The Gelfman Nixie IN-16 is unlike anything you’ve seen beforeBorna Bošnjak
There is no shortage of weird and wonderful watches at any point in time in the Time+Tide office. Rarely, however, does everyone gather at the table with the same intrigue as we did for this – the Gelfman IN-16 Nixie. Whether it was bemusement, horror or otherwise, there’s no denying that the IN-16 is a bit of an oddball, and that’s putting it lightly. I can already hear you asking “what the hell is this thing?”, so let’s get into it. Ilya Gelfman started his eponymous brand a decade ago, the collector-turned-brand owner collecting Soviet-made cold cathode tubes even back then. Having eventually been replaced by more reliable LED technology, Nixie tubes are no longer made, though can still be found in new-old-stock condition.
Despite dreaming up the idea all those years ago, the IN-16 Nixie was only launched in 2022, being nominated for the GPHG Petite Aiguille award that same year, with the first example selling at an Ineichen auction, even making it to Buffy’s list of favourites. As if it came straight from the virtual world of Cyberpunk, the IN-16 Nixie uses the technology that made all sorts of readouts possible in the 1980s, and though it’s not the first to use it to tell the time, is a rare example packaged into wristwatch form.
If you could class one watch as the embodiment of a conversation starter, this is it, and that’s thanks to the two Cold War-era cold cathode tubes that supplant a regular dial. Nixie tubes form their light using glow discharge created by applying voltage between the anode wire mesh and cathodes forming the numerals. As each cathode is placed at a different depth, each of the numerals will also appear closer or farther away inside the tube. In harsh lighting conditions, the IN-16 Nixie isn’t the most legible, though you can boost the brightness of the tubes – more on this shortly.
I mean, just look at it! There’s no hidden trickery here with curved lugs or highly domed sapphire crystals hiding away the real dimensions. The IN-16 is proudly itself, and that means a 45.9mm x 47.8mm case that’s 20.5mm thick. The Nixie tubes are displayed through a couple of sapphire-coated crystals, giving the impression of a strange astronaut helmet or some retrofuturistic diving apparatus. The hidden pusher in between the two protrusions controls the functions – a single press shows the hours and minutes, two display the date and month, while three show the remaining battery life.
Though the “dial” is undoubtedly the star of the show, Gelfman thought to put enough care into the stainless steel case to have it entirely hand-finished. Either flank holds the Gelfman branding and limited-edition number plaque, both of which I’d usually complain about as I’m not a fan of unnecessary case engravings. On the Gelfman though, they just add to the charm of the overall experience.
To match the dystopian design of the case, Gelfman fitted the IN-16 with a chunky, integrated rubber strap ending in a double-tang buckle sporting the brand logo. It’s honestly not the most inspired choice considering what the rest of the watch looks like, but then again, any more noticeable design features might’ve been completely overwhelming.
Apart from the superior case finish, the movement is what sets the IN-16 apart from other Nixie tube watches on the market. These DIY-adjacent projects are often slapped together for as little money as possible, which can make for some unique looks, but the software that controls the IN-16 is much more polished. The users can adjust the time format and brightness of the Nixie tubes, as well as their coloured backlights. The app will also display your Nixie tube usage habits, showing on and standby hours, as the tubes themselves have a 1,000-hour lifespan.
The IN-16 also resolves a common complaint with pusher-operated time displays, as it could be inconvenient having to use your right hand to see the time. Instead of pressing the pusher, simply shake your wrist like you would an older Apple watch, and the accelerometer inside will trigger the time display. Gelfman quotes a 12-day battery life, which is rechargeable via magnetic cable connecting to an interface on the back of the watch, the same one you’d use to tether the IN-16 to a computer.
While it may be the embodiment of a conversation starter, this is also a ‘Marmite watch’ if I’ve ever seen one. There is little refinement here, and the novelty very much focuses on the Nixie tubes. And yet, I couldn’t help but keep pressing the button to see the floating numerals light up. The case, though outlandish and futuristic in shape, is just huge, and the rubber strap is bulky and doesn’t do much in terms of balancing the watch on the wrist. But none of that matters.
Just as you don’t commission a GT40 because it’s comfortable, you don’t get the IN-16 Nixie to have a watch that slips under a cuff. Just like a GT40 replica, or even more so the real thing, the IN-16 is expensive and not very versatile, but that’s kind of the point. Just like the GT40, the Nixie is just fucking awesome. I have no doubt Gelfman was aware of all this when creating it, and you have to commend them for even making one in the first place.
Gelfman IN-16 Nixie pricing and availability
The Gelfman IN-16 Nixie is a limited edition of 999 pieces and is available now. Price: US$8,111 (excluding tax).
|45.9mm (W) x 20.5mm (T) x 47.8mm (LTL)
|IPX6-rated, not suitable for submersion
|Dual cold cathode display
|Textured rubber strap, steel pin buckle
|Quartz, rechargeable battery
|Sequential digital display, hours, minutes, battery level indicator, wrist gesture recognition, low battery warning
|Limited to 999 pieces
|US$8,111 (excluding tax)