Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Show HN: Fine Wordclocks: more than a time piece, they are a piece of art (finewordclocks.com)
49 points by matt_the_bass 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

Hi Everyone. I have a Show HN that is a little different than what’s typical. My side project is building word clocks. I’ve developed the entire physical item including the mechanical design, the manufacturing design, the electrical design, and the firmware. Moderator Dan saw this listed in my profile and suggested I share it.

I was inspired to make my first word clock after stumbling upon a DIY design on hack-a-day[0]. I really liked the idea of a wordclock but felt that the designs I found online were too DIY or too modern metal and sterile. I wanted a design that was both elegantly styled and with a professional finish.

My first word clock was given as a present to my parents and it still hangs in their home today. I made more clocks similar to that first design which I also gave out as gifts to friends and family. Later, I developed a simplified design that I donated to AS220, my local Providence artist group, where I periodically teach a word clock making workshop[1].

After a few years of producing word clocks for gifts and fun, I developed my first word clock which is for sale. It utilizes a combination of fine craftsmanship and clever electronics to produce a one of a kind piece of practical art. I’m proud of the fit and finish of my word clocks and want to share them with people who want more than just a utilitarian tool.

I do all the fabrication myself in my basement. Now that I have the manufacturing process down, I’m ready to start marketing them. I’m promoting them as limited edition art pieces, not a mass market product. This first design is limited to 100 units.

So far I’ve sold one unit on etsy[2] without any promotion whatsoever. So I’m hopeful that with a little promotion I’ll be able to sell 2-3 per month. I’m not really interested in turning this into a large scale business. I already do that for my day job. My intent with this is to continue to expand my creative output. It’s also a great excuse to acquire cool tools (aka toys) that I can teach my kids to use.

Please let me know what you think and feel free to ask questions!

[0] https://hackaday.com/tag/word-clock/

[1] http://industries.as220.org/the-wordclock

[2] https://www.etsy.com/shop/FineWordclocks

The website does not say the production limited to exactly 100 pieces. You should add that, because limited could be 20.000 or something... Plus number each clock, like '12 of 100' with a small metal plate, having a date and your name. I am sure this adds to the value.

OP here. Thanks for the comment. I do mention 100 pieces on the 3 paragraph of the front page. Clearly this may not be well presented since you didn't notice it. Thank you for the feedback!

I provide a numbered certificate of authenticity. But a plate is an interesting idea. I'll think about how to make that happen.

It looks really cool, but just one suggestion -- your homepage has four example pictures showing "It's eight o'clock" and all of the others are for "round" numbers of minutes. I'd really be interested in seeing how it handles something like "11:13" or "11:59," non-round numbers. That would be a lot of the appeal in something like this for me, I think...

OP here. Thanks for your comment. This design currently displays the exact time every 5 minutes. The 2 minutes before and after each exact time have "ish" appended to the time.

There are a couple of reasons for this approach:

1. I wanted to have a square clock face but was limited by the LED strip spacing I could source conveniently. This limited me to an approximate number of characters.

2. With this character limit, this was the simplest way to display times. Personally, I don't think this is the type of clock requires every minute precision. The qlocktwo (mentioned in other comments) has the exact time every 5 minutes with 4 LEDs to indicate the other 4 minutes. That wasn't my preference.

3. Other designs I've made as gifts in the past were physically larger and included a bunch of other times including:

- almost (for 2 minutes before an exact time)

- about (for 2 minutes after an exact time)

- ish ("randomly" replaces almost or about)

- plus a bunch of other exact times that could be made from the existing exact time lexicon

- It's Now

- as well as some other cool easter eggs

This larger design has a pretty cool lexicon (IMHO) but is much bigger and I couldn't fit it nicely on the stock wood material I could find. I didn't want to join planks of wood and I wanted this design to be square.

I'm working on a present for my wife that include "in paris" (she's a French teacher) that can be added to any time (and obviously including the math for the timezone offset).

I noticed that some pictures show the suffixe "ish" right at the bottom right corner (I think it's a clever trick; wonder if it's boring to basically always see that word lit up since it's less likely that a time is round)

Thanks for your feedback. That's a valid comment about ish persistence. However, I haven't noticed that during my own use.

That's odd, I think I saw one of these in a small gift shop in a mall in the Mitte district of Berlin, just a few months ago. Was it the same maker, or someone different? TBH I'm a bit wary of people buying mass-produced Chinese stuff and marketing them as "art objects".

OP here. Nope, not mine. There are a TON of DIY kit versions, a few cheap plastic chinese versions, and one high end design from a german company. Probably you saw theirs. I wanted a warmer aesthetic with a different design approach. So I made my own.

I do all the word working and assembly myself. It's not a mass-produced thing from a factory in china. I do use some LED strips that are sourced from China, but I do all my own soldering of the controller board and LED strip connections.

I don't want to compete on price with the DIY/chinese factory kits. what I'm really selling is my time and thought and effort. I'm pretty proud of the quality of finish my design has.

Right on, thanks for the clarification!

Beautiful design! I hope this takes off among those who can afford it, but I am unfortunately not among those.

Thank you! I'm constantly surprised at how many people spend an amazing amount of money on expensive TVs, cars, etc. Hopefully some of them will buy one of my clocks!

I'd want the ability to manually set the time, or point it at an NTP server of my choosing.

OP here, for simplicity, my design allows for timezone selection but for user simplicity, the time server is not selectable. I think your suggestions is quite valid for many of the HN readers, but not for that audience I'm targeting.

thanks for your comment!

It's valid to future proof your clock so it will be useable in the future.

I agree. I’m working on a manually setting time option if no WiFi is available.

Very cool. Any plans to sell kits or put DIY instructions online?

OP here. thanks! No plans to sell this as a KIT or DIY instructions. However, I have taught a word clock fabricating workshop at AS220.org a number of times in the past. I donated a simplified wordclock design to AS220 Labs. In that workshop, I demonstrated the fabrication of different parts on their laser cutter and shopbot CNC. Then guide the students though soldering and assembling the unit. there is some documentation on the AS220 website for that design. It uses the same lexicon as this unit but is built from acrylic, MDF, and Arduino Unos.

If you don't want to spend $1400 on a clock, but still want to read time in words, there's another option. You can build it yourself for about a 20th of the cost:


That one's in Dutch, but it's pretty easy to get a stencil in English and adjust the code.

Just build my own from scratch as Christmas presents. Saw the orig. Qlocktwo 10 years ago and always thought: the logic is so simple, I build this on my own. The main problem is a professional looking front plate, but after discovering online services for cheap lasering a SVG file, I re-thought my idea. Pro tip: separate every LED, not just the words, because you can use the LEDs as two letter 8x5 segment display to show temperature or a running text. Just finished the clocks a few days ago, so project not documented yet, but will also publish my code, because with the segment letters I added some more functions than on the usual wordclock tutorials. Project hardware basics: * Arduino Nano (also tested Wemos D1 mini for implementing a control app via WLAN sometimes) * DS3231 RTC * LED strip WS2812b

OP here. Nice work! My first few clocks were holiday presents as well. I always like hearing about other people's creative stories. I'm sure the recipient will love it.


if they don't, then they don't deserve it!

/end snark

OP here. Yes, there are whole bunch of DIY wordclocks. And I would encourage anyone that is interested in the challenge. That's how I started on this route.

I've really enjoyed the process of figuring out how to manufacture these. To me that is an interesting challenge.

I've only found one other "high end" word clock on the market. Personally, I don't like their aesthetics. So I decided to make my own. I realize that many people may not like my aesthetics. That's art and style. To each his/her own.

OP here. Yes, different prices for different levels of quality and design. That is true of nearly all products. For example, take a look at traditional watches.

but I'm interested in selling a limited edition art piece. Not a mass market product.

This idea seems to be done before and seems copywrited as well: https://qlocktwo.com/en/

“Copyright”, is something you get automatically in most countries whenever you durably persist some kind of creative expression.

It does not generally prevent you from copying a design like this. A word clock is a concept: but that requires patent protection, not copyright.

Yes, the qlocktwo is the only other high end word clock I've found on the market. But they were not the first with the concept either. There are TONS of DIY projects and kits available on the net. Personally, I didn't want to make a DIY "project". I wanted a finished product with different styling than the qlocktwo.

See here:


And look at the Customers who viewed this item also viewed row.

They even have a wrist watch. Wow. https://qlocktwo.com/en/qlocktwo-w/

Yeah, how is this not infringement?

Otherwise, we would see $79 mass-produced word clocks at Target.

