Monday, March 18, 2013

Helix clock | Steve Diskin | Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc. | Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America | 1979

Steve DiskinSteve Diskin
Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1979

Steve Diskin was awarded a BA, magna cum laude, in Visual Studies (Architectural Sciences) from Harvard University in 1970, and a Masters in Architecture also from Harvard University in 1974. He began his professional career as an architect with the firm of Kenzo Tange in Tokyo. In the late 1970s, he ventured into product design and manufacturing with the Helix clock. Lessons learned from the Helix clock lead ultimately to the establishment of his design and manufacturing company, Tik-Tek Engineering, in Los Angeles.

From 1989 to 2002, Steve Diskin was senior instructor in Advanced Product Design and Environmental Design, as well as co-coördinator of the graduate program in Industrial Design from 1998-2002, at Art Center College in Pasadena, CA. He was Visiting Professor at the Academy of Art, Architecture and Design in Prague (2004-2005) and held a similar position at the University of Ljubljana (2002-2010).

In October, 2007, Steve Diskin published the Ph.D. dissertation, The city transforms: changing perceptions of urban identity: (case study - the path of remembrance and comradeship in Ljubljana) at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). The dissertation asserts

that if the “first generation” of cities was characterized by built forms and spaces, and the “second generation” defined by mobility, then the “third generation” of cities will certainly be “hyperdynamic”, that is, technological, dematerialized, unprogrammed, emergent, adaptable and virtual, if they are to serve the needs and behaviors of their inhabitants.

Pratt Institute, founded in 1887 in Brooklyn, New York is one of the leading architecture, art, and design schools in the United States. The Industrial Design department was established in 1934 by Donald Dohner, and is the second oldest in the United States. The graduate program in Industrial Design was founded in 1975 and is the oldest and largest in the country. Steve Diskin currently serves as the chairperson of Pratt Institute’s Industrial Design department.

I previously featured one of Steve Diskin’s designs for Tik-Tek Engineering, the Nova clock.  The Helix clock for Kirsch/Hamilton and Associates from 1979 is responsible for launching Diskin to clock making fame.  The Helix clock uses the rotational and linear characteristics of a helical spiral to communicate hours, minutes, and seconds.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black

The mirrored surface at the bottom of the clock tube reflects the helical elements of the clock. The lacquered top of the table I have it on reflects the whole clock.

Helix logo

The Helix clock logo: “Helix A New Dimension in Time Telling”.

The Helix was one of a burgeoning number of clocks in the late 1970s and early 80s described by the New York Times as “designer clocks in which new graphic, kinetic, sculptural, sound and light features have assumed a strong importance, sometimes at the expense of clarity. Most of these clocks are handsome; some are difficult to read. They range in price from moderate to expensive.”

Take a minute to watch a minute in the life of the Helix clock.

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin outlines his birth and growth as a designer and a designer-maker.

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, cover

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, p. 7Helix Clock
The rotation of three helical elements (and the translation of rotation into linear motion) shows time at the intersection with the numbered index.  Production: 1980-82. Kirsch Hamilton Associates. Boston. Permanent collection of the National Design Museum (Cooper-Hewitt). New York. Published in Look of the Century, history of design from the permanent collection of the museum. 1996

58cm x 9cm

Design Workbook by Steve Diskin, pp. 8-9Above are the three pages in Steve Diskin’s Design Workbook that feature the Helix clock.

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin is a collection of essays.  Notable to this post is a selection entitled “Sentimental Mass Production” from 1995. 

Writing Workbook 1990-2004 by Steve Diskin, cover

Sentimental Mass Production” is Diskin’s reflection on the Helix clock, from its emergence as a concept to its execution as a design object.

Helix clock box

The entire length of the Helix clock box.

Helix clock box

Another view of the Helix clock box.

Helix clock instructions

Original instructions for the Helix clock.  The text is below:

The HELIX Clock utilizes three rotating helices to indicate hours, minutes, and seconds.  Time is read on the linear, horizontal time scale where it intersects the edge of the helix.  Since there are 30 segments in the minutes helix, the indicating ends are divided by a line.  The area above the line indicates the even minute; the area below indicates the odd minute.

In order to set the time in such a way that the seconds helix is in synchronization with the hours and minutes, unplug the clock when the seconds helix indicates zero.  Set the time to the next whole minute.  At the appropriate moment, plug in the clock once again.

