George Nelson created some of the most unique and recognizable clocks today. Usually reflecting graphical forms taken from organic inspirations, these clocks echo through history as true design classics.
Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1908, Nelson studied Architecture at Yale University, where he graduated in 1928 and also received a bachelor degree in fine arts in 1931. George Nelson was part of a generation of architects that found too few projects and turned successfully toward product, graphic and interior design.
George Nelson Associates created the first clocks for Howard Miller(son of Herman) in 1947. Howard Miller discontinued the line in the 1980’s, Vitra snatched up the rights and put the clocks back into production in the 90’s. The original clock designs were simply given numbers by Howard Miller. Clock 2238 which we know as the Eye Clock was marketed in Howard Miller brochures in diagonal position, not horizontal.
This is only a small selection of the wall mounted clocks currently in production at Vitra. It is estimated that there are over 150 clock designs by Nelson and his associates.
The Ball clock is perhaps the most recognizable of Nelson’s clock design, it is also the first. In the following quotation, Nelson recalls it’s origin:_
“And there was one night when the ball clock got developed, which was one of the really funny evenings. Noguchi came by, and Bucky Fuller came by. I’d been seeing a lot of Bucky those days, and here was Irving and here was I, and Noguchi, who can’t keep his hands off anything, you know- it is a marvelous, itchy thing he’s got- he saw we were working on clocks and he started making doodles. Then Bucky sort of brushed Isamu aside. He said, “This is a good way to do a clock,” and he made some utterly absurd thing.
Everybody was taking a crack at this,…pushing each other aside and making scribbles.
At some point we left- we were suddenly all tired, and we’d had a little bit too much to drink- and the next morning I came back, and here was this roll (of drafting paper), and Irving and I looked at it, and somewhere in this roll there was a ball clock. I don’t know to this day who cooked it up. I know it wasn’t me. It might have been Irving, but he didn’t think so…(we) both guessed that Isamu had probably done it because (he) has a genius for doing two stupid things and making something extraordinary…out of the combination….(or) it could have been an additive thing, but, anyway, we never knew.”
A few of Nelsons table clock designs.
The above clocks are made of porcelain, color glazed. Hands made of sheet metal, lacquered. High-grade quartz movement with a rechargeable battery included.
These clocks were designed in the early 1950s and developed as far as the production stage. For reasons unknown, however, they never made it to the production line. Based on the original plans and prototypes, the Vitra Design Museum is now, for the first time ever, bringing these original clocks to the market.
In 2008, Vitra held an exhibit in honor of George Nelson’s 100th anniversary: