Monday, December 30, 2019

The amazing clock collection in Jerusalem

In the attractive and characteristic neighbourhood of Rehavia in Jerusalem, not far from the president's residence, there is this a small museum called the Museum of Islamic Art

It is a gorgeous museum filled with amazing artifacts. Personally though I think that the museum should be called the Museum of Eastern Art. Most of the artifacts pre-date Islam and/or originate from non-Arab speaking countries such as Turkey, India and Iran. 


It is very likely that this watch was part of the loot of one of the greatest robberies in the art world.

Are clocks from the East?

I will definitely write about all the amazing artifacts I found in this museum (you know me and museums). But in this blog post I am going to focus on the wonderful collection of clocks that I met at the museum of Islamic art. Yup, that is right, gorgeous shiny clocks and timepieces made mostly from solid gold.

The clocks are beautifully displayed.

If you ask me how do clocks and watches tie in with Islamic art, then you are asking the exact same question that I asked the receptionist.

Why not?

The answer was: "They do not really have much to do with each other. But the same woman who created the museum in the first place also needed a place to exhibit her father's large clock collection. So why not? 

Why not indeed? 

The woman responsible for the museum's existence is Vera Bryce Salomons. She loved Eastern art and was a serious collector and built the museum as 'showcase for the Islamic civilization and the Arab cultural legacy'. She  hoped to create a bridge between the Jews and Arabs of Israel via art. Like seriously, who doesn't like to look at pretty old things? (Okay maybe the Taliban...
and ISIS too.)


The amazing companion clock would reset the time of the removable pocket watch so that they are both in sync.


What to do when your dad leaves you a bunch of old stuff?

Vera's dad,  Sir David Lionel Salomons was an English banker with a BIG thing for clocks. He collected nearly 200 of the most amazingly crafted timepieces. Most of them were made in the 18th or 19th century. We can definitely understand where his daughter got her collector's gene from...


Do you also see the "face" in the clock?


One of Sir David's most favourite horologists must have been Abraham-Louis Breguet (born: 1747, died: 1823). He collected many of the watchmaker's amazingly intricate and beautifully crafted clocks and even wrote a book about him called Breguet 1747–1823


A musical fan that keeps the time too
Breguet lived in France, though he was born in Switzerland and was THE watchmaker of his time. All of the A-listers of the time, members of the nobility and other famous people, were his customers.

The best work that he created throughout his entire career must be timepiece that he was commissioned to make for Marie-Antoinette, the queen of France.


The "Marie-Antoinette" from the front.

And from the side.

Marie-Antoinette's wearable

Sadly Marie-Antoinette died at the guillotine before the watch was finished. Breguet himself  had to flee France during the revolution because of his royal connections and the work on the watch stopped for seven years. It was eventually finished in 1802, almost twenty years after it was first commissioned. 

The final cost of the Marie Antoinette (No.160) came to 30,000 francs. A tidy sum even today but a HUGE amount of money in 1802.

The watch has the following functions:

Clock
Perpetual calendar
Minute repeater
Thermometer
Chronograph
Power reserve
Pare-Chute (shock protection system, invented by Breguet)
Chime
Independent seconds hand

Pretty cool for a watch made 200 years ago, right? 


A gun watch...with a little bird on top!

Enter the villain…

And his name was Naama, Naaman Diller. His backstory started all the way back to 1930's to the hospital room his mom shared with Arik Einstein's mom after the two women gave birth. 

The two women stayed friends and it seems that Naaman constantly compared himself to Arik Einstein, one of the most  beloved and famous singers of Israel.

Luckily for Naaman, he was selected to train as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force. Israeli pilots undergo rigorous training and the selection process is amazing tough. Even today, fighter pilots are considered the cream of the entire Israeli Defence Force and modern-day heroes. Naaman might not have been a famous singer but being an air force pilot was more than enough.

During one of his training flights he flew over his kibbutz to show off to the people he grew up with. Naaman was not the first, and definitely not the last trainee pilot to do this but that day a particular nit-picky general was visiting the area. And just like that Naaman was kicked out of the pilot trainee program.

The ultimate sulk

It is thought that Naaman must have taken this setback really bad because he turned into a daring and sophisticated burglar. 

And then he set his eyes on the famous clock collection in Jerusalem. He started to case the joint and discovered there was a problem with the alarm system and that everyday a truck parks right underneath a convenient window. He managed to squeeze his skinny ass through this window and stole 106 of the irreplaceable timepieces. Including the Marie Antoinette (No.
160). 

From the day (Sunday morning April 17th, 1983) the museum workers discovered the robbery, the clocks just vanished into thin air and nobody knew what happened to them.


I am pretty sure that the thief did not add this chronometer in his bag of stolen goods.


How to sell a famous stolen piece of art

The entire world of clock makers, collectors and buyers were of course aware of the robbery. So when Naaman's widow tried to sell some of these clocks to an art dealer, the dealer immediately contacted the museum. Later a lawyer, acting on behalf of the widow,
tried to work out a deal with the museum about selling them back some of the clocks.


In front is a quarter repeating ring watch made with gold and pearls.

Just before Naaman Diller died of cancer in 2004, he told his divorced wife that he was the daring thief. He left her all the clocks but it was a bit difficult for her to sell them. Even after twenty years.

Eventually the police got involved, as it works with stolen goods. They managed to retrieve nearly all of the stolen clocks from their hiding places in Europe, Israel and the USA.


Pocket watches made in England for the Turkish market with numerials in Arabic script

The shining end

And now the clocks are back in the museum of Islamic Art, shining brightly in their beautiful display cases. Securely in the basement with no access to any windows and a door that looks as if it belongs in high-security bank.


Just more of the beautiful clocks in this special collection


Directions and opening hours:
I highly recommend visiting these amazing clocks with their long and exciting history.

Remember that the clocks are only one part of the museum of Islamic Art. There are lots of other interesting things to see. I definitely felt that I got a TON of value for my entry fee.

The address is: 3 haPalmach street, Jerusalem
Check the museum's own website for opening hours and ticket prices.

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