Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ticking off the Competition

Newcomer AC Innovations delivers on value with this stylish modernization of the classic oak clock.

Product Review: AC Innovations Limited Edition Oak Clock

WAIT! I know exactly what you’re thinking – why would Average Joe do a review on something as plain as a clock? Now before you belt out a pre-emptive yawn, let me give you three reasons why I chose to write this month’s review on a clock.

1) It’s a slow month (hey, at least I’m honest).
2) The purpose of Average Joe is to review common household items for the average guy like me, so things like Apple’s iPhone falls outside my scope or expertise.
3) This is an impressive and affordable product, and is worth reading on about.

Just to elaborate on reason #1, let it be known that I hate February – being a monthly writer, the shortest month of the year gives me the least amount of time to cook something up for my March column. (Of course the fact that I finished last month’s column so late doesn’t help either.) Now enough with reason #1; let’s kick-off this review and start elaborating on reason #3.

Product Overview:

You would have thought digital clocks would have put analogue clocks in a shallow grave by now. But alas, watching LED digits change just doesn’t have the same grace and magic that is presented when seeing clock hands do their graceful promenade around a dial.

Newcomer AC Innovations has introduced its version of the classic clock with its own flagship timepiece, the Limited Edition Oak Clock. AC Innovations is not a clock company, they work mostly on larger-scale product development and invention projects, but every so often they come upon a technical advancement that they spin into a one-off or limited edition product sold through their online retailer, ACI Outlet. The Limited Edition Oak Clock falls under this category.

If an oak tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, can it be made into a good-looking clock? Photos courtesy of ACI_Outlet on

Product Line:

When ACI says Limited Edition, they really mean Limited Edition. Production is capped at one clock per day, which is not a very large product base for an item that is made available worldwide. Need proof? They print the date on which the clock was issued right on the face. This is a pretty big deal as this type of exclusivity is very rare and unique for a clock of this size and price - usually something of this nature is reserved for a higher-end piece.

This clock was comissioned almost a year ago and still works great.

Now how limited is limited? When you decide to only build one clock a day, your production is automatically capped at 365 units (or 366 on a leap year). Remove weekends and holidays and you’re down to about 250. Truth be told, take the time to keep track of the dates of the clocks that are made available on eBay and you’ll find that usually only about 2 are released per week, meaning production numbers per year should be expected to be less than or barely close to 100.

With such a short production run, you’d expect to break the bank to get one of these beauties – well guess again, because ACI must be in generous mood. These clocks are surprisingly affordable.


Obtaining an exact number for pricing is a bit difficult for this clock. As they are available only for sale online by auction through ACI_Outlet on the eBay website, there is substantial fluctuation on the final value. The good news is that ACI sets the starting value fairly low (on average below $5.00 US) and lets market demand determine the selling price through bidding. There is no real deal on the flat shipping rates which are average in price, but you get what you pay for as the item is shipped within less than 24 hours of payment, comes with a free battery, it is well packaged in a sturdy box and a tracking number is provided immediately for North American shipments.

Auction prices can shoot up fast, so I recommend to any eBayer who wants this product to take one of the following two approaches:

• Save your bid for the end of the auction to keep the price relatively low. No bids on an item also help keep the auction off the radar when other potential buyers are browsing (we’ve all clicked on those auctions with 20 bids just to see what all the fuss is about). In the end, you may luck out and have the right bid at the right time and snag this beauty for a low price with little competition.

• If you don’t have the time or patience to try the first method, do the exact opposite - place a low bid early on to scare off potential buyers looking to grab an easy deal. Often times a second clock will go up for sale only days later, leading people to place a bid on the second item rather than compete with you. If all falls into place you’ll win the auction without even reaching close to your maximum bid, grabbing a sweet deal on this hard-to-find clock.

As final prices can fluctuate, do some research on a few current auctions and you’ll probably find the average auction price is a fairly good bargain when compared to some of the other clocks available on eBay. In fact, the price is better or on par with those cheap plastic “CD clocks” or bizarre LED disasters from overseas. This type of affordability is quite a feat for a brand new in the box clock made from real oak and of limited production.

Appearance and Design:

Finding a good hardwood clock that will fit into the average home or office is difficult to do. The market is polarized between the old-school breed of ornate clocks and new ultra-modern designs. Going with a traditional ornate work usually ends up feeling out of place in today’s home or office; you just can’t hang a sculpted cuckoo clock over an LCD TV or iPod docking station. On the other hand, go with an ultra-modern design and you’re better off putting it in a Swedish discothèque than on the bookshelf next to your wooden picture frames.

