Itay Noy with one of his creations: I was interested in watches’ psychological aspects and aspects of their movement. (Photo: Nurit Yahalomi)When noted American philanthropist Charles Bronfman purchased a strikingly-designed clock while visiting the annual student end-of-year exhibition at Israel’s famed Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, he had no way of knowing that seven years later, he’d be crossing paths with the clock’s designer.
Bronfman and his late wife Andrea had eyed various pieces, but nothing ultimately captured their attention. The pair was just about to walk out the door, when Bronfman was captivated by the clock, unlike anything else he had seen that day.
“I looked over at a little case and there was a beautiful clock in it… it was very different, very innovative, and very simple all at the same time. And I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s wonderful.’ But I had no idea who did it,” Bronfman told ISRAEL21c, adding that the piece was the only item the couple bought from the exhibition.
Last week, seven years on, three international judges awarded watchmaker Itay Noy with the Andrea M. Bronfman Prize for the Arts (dubbed the Andy Prize) at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.
The judges had no idea Bronfman had purchased a Noy original, and Bronfman, likewise, was surprised to find out who the prize winner was.
“I had no idea the judges would choose him. It was just a total coincidence,” Bronfman told ISRAEL21c as he paused before entering Noy’s timepiece exhibit, which also opened that day.
The Andy Prize recognizes innovation in Israeli decorative arts and was created by Bronfman as a gift to his wife Andrea for her 60th birthday, less then a year before her untimely death in 2005.
Noy’s pieces have already won him eight design prizes and his grandfather clocks, watches, and other timepieces have been showcased all over America, Israel, and Europe. His exhibit, A Second Second, on display until October, is a culmination of Noy’s newest timepiece collections.
The exhibit deals with the idea of physical time, time as a complex, philosophical concept, and time as memory – the phrase bringing back the new to the memory of the old is repeated throughout the gallery.
Amid the cacophonic background noise of alarms ringing, watches ticking, and clocks chiming, the themes of time and memory were showcased through sections such as the display of four large photos featuring antique grandfather clocks Noy had rebuilt, and an installation of three gold clocks each showing selective time, part time, and double time. These clocks took on a physical and psychological meaning at the exhibit. For instance, the part time clock, a brass, gold plated piece that opened to show one half frozen at eight in the morning and the other half at eight in the evening, was placed to show the stark contrast in two different times of the day.
In a section he calls ‘Urban Watches’, Noy displayed examples from his Duality, Reflective City Square, and Fractal collections, which were inspired by various cultural happenings, situations, business, and architecture from the big city.
In the section ‘Second Time’, Noy asked family and friends to bring him old, broken, and scratched watches, took them apart and repaired them, then replaced their faces with photographs of the original broken watches. The result became a new working watch with a semblance of the old broken one. He kept the hands of each watch frozen at the time the watch had stopped calling – what Noy calls the watch’s “time of death.” For Noy, the project was arduous and emotional.
“It was very exciting for the people who felt the watches were meaningful. For example, one of them was my grandfather’s watch so it added extra meaning to this project. It got into the system. Some of them were very important to the people that gave them to me,” Noy told ISRAEL21c at the exhibit opening.
Noy was always interested in art, but his involvement with watches began after his army service when he was a watch salesman in a local watch shop in Tel Aviv. He began observing the resident watchmaker and learned how to repair watches.
“Everyday I saw many watches and I started to be interested in them. I was interested in both their psychological aspects and aspects of their movement,” Noy said.
His infatuation with watches led to an enrollment in the jewelry and object design program at Bezalel in 1996. Although Noy came with the vision that he would be a timepiece designer and the conditions for this type of study existed at Bezalel, there was no teacher or specialist in the field to guide him.
“I was the only one doing timepiece design at the time. I needed to do the research myself. I took the atmosphere and the rules of design and art and combined it with knowledge of the Academy to come up with my timepieces,” Noy said.
Today, Bezalel has a formal course for timepiece design which Noy was asked to start teaching three years ago by the head of the jewelry and object design department.
Prior to this teaching gig, Noy had received his Masters from the Eindhoven Design Academy in Holland. Abroad, he created a collection of timepieces for a company in Amsterdam called Droog Design, who mass-produced the watches and exhibited the collection all over the world. He was also hired to do a few timepiece projects for Roman Glass, a Dutch industrial company that uses ancient Roman glass to make silver jewelry.
Although Noy says his family was happy in Holland, the decision to return to Israel came because they felt Israel was always their true home. Rather then seeking work with a company, Noy decided to become independent and start his own collection.
“The things I did before were very limited edition and one-of-a-kind, but I decided to take a step forward and develop my own watches. That’s what I’ve been doing until now,” he said.
He says his work is mostly conceptual and selling the watches was something that only developed in the last few years.
“In my career, I’ve done products and art pieces other than timepieces. But I like timepieces because they have beat, rhythm, and heart. When they don’t work, you need to give them life again. It’s something that is more than just statue and philosophy. It also has motion inside. It has its own life,” he said.
Now embarking on new milestone, as the second winner of the coveted Andy Prize and his new collection putting him on the world map, it sounds like Noy will be selling in no time.