton had worked on, or perhaps a marketing gimmick for the Pulsar watch?

There’s one thing we do know, this is crying out for a modern remake. If you can find some nixie tubes then perhaps these driver boards will help. Or maybe do it with nixie tube lookalikes, such as these edge-lit acrylic digits.

27 thoughts on “Mystery Nixie Clock From 2001: A Space Odyssey, And Pulsar

  1. Those aren’t nixies in the Pulsar clock. I’m guessing they’re incandescent (Numitron) or maybe Panaplex (segmented cousin to a nixie). They don’t look quite right for LEDs, unless it’s newer than I think it is.

    1. Hi guys, my name is Kurt Bergey. This sounds familiar it’s because my father John is this Mastermind and spearheaded this whole project. Growing up I didn’t realize what he had done and what he had accomplished right here in Little Old Lancaster Pennsylvania. You have any questions let me know I’ll do my best to get the answers correct. I kept a lot of the old documentation literature and some of the products. It was an amazing time and I’ve kept as much as I could preserved. If you want to see The originals, go to the Smithsonian. They came knocking at the door and my dad obliged and sent the originals that I played with as a child down to the institute.

      Kurt Bergey

    1. I’m with Bruce.
      Same exact logo as on this page for collectors of old Pulsar watches:
      Looks like maybe a prop for a commercial or a prototype for a store display? In any case, definitely a one-off. Having build lots of stuff on perf board — you only want to do that once. Thank godness for ExpressPCB is all I have to say on that subject!

    2. [ugh. no edit feature?]

      I work for a design firm. Sometimes we will reuse ideas that never make it to the client on work for another client. Perhaps this is the case here? Or, perhaps someone who worked for Hamilton, later worked for Pulsar, remembered the clock and asked the design firm if they could make something similar for Pulsar (perhaps as a tie-in to 2001?)

    3. [sorry]
      The answer is on the imgur page. The last photo of the press clipping says:

      “John Bergey, the man who spearheaded the development of the Pulsar watch, rarely wears one…Working feverishly out of a Hamilton Watch Co. division on Columbia Avenue, he and his colleagues created the world’s first digital electronic watch.”

      So Pulsar was developed by Hamilton, and that’s the tie-in. Same guy probably designed both clocks.

  2. The numbers are different shapes. Month and Day are closer together in the Pulsar version vs Day and Month in the Hamilton version. The Pulsar has AM and PM indicators, making it a 12 hour clock while the Hamilton’s hour shows 20, which indicates a 24 hour clock.

    I’d assume the electronics are completely different, someone did another casting from the mold made for the movie clock.

    A 3D scan of the housing would be a nice thing to have.

  3. I was thinking back to the first digital device I made and it had incandescent displays. I don’t recall if they were 7 segment or of they had the outlines of the numbers on them though. Hard to remember the minutia from 50 years ago…

  4. Not nixie tubes. It’s RCA or Apollo DR2000 tubes. They are vacuum tubes with 7 incandescent filaments, driven at 5V so it’s compatible with simple TTL logic chips, whereas the 7447 is the BCD to 7-segment decoder, which is what is seen in the clock.
    Datasheet for the series of tubes seen here:

    The B/W picture in the inset is indeed Nixie tubes, but not the clock that OP has.

  5. I would buy-in on the case in a minute. That would motivate me to build a clock. With a case that large you could put all kinds of things in it. On the face its justa cool clock. Anybody up to coming up with the case, especially one I could finish with my own colors, count me in. I think the curved red color screen might be a trick though.

    1. Looks like the shape started off as a flattened sphere. Slice in half, cut off one edge then scoop it out.
      The face on the Pulsar version looks like a flat piece of red acrylic.

  6. The parts in the plastic spare parts are RCA 4000 series CMOS. There is an app note in the early seventies RCA COS/MOS data book for a clock using Numitron displays. The datecodes on those chips are from 1974. I could tell you much more about the clock age and design source if I could see one of the digit PC boards. And yes, it’s one of a kind.

  7. Very cool prototype product – but very different from the Kubric/nixie tube clock. Those IC’s are mid-70’s and the displays are definitely RCA Numitrons, which makes sense since they were at that time the only direct drive 5v displays that were bright enough and large enough for a desk clock. Very cool artifact though!

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