What this clock accomplishes is a compromise of both design styles. The oak frame is beautifully hand varnished to give the feel of those wonderful hardwood clocks of yesteryear, while the overall shape with its broad frame and sharp edges gives a modern flair. The dial design is very sleek and original – the traditional numbers are replaced by words indicating the four main quadrant hours, and the rest is left up to a circular marking pattern. The hands are a clean black with mirror-like chrome trim decorating the minute and hour arms. Take an up close view and the plastic hands may seem a little cheap-looking, but given their small size this doesn’t really bring down the overall appearance of the clock. It was a nice touch to camouflage the alarm needle in a matte aluminum color so there is no way to confuse it with any of the time keeping hands.

Very clean and sharp design – and your kids can practice their spelling while learning to tell the time.

A really good bonus is that this clock is fully finished on all sides including a nice, tight fitting felt cover in the back. Unlike most competitor’s models, this clock is perfect for use on your desk - with the clock facing you, guests sitting in front of your desk are treated to a finished backside instead of seeing the usual cheap plastic clips, batteries or exposed internals and screws.

Don’t worry - your wife won’t get mad at you for checking out this beautiful backside.

Speaking of screws, you won’t see one at all on this clock. The frame is held together internally and is completely free of visible hardware or filler - only natural oak as far as the eye can see. Even the back cover opens via a push-and-slide-out system as to not spoil the look of the felt with mounting screws. Despite this lack of hardware, you can tell the clock is sturdy and well-built. Hold it in your hand, and you can feel that it is a good weight and fairly solid. There’s nothing flimsy to crack or break here.

No screws, filler or other hardware to be seen… only one loose nut taking the picture.

The quality of the finish is good but be warned if you are not used to the appearance of authentic hardwood: this is real oak so there will be some natural blemishes. The good news is attention must have been paid during assembly because most of these blemishes or inconsistencies are located at the bottom or back of the clock, meaning ACI at least took the time and effort to minimize the impact of these natural imperfections on the appearance of the clock. The miter cuts in the frame are clean and square, but there is no filler used which means that usually three corners will be perfect and one will be a little off. In the end, the craftsmanship and appearance can still be classified as superior to the competition.


Operation is fairly straight forward. Setting the alarm can be a bit tricky as there are not enough graduations on the dial to get it set right down to the minute, so some trial and checking may be required if it set off the hour. For someone with “sausage fingers” like me, you may find the adjustment knobs in back to be slightly small. The designers make up for this by including a ribbon in the battery tray which makes pulling out the AA battery a piece of cake, even if you have hands the size of a catcher’s mitt.

Pop the hood and here are the internals. No room for a supercharger, though.

In terms of performance, what is surprising is that the movement used in this clock is very similar to the movements (Quartz, plastic gears, AA battery) used in two other clocks I own, including an Ingraham that cost quite a hefty price by comparison. Despite the large price differences, the ACI clock is on par if not better in terms of noise and smoothness of operation.

A tale of three clocks: One roars loudly, one made me pay for the name and the other toils in obscurity.

For example, the plastic clock on the left was also purchased off eBay for a higher price than the ACI unit, but is a joke by comparison. Look closely and you can see the dial was done by an inkjet printer. Also, its ticking was incredibly loud to the point that it was relegated to the garage as the noise was too distracting to keep anywhere else. Noise levels were on par between the ACI clock and the Ingraham, with a slight edge given to ACI. Is the ACI clock completely silent? Of course not – it is a clock, it does tick – but stand back, take your attention off it and the noise is barely noticeable in the background, which is the way a clock should be (competitors, please take note). The question is this: all three of these clocks have the same type of timepiece from what I could tell – so what is it that makes the ACI clock perform so much better?

There are two reasons for this: First, it’s fairly obvious that the tight-fitting closed cabinet helps muffle most of the sound. Second, ACI gives its movements a special treatment to make them run quieter and smoother. While exact details are unknown, the upgrade treatment is a sort of proprietary cleaning and lubrication process specific to ACI. Apparently this is somewhat tricky to do but yields great results when done properly and can be summed up pretty well by ACI correspondence on this matter:

“These types of electro-mechanical timepieces are fairly well-built, but the pressure on their manufacturers is to produce high volume at a low price. What this means is the manufacturers don’t have the time or the mandate to do the extra things that make them run smoother. We, on the other hand, because of our low volume do have the time and the will to do this.”

