INNOVATIONS: The design of time

"We're forever meeting people who have watches, very seldom people who have compasses. We always need to know what time it is (who still knows how to deduce it from the position of the sun?), but we never ask ourselves where we are." - Georges Perec

watch feat innovations 8 (photo credit: )
watch feat innovations 8
(photo credit: )
The notion of time and its passage has preoccupied philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, religious leaders, linguists and researchers. It is a complex element whose parts make up the fabric of our lives, yet it often slips by without notice. Idioms in every language remind us that time should be neither squandered nor ignored. Time defines our lives, past, present and future, and plays a huge role in the formation of our identities. From the period of time in which we live to the time it takes to get to the grocery store in Friday morning traffic, time is measurable and mysterious. Itay Noy, a post-modern watchmaker, is fascinated by the notions of time and how to design the practical instruments of telling time - what he calls "timepieces." "In today's world, with cellphones, laptops, Blackberries and Palm Pilots, no one needs a watch to know what time it is," he says. "Watches are no longer necessary elements for telling time. Nevertheless, people want them." Noy, who has always been connected to artistic endeavors, was first introduced to the intricate inner workings of watches after his army service. Working as a watch salesman at a store in central Tel Aviv, he fell in love with watches. "I was selling watches from morning until night, from NIS 10 to NIS 1,000, and something about what kind of people buy which watches and why ignited my curiosity. There is something very psychological about which watch a person chooses and which watches are suitable for individual personalities." Noy started observing the resident watchmaker and learned how to repair watches. Blessed with steady hands, which he says are crucial for a watchmaker, he decided to enroll in the jewelry and object design program at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. "I quickly realized that no one at Bezalel could teach me how to make watches because no one knew. There were similar courses, like jewelry with movement, but no one specialized in designing and making timepieces." Noy decided to teach himself. Alongside his regular studies, he bought books on the technical aspects of watchmaking and conducted methodical research on the repair, construction, engineering and design of watches. "I knew that if I wanted to make something people would want to wear, it should be different." For his final project at Bezalel, he created a series of watches for the student exhibition. The dean gave a speech about Noy walking into his office four years earlier with a dream of designing watches. At the exhibition, he honored Noy for his commitment and congratulated him on the realization of his dreams. Noy's work at the student exhibition won him the America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship and the Lockman Prize for Practical Design. "I knew when I graduated from Bezalel that if I wanted to improve and learn more about assembling the complicated components, I would have to go abroad," Noy says. In 2000, he, his wife and their first child moved to the Netherlands. He enrolled at the prestigious M. Des. Interior, Industrial and Identity Design Academy in Eindhoven in an intense, four-year program. "Outside of Israel, you get a different attitude toward timepieces and exposure to a new culture. My goal was to study industrial design and develop high-quality timepieces." FOR HIS next exhibition, Noy collected watches from friends and family both here and abroad to use in his work. "My theory is that old and broken watches don't get thrown away. They are simply stored in boxes. So I collected all the old watches I could find, took them apart, polished them, put a new face and hands on the underlying 'frozen' dial and renovated them." He describes his creation of a contemporary, functional ticking face with old hands beneath that have long since stopped as "bringing back the new with the memory of the old." The project, long and time-consuming, was also incredibly emotional. "Having these watches with time frozen in the past at an exact moment was very philosophical for me, and each individual watch went through a process in which I removed the exterior and revealed something new with a life of its own," Noy says. "These watches are literally pieces of time." This final exhibition was purchased by Dror Design and has been displayed all over the globe - from Tokyo to New York and Milan to Amsterdam. In 2007, Noy received the Andrea M. Bronfman Prize for the Arts. Established by philanthropist Charles Bronfman in honor of his wife less than one year before her death, "the Andy" is a showcase for Israeli artists. The winner receives NIS 50,000 and an exhibition of his work at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. FLIPPING THROUGH a catalogue for the upcoming exhibition of his work, "A Second Second," which opens at the museum on June 12 and will remain there until October, Noy explains that it will feature his work on grandfather clocks, the antique watches and some pieces from his new collection. "I never thought I would return to Israel and start out as a freelancer," he says. "I expected to work for a large company first and then branch out on my own, but this prize helped me to continue with the development of my work." Noy, who reiterates that he is not a businessman interested in the mass production of watches, explains that he makes each watch by hand for special orders. Today, he has around 20 different models, including collections that he labels City Square, Reflective, Fractal and Duality. In the Fractal collection, Noy uses broken dimensions so that each one is an exact copy of the other on the watch face. "I use the computer to draw a basic vector, and then I create geometric shapes and optical art. I keep 'breaking' the design until it gets to where I want it, and I never know what will happen when I start. I like this unexpected quality." For the City Square designs, he was inspired by the bird's-eye view of the world you get on Google Earth. He used famous city squares, like Trafalgar in London, L'arc de Triomphe in Paris, San Pietro in Italy and Kikar Hamedina in Tel Aviv, in the design of each watch. The Duality collection brings together two different watch faces on either side of the band. "These are reversible watches with two unique faces. I used things like everyday and holiday to reflect the duality that each of us has in our personality. Sometimes we are in the mood to celebrate, and other times we want an everyday watch, so I tried to capture this in the watch." Noy was interested in expressing the language of the city in The Reflective watches. He wanted to create an interpretation of the surrounding metropolis, with its fast-paced, Internet connections, traffic jams and street lights, in the face of these contemporary models. "I am intrigued by the idea that time doesn't stand alone. It goes with a place. They are intertwined. Today, with the Internet, we have the world at our fingertips, and all of my watches are inspired by the life I see around me."