Shaping time

Itay Noy has time on his hands and on his mind.

Itay Moy (photo credit: Courtesy)
Itay Moy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Itay Noy has designs on our time – literally. The youthful-looking fortysomething Jaffa-based artist takes what was once a mostly functional apparatus and turns it into a unique thing of alluring beauty.
The said device is a chronometer – a.k.a. watch or clock – and Noy has been putting his individual aesthetic stamp on timekeeping accessories for some years. Several of his eye-catching creations will be on display to the general public at the Museum for Islamic Art, from December 8, as part of the Modern Times exhibition.
There is, of course, no better place to lay on a show of custom-made crafted watches than the Jerusalem institution which, according to Noy, contains “the world’s most important clock.” The pièce de résistance in question is the Marie Antoinette Clock, which the 18th-century queen of France ordered from master clockmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. The notoriously spendthrift monarch told the Swiss-born horologist to spare no expense, and to take as much time as he needed. Unfortunately for the queen, within a few years the French Revolution put an end to her ostentatious lifestyle. She was dispatched to the guillotine, while the order was eventually completed some 30 years later.
Regardless of the ill fate that befell that most inconsiderate of queens, and her taste for all things lavish, including timepieces, thankfully Noy is doing his bit to keep the Breguet legacy alive and spends a significant portion of his waking hours forging definitively functional items that are very much also a thing to behold and to be marveled at.
Noy got his first taste of hands-on watch work as a youngster. “I’d just finished my army service and I was looking in the paper for work,” he recalls. “I saw an ad for a job in Dizengoff Center as a watch salesman, and I went for it.” And the rest is ongoing successful international history. “I started working in watch sales, and I quickly fell in love with the whole thing. I fell for the actual watches, and I was also drawn to the technical side. I also always wanted to do something connected to design.”
The natural next step for the young man was to go and get himself a formal education in his newly chosen field, and he duly signed up for a degree program at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. However, his academic episode did not get off to the best of starts.
“I registered for the jewelry department,” Noy explains. “The syllabus had something about watches in it, and I thought: That’s for me! But when I got to Bezalel, I looked for the course and it didn’t exist.”
Undeterred, Noy decided to get into proactive mode.
“There were all sorts of courses where you could do different things, so I started messing around with watches – dismantling them and examining the relationship between the different parts. My final project was these three watches,” he says, indicating a triad of highly impressive timepieces.
Noy clearly wants to engage us in his creations and in the very passage of time. His high vaulted studio in Old Jaffa contains an almost dizzying array of works.
There are watches that divide your day between a.m. and p.m., with one section progressing while the other takes a concomitant step in the opposite direction.
One of the works that will be on view in Jerusalem next week is a particularly attractive item that Noy calls ChronoGears. The creation in question, says Noy, offers “three different ways of reading time.
Besides the traditional analog way of reading the central hands of hours, minutes and seconds, there are two ChronoGears that rotate around the dial clockwise and contain a central hand, the pointer.”
The ChronoGear in the lower section of the dial offers 24-hour-based timekeeping, while the other divides your day into no fewer than eight time slots – dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk, evening, midnight and night.
That may sound a bit overcomplicated for most of us pragmatically oriented bods; after all, we basically just want to know the time, and whether we are keeping to our daily schedule, right? Nevertheless, there is no denying the seductive beauty of Noy’s pieces.
“It is like when you go to a museum and you see a painting or a photograph. Basically, what you see is something you recognize from everyday life,” Noy observes. “But, you look at the work and you start to think about it, and all sorts of thoughts come up.
You may begin to look at things in a slightly different way. We don’t have to have paintings in our home. It’s not a necessity. But it’s something that arouses thoughts, or some kind of internal sense and thought. It sparks off some kind of reaction.” Noy has the same line of attack. “I want to stimulate a reaction which goes beyond just conveying information about the passage of time.”
He needn’t worry on that score too much. Noy is indisputably possessed of the knack of capturing our imagination and imbuing what is really a very compact item with a multitude of visual, cerebral and even emotional points of reference without seeming to burden us with too much information.
Noy’s endeavor has brought its rewards, and he has reaped kudos across the globe and exhibited his work at such venerable venues as the Museum of Art & Design in New York, the Modern Kunst Museum in Arnhem in the Netherlands – less than an hour’s drive north of Eindhoven, where he took a master’s degree in design – and the Contemporary Art Terminal in Shenzhen, China.
Back on his home patch, he has had shows at most of the major arts repositories in this country, including the Israel Museum, the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv and the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan. He has also garnered a string of awards, including The Andrea M. Bronfman Prize for the Arts – a.k.a. The Andy – in 2007, which is awarded annually to leading Israeli decorative artists.
In truth, Noy’s professional destiny was foretold somewhere along his genetic continuum. As a young child, he received his first watch from John Edelnand, his grandmother’s only cousin, a Holocaust survivor who lived in England and ran a chain of jewelry stores in Luton, north of London. Edelnand visited Israel quite frequently and, over the years, little Noy received a number of handsome timepieces.
Many years later, in the wake of his Andy Award success, Noy told his great-uncle about his choice of career. That lifted the lid on a closely guarded family secret, and Noy discovered that his professional lineage went back even further, when Edelnand told him about the family’s watchmaking enterprise in the town of Halberstadt in Germany, where he had grown up together with Noy’s grandmother.
Noy learned that Edelnand’s father, Israel, was a gifted watchmaker, whom John saw for the last time at age 14, when he was sent from Germany to London in 1939 on a Kindertransport. All that remained in the young boy’s possession was a suitcase of clothes, a few family photographs and a silver watch, his father’s handiwork, the last vestige of the watchmaking tradition that would be wiped out together with the family in the Holocaust. Edelnand and his wife, Mavis, had no children of their own, and Edelnand passed his father’s watch on to Noy, to keep the flame of the family’s watchmaking legacy burning brightly.
No doubt, Great-Uncle John, who died several years ago, would have been proud not only of Noy’s latest exhibition but also of his ongoing exquisite artistic endeavor.
Noy wants us to not just cast a peremptory glance in the direction of our wristwatch – that is, if many of us cellphone users even bother strapping on a timepiece – he wants us to stop and think, and give our watch the time of day.
His captivating Open Mind model is a delightful case in point. With the hour and minute hands positioned in the central part of the watch face, and the second hand artfully set to one side, Open Mind sports a somewhat Eastern-style latticed skull shape.
“The movement of the mechanism, in fact, imitates the operation of the brain,” Noy explains.
“There is the concept of how the wheels of the mind work – here, you can see that,” he says as he flips the watch over, revealing deftly rotating gears. “People who wear this watch know that the mechanism is here.”
Something tells me that we, who make do with telling the time with our pragmatic digital cellphones, are missing out.

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