Other Features and Fun Stuff:

What “other features or fun stuff” can a clock possible have? Well this portion focuses more on what comes with the clock than the clock itself, namely: free on-line support and the potential as a collectible.

I must admit I cringed at first when I thought about online support for a clock. After all, what “support” could there possibly be available online for a clock? Free calendar reminder downloads for Daylight Saving Time? Add to this the fact that I’ve never been a fan of online support; most of the time online support means having to surrender an email address to create a login (i.e. get bombarded with spam) and most of the support isn’t really support, but more of a chance for the manufacturer to showcase possible accessories for your product and get your attention while he has it (i.e. get bombarded with advertisements).

With such low expectations, I was blown away when I hit the ACI site. The support site requires no login, just the clock model number which means you can browse in serene anonymity. The site is easy to navigate, the page loads quickly, the information posted is straight-forward and useful, and there are detailed pictures for the right things. The tips are great and you can find out everything form getting the most out of your battery to which cleaners to use. Best of all: not a single advertisement or flashing banner to be seen, only a modest “see other items for sale” link in the side menu bar. Tasteful, practical and overall well done.

Look Ma, no adverts! The ACI customer support webpage proves that it’s not only the clock that is clean and streamlined.

Another interesting bonus is the potential collectibility of this clock. ACI will probably never be known as a world-renowned clock maker, but they are in the product development / invention business, which may or may not lead to bigger and better things in the future. With that said, this limited edition clock is one of their first items made available for sale to the general public, which could hold some serious collector’s value in the future if the cards play out right for ACI.

Think of this: if a few years ago an unknown author named J.K. Rowling was selling some of her short stories on eBay to help pay the bills while she worked on a far-fetched book about a young wizard, do you think those stories would be worth anything today? Interesting ….

While I know for every one start-up that turns into Microsoft there are least over a thousand that go belly up, the fact is that you never know. I still won’t empty my retirement savings and put my future on the hope of selling this clock for thousands of dollars – but why not go for it if you can get a good deal and you actually do in fact need a clock? Considering the price range for this clock, you’re probably better off spending your money on this than that plastic junk clock of Jessica Simpson in her Daisy Dukes.

Final Verdict:

Is this clock going to give Seth Thomas a run for the money? The answer is no. However, that was never its goal and is also not the reason why I think this clock deserves accolades. What is impressive is that this clock features a real oak frame hand assembled in Canada, is been thoughtfully designed and has the style and the performance to back up its Limited Edition status – all while being in a price category that up until now was reserved to cheap wood imitation clocks, plastic overseas rip-offs, and ho-hum off-the-shelf units.

What is mind-boggling is that despite all the above going for it, these Limited Edition clocks are still dwelling in relative obscurity - which is not necessarily a bad thing for your average consumer looking to land a deal. Part of the reason is that ACI has not put in much effort in promoting this clock outside of eBay, and the fact is ACI is not a well-known brand in the clock world. Have you ever seen a nice polo shirt in a department store for $10 … and then spot practically the same polo shirt a few tables over with a Tommy Hilfiger logo on it for sale at $45? This is what’s happening here – put a known brand name on this exact same clock and this could easily sell for over three times the current price.

Play your eBay bids right and this clock is a fantastic deal. The design is fresh, the look is classic and it fits in almost everywhere. Plus it’s always a great conversation starter when someone notices the date printed on the face and asks you “Hey, what’s that?”


• Beautifully designed and crafted (if you like real hardwood products)
• Fits into almost any decor
• Works well with a reliability usually reserved for higher-end brands
• Easy to use and maintain
• Effective customer service & post-delivery web support is a real bonus
• Exclusive and a potential collectible (you never know, right?)
• Can be obtained at an absolute steal if you bid smartly


• Not available in stores (shipping required)
• Requires eBay and PayPal accounts to purchase
• Prices on multiple-bidder auctions can get out of hand if you’re not careful

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a clock, it’s time to give this affordable contender some serious consideration. It looks good, works great, the purchasing transaction is as smooth as chocolate syrup on butterscotch pudding (yes, I like putting chocolate syrup on butterscotch pudding) and the post sale support is a pleasant surprise. It would be hard to be disappointed.

Average Joe’s Product Rating: 9.5 / 10

Info on AC Innovations is available below, but their main operations are separate from the online retailer ACI Outlet that sells this product. ACI_Outlet has a fairly detailed “About Me” page on eBay that is worth the time to check out if you are interested in this clock (second link):

ACI_Outlet on eBay