George Nelson’s Wall clocks for Vitra

4 April 2023

wall clocks vitra

Functional and decorative wall clocks, a synthesis of Nelson’s creative and design genius

Born in 1908 in Connecticut, George Nelson graduated in architecture from Yale University and moved to Rome in 1929 thanks to a scholarship from the American Academy. These were the years of the financial crisis in the United States and the stay in Rome allowed him to use that time by deepening his knowledge of the subject and then set out to discover Europe and its most important architects. In those years, Nelson interviewed personalities like Le Corbusier, Mies Van de Roe, Walter Gropius and Gio Ponti and his interviews were then published in the 1930s in the United States by a series of trade magazines with which he collaborated, including Architectural Forum. Through his pages, he introduces European modernism to America and at the same time makes himself known to one company in particular: Hermann Miller.

george nelson

In the mid-1940s, Nelson became design director of Hermann Miller where he remained until 1972. In the meantime, starting in 1957, Vitra entered into an agreement with the company to produce and distribute its furnishings in Europe, including the projects of George Nelson and it was at that moment that the partnership between Nelson and Vitra was born. The company today holds its archive of drawings, projects and manuscripts. At the same time, Nelson established his own architectural design studio in which he explored a modernist approach to building design. But in the collective imagination what has left the strongest mark is probably the Wall Clocks series, the wall clocks imagined as never before and still produced by Vitra. The experimental formal approach is the common thread and the result is a series of sculpture clocks that decorate the walls just like works of art. The most revolutionary? Ball, Eye and Sunflower.

flock of butterflies vitra

Ball clock

When in 1947 he was commissioned a collection of 14 wall clocks, George Nelson opened a phase of observation on how people use clocks. The conclusion he arrived at was that the time was read starting from the position of the hands: the presence of numbers became superfluous and left room for the decorative scope of the object without penalizing its functional aspects. This assumption is the basis of all Nelson’s wall clock designs and is a real revolution in the sector. Among the most iconic of the series is the Ball Clock: as the name suggests, this model is characterized by a crown of spheres that replace the numbers. They are placed at the end of thin rods which in turn evoke the shape of an asterisk. The spheres are made of wood, left natural for a more sober style, or coloured, for a more pop and familiar style.

ball clock by vitra

Eye Clock

With the Eye Clock Nelson moves further away from the stereotype of the wall clock by experimenting with a completely new shape which, as the name suggests, evokes the shape of an eye. Cut in half by a horizontal line, it has 10 dashes along the edges that resemble eyelashes. Even the hands are interpreted in a creative way: that of the hours is a triangle while that of the minutes is a line, the dial is round and the whole is a harmony of geometric shapes and colors.

eye by vitra

Sunflower Clock

The Sunflower is one of the most decorative clocks in the series and lends itself to elegantly furnishing the wall thanks to the visual interweaving of wooden bands. The diameter at the largest point is 75cm which is why this clock is an important presence in an environment. Nelson’s expertise in the graphics sector also emerges in this project: just think of the play of solids and voids of the hands which each have a circle at the end but in an opposite position, as if to balance each other visually.

sunflower by vitra
Vitra Ball Clock
Vitra Ball Clock
Vitra Diamond Markers Clock
Vitra Eye Wall Clock
Vitra Flock of Butterflies Wall Clock
Vitra Popsicle
Vitra Sunburst Clock
Vitra Sunburst Clock
Vitra Sunflower Wall Clock
Vitra Sunflower Wall Clock


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