As someone who has had hundreds of nail services, there’s not much I wouldn’t try. So when I came across an article that talked about having a robot paint your nails, I was all in.
Clockwork is a machine that applies lacquer to your nails in 10 minutes or less and is currently offered in six Target locations (in Texas, Minnesota, and California). I scheduled my appointment online and prepaid the introductory $8. I figured I could couple running errands and getting my nails done all at the same location.
The day of my appointment I entered a local Super Target, not knowing what to expect. Signs overhead guided me to the Clockwork station. I was surprised to see that there was another client at the machine and that a technician was sitting right beside it with a manicure cart. She asked if I was her next appointment and said they were running a bit behind. She explained that every time a client moves, the machine stops for a few seconds and you have to wait for it to reset. Because the Clockwork station was next to the pharmacy area, I was asked to wait in one of the nearby booths.
When it was my turn, the technician recalibrated the machine and I took my seat. There was a rest for my forearm and I was asked to select a color. Clockwork has some of their own shades in addition to those from popular nail brands. The selection is smaller than that of a typical salon though, and it doesn’t look like you can bring your own polish. I selected Clockwork’s Into the Clouds and the technician had me load the color cartridge into the machine. I placed my thumb into the grip and slid it into the machine. When ready, the machine begins taking a picture of the nail. It then paints the nail, outlining it first, then filling it in. When complete, slide the grip out of the machine, change fingers, and reinsert.
The application isn’t perfect. The technician attributed this to the treatment I had on my nails, saying it was too much like a base coat, which you aren’t supposed to wear for the appointment. The technician (who is not a licensed nail professional) touched up my nails and added dry drops.
While the paint job is probably better than one I could do myself, I did miss the full manicure experience. Clients have to come with nails pre-filed and cut, since the service does take about 10 minutes. But polish doesn’t last long on my nails, and without a top coat, they were smudged in minutes.
In a world where contactless is key, and people are hurried, Clockwork does have potential. But as someone who doesn’t enjoy cutting and filing her own nails, I feel that if there’s a possible wait and someone has to fix the application anyway, you may as well relax in a salon where a professional can do the job right the first time without strangers gawking at you. I admit my bias, having worked in the professional nail industry for a decade, and I also acknowledge that Clockwork users are not necessarily salon goers. I do think Clockwork does a good job for those in a pinch, and I appreciated the follow-up surveys, reminders about re-booking, and package offers. Yes, $8 is worth the cost of quick nail color, but the whole experience made me miss my manicurist even more.
To book your own Clockwork minicure, make an appointment here.