Adjustment of the Time Scale
If the clock is to be viewed far below eye level, you may wish to raise the time scale to its upper position. Remove the right end cap and the single screw in the time scale support. Slide the time scale to the right, rotate it to the upper position, then slide it to the left engaging the pin in the motor support in the corresponding hole in the time scale. Then replace the screw and the end cap.

The clock may be dusted with a soft, damp cloth. NO cleaning agents should be used other than polishes made especially for Plexiglas. This is very important as scratches and damage to the finish are not covered by warranty.

Limited Warranty
Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc. warrants that it will replace or repair any parts found defective due to faulty material or workmanship within one year from the date of purchase. This warranty does not include damage to the finish after delivery, damage caused by unauthorized attempts to disassemble or repair the clock, or damage which occurs during shipment in any packaging other than that provided by Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc. ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES WITH RESPECT TO THIS PRODUCT SHALL BE LIMITED IN DURATION TO THE DURATION OF THIS WARRANTY.

For service, write for return authorization stating the nature of the problem and the serial number of your clock. Do not send packages to the P.O. Box below. The return authorization includes a label pre-printed with our factory address.

Should it be necessary to return your clock for service, ship it only in the original package. If new packaging material is required, enclose $2.50 with your initial service request and new material will be sent. Only clocks returned prepaid in packing material provided by us will be covered by this warranty.

Kirsch/Hamilton Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 223                                         Patents Pending
Cambridge, MA 02138 USA                ©1979 KHA Inc.

Helix clock warranty card

Original Helix clock warranty card for clock serial number 1424.

Helix clock serial 1424

Underside of Helix clock.

In “Sentimental Mass Production,” Diskin indicates that the Helix clock was made in yellow, black, and chrome.  These colors refer to the individual plastic elements of the helix that make up the hour, two-minute, and second segments.  I have never seen a clock in chrome.

There are differences between the yellow and black clocks beyond the color of the helix elements.  The supports that hold the axle to the base of the clock and the axle to the time scale are black on the yellow clock and transparent on the black clock.  The screened numbers on the time scale are black on the yellow clock and red on the black clock.


Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellowHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., yellow

Black, damaged

When shipping the Helix clock, it is extremely important to make sure it is well packed.  Diskin speaks about the propensity toward damage of the Helix clock during shipping in “Sentimental Mass Production.” The clock below was sold on eBay on November 22, 2012 for $99.00. There were 5 bidders who placed 9 bids. The item description tells the sad tale of the damage.

I was crushed when this beauty arrived damaged in the mail. It took me years to find another one. I hope someone else likes it enough to make some good use of it. The clock operates perfectly, only the casing is severely damaged... scratched, cracked and even a piece broken off. The downside is I think the Lucite casing is impossible to reproduce. The upside is the casing is merely protective. You could remove this clock and mount it on something else and it would be an excellent functional display piece.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damagedHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damagedHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black damaged


Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black plug

The plug for the Helix clock is a two blade.  It is approximately 8 feet long and so has considerable reach.  I thought I might need an extension cord but not with that length.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., black cord entering clock

The cord enters the Helix clock through a small hole at the back, bottom left.

Helix clock gearing mechanismHelix clock gearing mechanism, left side of Helix clock

The Helix clock mechanism.

Helix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., blackHelix clock by Steve Diskin for Kirsch Hamilton and Associates, Inc., right side

Top:  The entire Helix clock.  Bottom:  The right side of the Helix clock.

Telling time with the Helix clock

Telling time with the Helix clock.  Looking down the tube from the mechanism, the helices rotate counterclockwise.  Here, the hour indicator is exiting the “4” and entering the “5”.  The horizontal line on the minute indicator is centered on “00”.  The time is 5:00 exactly.  The seconds helix is not shown.

Telling time with the Helix clock9:59 Telling time with the Helix clock10:00
Telling time with the Helix clock10:01 Telling time with the Helix clock10:02

More time telling with the Helix clock. Only a small part of the clock is shown, the seconds helix is not shown.


Diskin, Steve. Design Workbook. Czech Republic: 2005. 7-9. eBook. http://home.earthlink.net/~stevediskin/portfolio.pdf.

Diskin, Steve. Writing Workbook 1990-2004. Czech Republic: 1990-2004. 44-51. eBook. http://home.earthlink.net/~stevediskin/writing.pdf.

see “Sentimental Mass Production” Dom & Wnetrze,
Warsaw, 1992, Innovation Magazine, 1995.

Giovannini, J. (1983, March 24). In the new clocks, design, not time, is of the essence. The New York Times, p. C1.

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