A word clock is a concept that requires patent protection, not a copyrightable expression.

Lots of people that have seen my work have said "you should patent that!"

I don't see anything that is obviously patentable to my wordclock design or others that I've seen. IANAL but I do hold 4 patents (and other pending) in other domains so I have a little bit of experience.

Oh, sure: I was just clarifying that copyright doesn't help here. Honestly I think it'd be a silly patent? But USPTO grants lots of silly patents.

Again, I disagree.

The original wordclock concept was based on a piece of artwork.

As being artwork, the artist creator is afforded the protections of copyright.

ahh, got it. Thanks for the clarification.

It may be worth your time to consult with a real intellectual property attorney, not us HN IP fanboys.

You have alot of time and money involved in this endeavor.

I mean copyright, not patent.

The original concept is based on the artwork of a particular artist and their company.

Mot if it is based on an original work of art.

I feel like if someone is going to spend $1,400 on a clock, it needs to last an extremely long time. But the "ish" sounds a bit childish, and I think the clock would feel a lot more solid and timeless without it. There's a kind of appeal to a clock that just gives you the general time, a good fit for places where you want to relax.

OP here, thanks for your comment! I may consider trying to develop a new design that uses a larger lexicon like some of my earlier pieces. I discuss some of the lexicon here https://news.ycombinator.com/reply?id=18953116

Isn't there an equivalent to DCF77 in the states? It would allow people to skip the cumbersome WiFi setup.


These look awesome, but I cannot imagine spending $1,400 on a clock...

I thought that at first, but then when I read the maker's comments, he said that he definitely wants this to be a limited piece and doesn't want to spend a ton of time on making them, so the increased price (and thus barrier to entry) makes sense to me.

If he priced them much lower and ended up with either extreme (one or two orders vs a hundred), it wouldn't be great for him.

I agree. They look great, but I can't see the bill of materials being above $200-300. Quite the markup.

It’s a low volume, hand assembled product built as a side gig... Why would the price be anything near the BOM cost?

Just covering design time, workshop equipment and consumables, business costs, etc. requires a lot of markup to even break even in low volumes - and that’s before considering that yor’re paying a premium for art and design...

OP here. Thank you for your comment and support. As you pointed out, I'm not trying to compete in price.

I get it; I'm guessing that this is a "I value my time at $60 per hour and each one takes 20 hours to make" type of situation, which unfortunately gets misunderstood ALL THE TIME in the art world. People will look at a one-of-one canvas painting and balk at a few thousand dollar price point, when in fact often times that price works out to under $10/hour for the artist. As a comparison, home construction rates are typically $90+/hr, and the craftsmanship that most laborers deliver for that (they're not usually the ones getting paid that much) is abysmal compared to something like this or almost all fine art.

Basically, is it worth it TO YOU? I understand the logic behind trying to put together a BoM in your head, but also consider R&D time, tools (and the wear on them), time spent sourcing, finishing, final assembly, shipping, building an eCommerce site to sell these, advertising...there's a ton of cost outside of just the BoM, as many Kickstarter projects which never ship can attest to. Makers who have done any kind of mass production tend to understand this sort of thing, as do those who were able to hand-assemble a dozen of a thing, then had to scale it to a few thousand (read about electronic conference badges, for example). https://medium.com/@Haje/how-a-half-million-dollar-kickstart... is another account of this.

Finally, it's art. Many luxury products have huge mark-ups of hundreds or thousands of percent (look up Luxottica for example...they make most of the plastic sunglasses that sell for >$100). Could YOU make a single one that is similar for less money? Probably, but that's not what you're paying for here. Most artists are not crazy greedy capitalists, but the ones who think through it enough to turn it into a longer-term successful venture tend to price things according to how much they need to make it worth their time to bother to produce them.

/rant on behalf of all my artist friends who wish they could do art full-time but can't because it would never come close to paying the bills

OP here. Thank you for your comment and support!

I think the audience on HN is unique in that many of them may have the ability to think about BOMs, have access to some CNCs and program a microcontroller. But they are not my target audience. I'm not trying to build a mass market product. I'm trying to sell my art. And, yes, if I want to sell my art, I need to afford to sell it. :)

> I get it; I'm guessing that this is a "I value my time at $60 per hour and each one takes 20 hours to make" type of situation, which unfortunately gets misunderstood ALL THE TIME in the art world.

