A watch is, most fundamentally, a timekeeper. But to Israeli designer and watchmaker Itay Noy, it can be much more: It’s a canvas for art and a vehicle for exploring philosophical ideas. From concept through production to final sale, his watches are made to order out of his studio in Jaffa in Tel Aviv, Israel — and his approach is unconventional, to say the least.
Since 2000, he’s introduced a new collection every year, each an exercise in breaking out of a received perception of time. Though they always include a compelling visual element, Itay Noy’s concepts involve alternative time displays and untraditional components that need to be invented and created especially for his purposes. Many of these he makes himself, from dials to movement modules, and he’s largely self-taught.
Producing only about 150 watches per year, Itay Noy stands out for the relative accessibility of his pieces — often around $6,000 — compared to other watchmakers offering extremely limited production and avant-garde, conceptually driven watches which tend to be very high-end. Many Itay Noy watches require a little effort to decipher at first, but offer a truly unique experience once you get the idea. What better way to understand the mind behind these creations than to speak with the man himself? Gear Patrol got the chance.
Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How would you describe your work to someone who had never seen it?
A. I’m an independent timepiece maker – one of a few dozen throughout the world. Since 2000 I have been creating limited-edition, hand-crafted watches. Each year I reveal a new collection, trying to capture a fresh philosophical perspective on the concept of time. I make about 150 pieces a year, all my own original designs, using components and movements of the highest quality integrated with in-house dynamic dials.
Q. Was your interest in design always centered on watches? Was there a watch or experience that particularly inspired you or impacted your career trajectory?
A. I loved watches since I was a child, and when I was 22 years old I found a job in a watch store by coincidence and immediately got interested in the watch world. The watchmaker at the store taught me some basic principles in repairing watches, and It was the beginning of my dream to design my own. Later, I studied Art Jewelry (B. FA) and Industrial Design (M.DES) for six years and developed the principal value of my design – the concept behind the watches.
I’m trying to bring a new spirit, to evoke a different point of view, instead of a purely functional object. We live in a world where the wristwatch is not needed anymore because you can find the time everywhere, and I think that the watch has become an identity object and a sculpture on the wrist.
Q. You make a lot of watch components yourself. What parts do you make, and how do you select the parts you source?
A. I use only high-quality movements, which I get from small studios and suppliers in Switzerland. The movement is the heart of the watch; it must be beautiful and functions as a perfect platform.
The dial is the face of the watch (the character) and should tell the story of the watch. I look at the dial as my canvas to “paint” and express my ideas. I design and produce in-house dynamic dials. All other parts (including the case and the straps) are original designs by me.
Q. What unique skills or techniques have you learned specifically for executing your unique concepts?
A. I officially studied Art Jewelry, Craft, and Industrial Design. I have been learning most of my watch skill knowledge by researching and experimenting by myself with a lot of passion for the last 25 years. I can define myself as an autodidact timepiece maker.
Q. What was your most complicated or challenging project to date?
A. The Part Time, Chrono Gears, and the ReOrder watches were the most complicated and difficult projects to develop. I needed to think about a system that would synchronize additional gears in order to bring new functions.
In each one, the watches started from an abstract idea and, after months of researching, became what they are in at a certain moment, by coincidence (and luck). The important thing is to play, to observe, and to detect the moment that something is happening, when it is happening.
Q. You say that each new collection aims to “capture a fresh philosophical perspective on the concept of time.” What does time mean to you? Can something like art or a watch influence how someone perceives or experiences time?
A. I’m not trying to change the concept of time, but I like to make people think about the meaning of time by looking at my watches. We all share an international time system, but each one of us has a personal sense of time which is different.
The idea behind the Part Time watch is to frame moments in one day: Each window displays a partial indication about the time, and together, they complete the full information. While the left half of the dial reveals the day hours from 6am to 6pm, the right half is hidden. In turn, the right half reveals the night hours from 6pm to 6am. While one side is awake, the other is latent, and they switch roles every twelve hours.
The idea behind Chromo Gears is to show eight time situations in one day. There are three different ways of reading time in this collection: Besides the traditional analog way of reading the central hands of hours, minutes, and seconds, two Chrono Gears rotate around the dial clockwise and contain a central hand, the pointer. While one Chrono Gear indicates 24 hours (am-pm) on the lower half of the dial, the second Chrono Gear indicates eight time situations – dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk, evening, midnight, and night.
Q. As an Israeli watchmaker with a studio in Tel Aviv, how does your location or background affect your business or artistic approach?
A. I’m happy with the title “Israeli watchmaker.” On the one hand, most of the collectors prefer to buy a Swiss-Made watch, but on the other hand, I’m the only independent watch studio from Israel, and that’s special. My studio and gallery are located in the beautiful Old City of Jaffa, and it’s inspiring. Visitors are invited to meet me, see the process and all the timepieces.
There is a history of watchmaking in my grandmother’s family in Germany, but I only discovered it after I started making watches. I believe in personal and small production; I make all the watches directly for customers, and they have a direct contact back to me whenever they need my service or advice.
Q. What artists, designers, watchmakers or other interests inspire your work?
A. (The short list) Design world: Gijs Bakker, Jurgen Bey, Vered Kaminski and Roc Wong. Watch world: Abraham-Louis Breguet, Yvan Arpa, Konstantin Chaykin and Daniel Nebel. And most of all, my family!
Q. How do you envision the person who will wear one of your watches or the circumstances in which they’ll wear it?
A. My customers are unique people. They love art and culture and wish to support independent creation instead of following trends and big brands. Some of them are watch collectors with a lot of knowledge about watches who already have a nice collection of famous watches, and they are looking for something that no one else has.
Q. Tell me about the watch you’re wearing today.
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