Sorry, You Can't Buy This Sweet Cyberpunk Watch

Making small runs of unique hardware is very, very expensive.

Oct 27 2014, 6:55pm

Image: John de Cristofaro

John de Cristofaro has designed the coolest cyberpunk watch we've ever seen—something that William Gibson, who practically invented the concept, called "best of genre"—but unfortunately, you probably won't be able to get your hands on one of them anytime soon.

I grabbed lunch today with de Cristofaro, a Brooklyn-based freelance electrical engineer. During our meal, both servers asked where they could get the watch, and Reddit comments have mostly been of the "shut-up-and-take-my-money" type. But de Cristofaro told me that what happened at lunch is exactly the reason he made it.

"As a freelancer, I'm trying to find hardware startups and companies to work with, but it's kind of hard to just walk up to people at different events and start talking without anything to show," he said. "This kind of starts the conversation for me and shows them what I can do."

de Cristofaro wearing the watch. Image: Author

The watch is made out of a modern circuit board, a Soviet surplus VFDdisplay tube sourced on eBay (the display was used on microwaves and stove timers and things of that sort), some protective brass tubing, a three-strap watch bracelet, and a AA battery. It wasn't easy to make.

It took him roughly three months of working on and off in between some other projects and jobs to design and perfect the thing. He estimates that it would take him about 12 hours to build another one by hand at this point.

"I'd probably have to sell it for at least $500 a piece for it to make any sense for me," he said. Beyond that, merely sourcing more displays wouldn't be easy: They aren't made anymore and are sometimes hard to track down.

An older clock he showed me. Image: Author

So, it's probably not gonna happen. De Cristofaro said that if he made a Kickstarter, he'd almost certainly be overwhelmed with interest and probably wouldn't be able to keep up with demand—it's nice to see that at least some people are willing to think these things through and get a good sense of how difficult it is to do medium-sized runs of electronics before starting a crowdfunding campaign that they can't deliver on.

It's a lovely watch that can only run for about half a day because of how much power the display sucks up (it was originally designed to be plugged into a wall), and it hasn't only been a hit on the internet: Our server told him that if he ever decides to make more, he'd have at least one customer.