That's a sign that the artist's valuation of their time might be overpriced, plain and simple. Maybe people disagree with paying a $60/making-hour time value for a clock that they could build themselves or buy at a fraction of the listed price.

It is then up to the seller to make their case for why they think the product warrants a $60/making-hour price.

OP here. I would be very pleased if everyone that wanted one of my clocks but didn't agree with my pricing developed and built their own. I like enabling people to unleash their creative side and have been involved at AS220.org for over 20 years (including teaching a workshop on how to build a wordclock).

I started at AS220 as an "engineer" teaching "artists" how to use tools to make their art. Overtime, I realized I was also an "artist" making art. Much of this realization came when people that I considered real artists in my community started calling my work art. It was a GREAT feeling. I'd love to have others experience that too!

And yes, I do value my time. I have 2 young kids, a spouse and a dog. Plus other family and hobbies. So if I'm going to produce art for sale (and most of my art isn't for sale), it needs to be worth my time. I've even considered if my pricing is too LOW given the value of things I could spend my time on. I'll aways be making art for myself and as gifts. Selling it to other is something I'm trying out for now.

I showed up to learn more about audio engineering.


You beat me to it. Having used word clocks in audio engineering for many years, this is a new use of the term for me.

OP here. Yup! Me too. I've been playing and recording music for decades before making these types of word clocks. It bugs me to about the naming overlap.

I once made this on a rainy day: https://www.propra.nl/clock/ (dutch version: https://www.propra.nl/clock/?lang=nl)

Nice to run fullscreen or cast to your tv.

To everyone commenting on the price: people regularly pay thousands of dollars for a wristwatch.

OP here. Thank you for your support! I've actually been wondering if my pricing is too low.

Why is "WiFi required"?

That trend of “let’s just connect it to WiFi” is really annoying. Yet another device that requires access to WiFi, will probably not receive any patches at all and become obsolete once a new WiFi standard emerges. It would be nice as an optional sync option, but I avoid anything that requires network or access to a vendors cloud unless it’s really necessary for the devices intended operation.

Probably to keep the clock sync'd?

I'd just hate to see my word clock hacked over the Internet, like so many IoT devices, and start spelling out obscenities at me... or simply giving me the wrong time at a critical point.

>or simply giving me the wrong time at a critical point

The use of “ish” tells me this isn’t designed to be a high precision instrument.

OP here. Correct!

One of my earlier designs included the time "It's now" pseudorandomly every few days. I gave one of those to my father. One night he woke up unable to sleep, went downstairs, saw the clock and it said "It's now". He laughed as it was the one time he was actually curious what time it was. :)

Wouldn't a GPS or radio chip (like cheap home "atomic" clocks use) be easier? Some of us choose to not have always-on home WiFi.

I haven’t seen those packaged on board with an MCU. So actually for low quantity it’s harder and more expensive.

That was where I first looked though.

Maybe a GPS receiver could provide that in a future version?

Yeah but GPS reception isn’t always awesome indoors. I’d hate to buy an expensive clock to have in my basement only to find that it relied on GPS and couldn’t receive the information it needed to sync itself.

According to the Author , it uses one of those particle IoT MCU modules which connects to WiFi to sync to the world clock.

OP here. Correct! I use wifi to sync time. This is a convenience to the user. I know there are circuits for receiving radio broadcast official time signals. I also know that high precision, low drift clock circuits exist. However, IoT approach is simpler and actually less expensive in low quantities. I think that anyone who will pay $1400 for a clock will have wifi available. I apologize to anyone with an edge case that does not. If they contact me directly, I'm sure I can provide them a solution.

FYI, the internet time sync is infrequent and low bandwidth.

Any developed country has a long-range radio time station.

It's a cool project and I admire the attempt, however

1) It's been done before, it's not original

2) The cost is outrageous (I see you use more expensive materials, but it's not $1400 more expensive material)

3) Likely copyright infringement

The price on those are insane for the small size, but they are beautiful

Would you ideally have art priced by weight or by volume?

OP here. I loved your comment. Maybe I should think about how to make my clocks heavier!

It's not about the weight, it is that a piece like doesn't really work at its current size.

How is this not an ad?

OP here. It's an ad with a story and a Q and A. Just like all the other Show HNs. Isn't that why Show HNs have a separate section on the site?

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact