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The Aurora Clock

by Evan Orensten in Design on 23 August 2006

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The Aurora Clock is an icon. A timeless 1970s design. A technological marvel. An object of passion and craftsmanship.

Some years ago I was thrilled to find my family's old Aurora clock in a box in the basement of my parent's house. When I plugged it in however, I got a cycle of brown colors instead of the usual pinks/blues/greens that entranced me growing up. As the layers of birefractive discs and hands rotate they produce a brilliant array of colors.

If I found the clock today it would have taken only a few seconds to search for information on the web to find someone who could repair it, or look for a new one on eBay or at an antique store. It's one of those times that makes you really appreciate how useful the Internet has become. Since this happened a few years back, it took me about two years to restore my Aurora to its original state. I’ll spare you the stories of the multiple clockmakers, plastics stores and more than one attempt at repairing it myself (not recommended). Through some sleuthing that included sending away for copies of the Aurora’s patent, I finally made my way to Barry Gamble of ChronoArt in Cotati, CA.

The Aurora was based on Jordan Kirsch (of Kirsch-Hamilton)'s patent for a clock that used birefractive lenses. They hired the design firm Corchia and de Harak in the early 1970s to design the iconic clock, which soon found its way into mod homes everywhere and the permanent collection of the MoMA.

The Aurora had several different fabrications by its various makers. Hampton Haddon bought the rights for the Aurora and sold them until 1990. The biggest issue with the Aurora was heat from the lamp, which over time damaged the motor and warped and discolored the layers of bifrefractive discs. Many of the original clocks were put in a box or thrown away because no one was able to repair them.

And that's when Barry stepped in, when he started repairing the Aurora (he acquired all of the known spare parts and molds), bought the rights to manufacture it, and started designing other clocks based on the birefractive technology at the heart of the Aurora.

If you are lucky enough to find an original clock ChronoArt can repair (or upgrade) it. They also continue to make and sell Auroras that look the same as the original, but have leveraged modern technology (LEDs) to produce richer colors with substantially less heat and wear. New Auroras are available for $399 from ChronoArt.

Whether the Aurora brings you back to your childhood or you think it just looks mod, telling time has never looked more beautiful.

More views of the Aurora after the jump

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A side view of the Aurora

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