On New Year's Eve, people around the world will tune in to watch the ball drop in New York City’s Times Square (in-person crowds aren’t allowed this year due to the pandemic). The tradition dates to 1907. The ball has been updated many times. Design firm Focus Lighting created the latest version in 2007 for the ball drop’s 100th anniversary.
Previously, the ball was made of triangular crystal panels studded with incandescent bulbs, which emit light from a hot glowing wire. Additional colored bulbs lit the ball from within. Focus used similarly shaped crystals in its design but mounted efficient, long-lasting LED lights on circuit boards behind them. A computer controls the lights to generate intricate, colorful displays.
Patterns cut into the backs of the crystal panels, facing the LEDs, help refract, or bend, light shining out from the ball. That pumps up its sparkle. Mirrored dividers around the LED boards multiply the glittering effect. The new ball wowed viewers, and an identical but bigger version was requested for the following year. The 2008 ball remains on the job today. “Every year at around 11:55,” says principal designer Christine Hope, “I feel that twinge of nervous excitement!” It’s a feeling shared by just about everyone waiting for the ball drop to ring in the new year.