For This Israeli Watchmaker, Time Is Not Just Money

Itay Noy's clocks not only tell time, they've been lauded for being thought-provoking masterpieces.

Itay Noy is a kind of accidental watchmaker. After his stint in the army he moved to Tel Aviv and found work as a salesman at a Dizengoff Center watch store.


"I fell in love with those objects real quick," says Noy, 40. Since he wanted to learn watch design, he applied to the jewelry department at the Bezalel Academy of Arts of Design; their course catalogue featured watches as well.

"That really attracted me . Looking back, I couldn't find a watch course during my studies or a teacher who could tell me how to get started," he says. "So I began researching the topic on my own. In my second year I had already made a watch as part of my research, with some trial and error and a lot of passion."

But there was an added twist: Noy didn't realize how far back watchmaking went in his family. In 2007, he exhibited his work at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. This came after he had won the Andrea M. Bronfman Prize for the Arts, awarded annually to an Israeli for excellence in ceramics, jewelry, textiles, glass or fashion; it's known locally as the Andy Prize. Noy's grandfather, who lives in England, asked him to send the exhibition's catalog.

"When I was a kid, my grandmother's cousin would come from England to visit and give me a watch as a present," says Noy. "Only after I won the Andy Prize did my grandfather tell me that the family used to make watches for a living. He even sent me a photo of his father working in Italy and sent me a watch his father gave him when he was 15, when they smuggled him from Germany to England. I still have the watch today."

Noy will officially open his new studio in Old Jaffa this week. It will double as his shop and showroom for the many types of timepieces he has designed, including the table clocks for his final project at Bezalel.
 

A different way to tell time

Noy’s clocks are designed not only to tell time, but to have a philosophical basis, which is what nabbed him the Andy Prize in 2007. Nirit Nelson, head of the jury that year, wrote that Noy won the prize because his work also “tells us a great deal about time and the way we experience it. His thought-provoking works are masterpieces."

One example is Noy’s graduation project for which he created three table clocks; each has two mechanisms that tell time in a different way than usual.
In one, two pairs of hands face each other. In another, one pair of hands runs from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. and then stops working. Then the second clock starts, only to stop 12 hours later.

“The idea of the three clocks is to create an intimacy between the clock and its owners,” he says. Noy said he began addressing the philosophy of his art during his studies, when he realized that “a designer not only provides form, color and proportion, he also tries to fill it with content.”

After graduating from Bezalel, Noy earned an MA at the Eindhoven Design Academy in the Netherlands. His final project dealt with time as it affects products. One work, “Grandfather Clocks,” provides full-size photographs of old-fashioned wall clocks. On the back of each he installed new hands and a tiny mechanism that imitates the grandfather-clock sound.

“All the functions are there, but the only thing real about them is the memory they invoke,” Noy says. Other Noy timepieces had their genesis when he realized people don’t throw away old watches, they put them in a drawer.

“I photographed watches that had stopped working; dirty, scratched and broken at the hour of their death. I started working on them," he says. "I took them apart, cleaned them and removed layers .... The box for each watch contained the image of the old watch.”

In 2005, Noy returned from Holland to Israel with his wife and children, and while teaching at Bezalel he began thinking about opening his own studio.

For the Andy Prize, he presented his series of watches based on city squares around the world: the Etoile in Paris, Trafalgar Square in London, Columbus Circle in New York and Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv. He photographed them and they became the watch face.

Along with his teaching at Bezalel and his studio work, Noy is exhibiting in museums around the world, supported in part by AIDA, an organization that helps develop the decorative arts in Israel. In 2010 his watches went on sale in galleries and shops abroad.

When asked about his creations' high price tag, he says "the watches run from $2,000 to $5,000. There are about 20 companies my size in the world, and compared to them my prices are low. Collectors often come to me and are surprised at the low price.” Noy says he wants more than the super rich to be able to afford his watches.

“Even a new iphone costs NIS 4,000, but unlike an iphone or some other product, my watches are forever," he says. "They have no battery, they have a spring that has to be wound, and some only have to be on your wrist and they wind automatically." He notes that a lot of consumer spending these days is on mass-produced products; "Most of the objects around you won't survive."

David Bachar
David Bachar