Alternative Clocks

Seven unconventional clocks that tell more than time


Our pace and focus on the short-term these days seems to have surpassed the steady tick-tock of time passing. Groups like The Long Now Foundation aim to counteract this phenomenon by encouraging long-term thinking. To foster this world view—time as a series of years, one lined up after another and 10,000 more after that till infinity—computer scientist Danny Hillis proposed a monumental timepiece that “ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.” The latest version of this 10,000 Year Clock (currently under construction) will rest inside a Texas mountain, intermittently ringing out original chimes, both heard and unheard, for a stretch of time you must bend your mind to conceive. Below are six other designs for clever clocks with mind-altering concepts about time and time-telling.

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Rather than focusing on the future, Scott Thrift, founder of Brooklyn’s creative company m ss ng p eces (and original Cool-Hunting-Video-maker), has devised an annual clock, The Present. “It’s the gift we give ourselves,” he puns. The clock, currently in development, tells the time of year, tracking changing seasons with a single gradient hand that moves across the vibrant color wheel face. Each color denotes one of the four seasons (green as spring, yellow for summer, red for fall and blue for winter) and blends seamlessly from one to the next, poetically mimicking the way the seasons gradually shift.

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The Flow of Time also relies on gradients to track time. Conceived by Korean designer Byung Min Kim, the timepiece replaces conventional hands with a grayscale swatch that rotates around the face. The dark end marks the hour as the minutes vaguely sweep behind. The indistinct clock poses freedom from “all the unnecessary things,” including time constraints.


Drawing attention to the irrevocable tie between the passage of time and aging, the Life Clock by French artist Bertrand Planes measures lifespan. Though ordinary in appearance, the Life Clock ticks at such a painstaking pace that each hatch represents a single year up to 80.


Unlike standard clocks based on abstract conventions of time, Italian architect Andrea Ponsi‘s Solar Image Clock conveys time in terms of the cosmos. Representative of the sun, the red dot undulates above and below the clock’s horizon line to depict not only the sun’s exact position in the sky, but also the time of day.


Another design based on the position of the sun, Morning Glory by Wendy Legro of the Rotterdam-based Studio WM marks daytime and nighttime. The solar-powered fixture shrinks during the day to allow natural sunlight indoors, blossoming at night to emit light. Not only is the mechanical flower aesthetically pleasing with its delicate structure—whether hung alone or in a tight cluster—Morning Glory also provides healthful benefits due to its sensitivity to our biological clocks.


Often mistaken for a stock market tracker, the Union Square Metronome by artist duo Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel is in fact a public art installation that explores notions about time. From the LED screen which displays various time conventions and the slab of bedrock that reflects the earth’s massive geological history to the bronze cone representing perspective and the rotating sphere that tracks the cosmos, the Metronome encompasses practically every method of time-telling. This amalgam of measurements provides various perspectives on time, paradoxically including both regularity and ephemerality.