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Gino Valle, clocks, and the fusion of technology and design

During the years when Munari was designing Meo Romeo the cat, Fermo Solari, who was born into a family of clockmakers in Friuli dating back to the eighteenth century, founded Solari & C., a company in Udine that started manufacturing split-flap clocks on an industrial scale. To give form to the ground-breaking technology of Solari clocks, in which the hands are replaced by numbers that flip every minute, he called in a famous designer, the architect Gino Valle. This led to Cifra 5, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1956. This clock had a compact shell, reflecting the aesthetic tastes of the time, and a roller with 40 flaps, which created figures that could be read from 15 metres away. This was the first in what became an authentic “family” of clocks, hailed as the finest expression of the fusion of technology and design. The same concept was at the heart of the alphanumeric displays for airports and stations, also designed by Gino Valle, which in 1962 won the Compasso d’Oro for their “aesthetic-functional” characteristics. Under the direction of Pirelli, of which Solari became a subsidiary in 1964, these split-flap displays spread to airports and stations across the world, from Tokyo to London, from Beirut to Sydney, and were even used for the countdowns at the Cape Canaveral aerospace centre. In 1966 it was the turn of Cifra 3, the smallest direct-reading electric clock produced by Solari. It too was designed by Gino Valle with lettering created by Massimo Vignelli, and in 1968 it entered the permanent collection of MoMA in New York.

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During the years when Munari was designing Meo Romeo the cat, Fermo Solari, who was born into a family of clockmakers in Friuli dating back to the eighteenth century, founded Solari & C., a company in Udine that started manufacturing split-flap clocks on an industrial scale. To give form to the ground-breaking technology of Solari clocks, in which the hands are replaced by numbers that flip every minute, he called in a famous designer, the architect Gino Valle. This led to Cifra 5, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1956. This clock had a compact shell, reflecting the aesthetic tastes of the time, and a roller with 40 flaps, which created figures that could be read from 15 metres away. This was the first in what became an authentic “family” of clocks, hailed as the finest expression of the fusion of technology and design. The same concept was at the heart of the alphanumeric displays for airports and stations, also designed by Gino Valle, which in 1962 won the Compasso d’Oro for their “aesthetic-functional” characteristics. Under the direction of Pirelli, of which Solari became a subsidiary in 1964, these split-flap displays spread to airports and stations across the world, from Tokyo to London, from Beirut to Sydney, and were even used for the countdowns at the Cape Canaveral aerospace centre. In 1966 it was the turn of Cifra 3, the smallest direct-reading electric clock produced by Solari. It too was designed by Gino Valle with lettering created by Massimo Vignelli, and in 1968 it entered the permanent collection of MoMA in New York.

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