Nixie To The Maxie: A Closer Look At The Gelfman IN-16 Nixie
An entrepreneur and collector brings retrofuturism to the forefront with the help of tiny tubes.
A little explainer on the aesthetics of Steampunk: It’s as if the late 19th-century imaginings of science fiction writers like H.G. Wells had been made manifest and affected our current culture. Think of a world where robots were powered by steam and not sleek cybernetics. And instead of Mark Zuckerberg’s normcore wardrobe, tech world players favored Victorian frippery.
Steampunk is a subculture of its own with fans cosplaying a world that only exists in the hypothetical. And this is where the weird and wonderful Gelfman IN-16 Nixie watch comes in.
In 2014, a Russian entrepreneur and collector named Ilya Gelfman had his own vision of the future — to build and sell a retro-futuristic electronic digital watch but with the time shown with Nixie tubes.
A Nixie tube, a.k.a. a cold cathode display, is an electronic device that displays glowing orange numbers or other bits of visual information. Invented by David Hagelbarger, Nixie displays were first introduced by Burroughs Corporation in 1955 after it bought Haydu Brothers Laboratories, a vacuum tube manufacturer that made these early Nixie devices.
Burroughs chose the name “Nixie” based on the acronym "NIX I" which stood for "Numeric Indicator eXperimental No. 1" (and not by the random name generator that Grimes seemingly uses to name her children).
Nixies could be found in many types of technical equipment used in research and military establishments as well as early electronic desktop calculators and telephone switchboards.
Later versions could be found in airport signage, stock tickers and even elevators. But by the 1970s, the futuristic glow of Nixie technology had fallen out of favor, replaced by light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs).
This brings us to Gelfman and his vision, the IN-16 Nixie watch. Nixies were still being manufactured in volume in the 1980s in Russian and Eastern European countries. Happily for Gelfman, this means stashes of tiny, new old stock Nixie tubes are still plentiful.
Not only does the IN-16 Nixie watch channel the charm of retro-futurist nostalgia, but it also provides a completely new take on wristborne time-telling with its Nixie tube display.
The IN-16 Nixie watch can be fully controlled and programmed via computer. For example, users can personalize the timepieces by choosing their preferred backlight, adjusting the brightness of the glow, and many other options.
Besides founding his own company, Gelfman is Chief Technology Officer at innovative auction house Ineichen Auctioneers. An avid watch collector for over a decade, he wanted to apply the principles of haute horlogerie to the IN-16 Nixie – especially in the finishes.
The design combines avant-garde, retro-futuristic, cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic motifs, while the stainless-steel case is machined and finished to the highest of watchmaking standards.
Gelfman’s long journey has garnered the respect of his watchmaking peers. The IN-16 Nixie watch was officially nominated for the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève 2022 in the "Petite Aiguille" category. Now his fellow collectors can also get in on the action – but they will have to act fast.
The Gelfman IN-16 Nixie is limited to 999 pieces, comes in a super cool space rocket-inspired presentation case, and is priced at €6,999. For more information, please visit the Gelfman website.
(Photography by Pierre Vogel)