My favorite self-care activity is, hands down, getting my nails done. Sure, I love the occasional facial, and massages are also great, but leaving a nail salon with a fresh gel manicure that I know I'll be able to stare at lovingly for at least two weeks is really the best feeling. So when my editor first approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in getting my nails done by a robot, I was honestly a little nervous. Despite my initial hesitation, I knew one of my coworkers had recently had her eyelash extensions put on by a robot, and I figured if she could handle that, I could definitely get my nails done by a machine.
Clockwork, the company behind the nail-painting robot, has a salon in San Francisco, just a short drive away from my house, but the company has also started rolling out Clockwork robots in select Target stores in California, Texas, and Minnesota. Making an appointment at the Clockwork nearest to me to have my nails painted was relatively simple: I found a time slot that worked for me on its website, booked it, and prepaid the $8 online. (Currently, there is only one location you can book online, but businesses and individuals can also request to lease a machine if you wanted to bring the robot to you.)
How Does a Clockwork Minicure Differ From a Salon Manicure?
Nail painting is the only available option at Clockwork, and they do not remove gel, cut, or file your nails. The brand's "minicures" are express nail appointments that only involve polish application. Prior to my appointment, I visited my go-to nail salon so they could remove the gel polish I had on as well as do all the manicure prep. They cut, shaped, and buffed them so I was ready to go. If you don't want to book another session elsewhere, Clockwork does offer complementary nail--polish remover and nail files, which they have on location.
What to Expect When Getting a Clockwork Minicure
When I arrived at the salon, I was greeted by a technician who was seated in the center of the room. They oversaw the entire process and helped guide me through each step. There were two different machines giving manicures, as well as a basket offering complementary nail files and nail-polish remover pads located at the table where the technician was seated.
When it was my turn to have my nails painted, I first chose between 20 different color options which were displayed at the technician's table. The colors are from a mix of different brands, and change depending on the season. With that in mind, many of the polish shades were on the darker side. I typically opt for lighter colors, but I ended up choosing a deeper sparkly champagne. After I chose my color, I sat down at the machine and took a look at the handy onscreen how-to guide, which walked me through each step of the process. The technician then gave me a small cartridge containing nail polish, which I inserted into the machine.
I then placed my thumb onto a hand rest in the machine, secured it under a retractable band, and spoke the word "ready" aloud. (The machine is voice-activated, but you can also opt to press a button that says "ready" instead.) Next, the machine scanned my thumb and then painted it starting with the outer edges. It continued moving in spiral clockwise motions until ending at the center of my nail, taking about 40 seconds to paint each one with a layer of color. (There is no base- or top-coat option.)
I repeated this process for each of my fingers and let the machine paint them one by one.
How Long Does a Clockwork Minicure Take?
There were a few instances when the machine didn't cover my nail entirely, or it left large gaps between some areas, because of this, the polish application took longer than I initially expected. I quickly learned that in order to get the best possible result, it's important to keep your body completely still while the machine is painting your nails. For any mess-ups, a technician helped me remove the polish with a wipe and I repeated the entire process until my nail was correctly and completely covered.
Once all of my fingers were painted, I let my nails dry for about five minutes, and the technician applied fast-drying drops to my nails. Altogether, the entire activity took about 20 minutes total. The location I went to also had a fun selfie corner, where I was able to take a few photos of my nails using a provided ring light and a cool leafy background.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the fact that a machine could paint my nails. I loved the selfie corner, and the technician was very helpful. The experience was different and fun, and it was easy and fairly effortless. Typically, a regular manicure at a salon costs me around $20, but each "minicure" at Clockwork costs $8, which seems pretty on par pricing-wise. Timing-wise, the Clockwork minicure is advertised to take around 10 minutes total, but my experience was roughly double the time. Since there were only two machines available, I spent some extra time waiting, and the fixes for each of my nails also ended up adding up.
I would say that the pros of this service are the convenience, the price, and the experience. As for the cons, I prefer to have a full manicure when getting my nails done, so I didn't like that I had to visit a separate place for cutting and shaping my nails prior to my Clockwork appointment. There was also no base coat or top coat involved, so my nails ended up chipping shortly after I had them done. In the future, I think I'll stick to my favorite manicurists, but if I'm ever in a pinch, I'm happy to know Clockwork is right around the corner.