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1,000 of the limited edition watches were made; half have already sold

Has the Israel Museum gone dotty at 50? Time will tell

To design a new commemorative 50th anniversary Swatch watch, museum director James Snyder had to exhibit his personal side

Israel Museum director James Snyder models the commemorative 50th anniversary Swatch watch, whose design is based on his own personal cuff links. (courtesy of James Snyder)
Israel Museum director James Snyder models the commemorative 50th anniversary Swatch watch, whose design is based on his own personal cuff links. (courtesy of James Snyder)

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Israel Museum sourced an innovative commemorative product from an enduring design junkie favorite. The result: the first Swatch watch reportedly ever made for Israel.

“We are delighted with this initiative, being about time and our own time, and being something with a design dimension, while still being for a popular audience and market,” says Israel Museum director James Snyder.

Only 1,000 of the limited edition watches were made and about half have already sold for NIS 449 each at the Israel Museum shop in Jerusalem. That is the only place they are available worldwide since their introduction earlier this year.

“We wanted to make our fiftieth anniversary special and memorable in many different ways, and we had already planned on such traditional special editions and special issues as stamps from the Israel Postal Authority and a bullion coin from the Bank of Isael — both of which have been done for us,” Snyder told The Times of Israel. “And then [we] thought of a limited edition Swatch — being 100 percent from our own time today.”

After the initial idea to approach Swatch, Synder says the museum was helped by a benefactor with a special tie to the watch maker. The honorary co-chair (with his wife Linda) of the Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum, Will Hechter of Toronto, is the owner of what may be the single largest private collection of Swatches world over. Snyder says Hechter played a critical role in introducing the museum leadership to the Swatch group responsible for limited editions. (Despite repeated efforts in New York, Israel and Switzerland, Swatch declined to comment for this story.)

The limited edition Swatch watch for the Israel Museum's 50th anniversary. (© Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
The limited edition Swatch watch for the Israel Museum’s 50th anniversary. (© Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

The whimsical and largely transparent timepiece is interpretive for both the museum’s anniversary and its birth year. The playful watch combines several elements: The Swatch face is an existing design in the company’s collection. It features an oversized see-through case, distinct mechanisms in multiple color schemes and white hands. A festive pattern of opaque polka dots in red, pink, navy and green adorn an otherwise transparent band marked with the museum’s anniversary logo.

Israel Museum director James Snyder (Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Israel Museum director James Snyder (Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

“Our logo is sancrosanct,” Snyder told The Times of Israel from his summer home in Westchester County, New York, where he spends time each year. “But we decided that we needed to update it for the fiftieth so we did a logo that incorporated [the] original logo and a typographic fifty. And then we looked at it and realized it did not look celebratory.”

That problem was resolved thanks to an item Synder wears nearly every day, according to his wife, Tina Davis. The Swatch band’s polka dot graphic was inspired by a pair of Georg Jensen enamel vintage cuff links that feature a distinctive confetti design.

The cuff links — designed in 1965, the year the museum opened — were a gift to Snyder from Davis, a book designer, on the occasion of the re-opening of the newly renovated museum four years ago.

“They were starting to work on the logo for the anniversary and it was very difficult and no one could think of anything that wasn’t completely hokey,” Davis told the Times of Israel. “So I said, ‘Why don’t you take the dot pattern from the cufflinks?’”

“It is a nice story and the even nicer part is that [the design] really works. Sometimes your squeezing something into something else to make it work and in this case, it just happened and it was perfect from day one. And then it had this additional story for James that was very personal,” says Davis.

James Snyder's polka dot cuff links were incorporated into the 50th anniversary commemorative Swatch design. (courtesy of James Snyder)
James Snyder’s polka dot cuff links were incorporated into the 50th anniversary commemorative Swatch design. (courtesy of James Snyder)

The multi-colored polka dot design has also been enlarged to adorn the shop’s windows, core walls, signature gift bags and a gift box for the Swatch, as well as umbrellas and notebooks.

“We’ve really used this pattern in a lot of nice products,” says Snyder, who has overseen the museum expanding its reproductions from a handful to well over a hundred various products fabricated in Israel for the anniversary.

“Our product development is really inspired by what we are doing in the museum, inspired by our exhibitions and our themes for the years. This seemed to be a great way to mark 50 years,” he says. “Since 2010, when we inaugurated the museum and developed the shop, we have been pushing to develop more product related to the collections and programs.”

The expansion of the museum’s attractive product line is just one in a series of special commemorative elements marking the museum’s anniversary. A series of special exhibits are ongoing.

The Israel Museum's gift shop has gone dotty for the 50th anniversary. (© Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
The Israel Museum’s gift shop has gone dotty for the 50th anniversary. (© Elie Posner, Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

The museum shop now features many more reproductions products based on items in the permanent collection. Among them are the iconic Ofek Wertman “Ahava” sculpture design reproduced on colorblock magnets, bookmarks, trivets, totebags and more.

Floral-patterned eyeglasses cases, notepads and other household items borrow a signature image from legendary Jerusalem painter Anna Ticho. Her work is also displayed at the ever-popular Ticho House in downtown Jerusalem, which is set to reopen September 10, following a year of renovations.

The museum’s shops, which number three in total since the renovation, contribute to the non-profit’s revenue. More importantly, they contribute to making a museum visit, what Snyder calls a “total experience.”

And all that is contained in the limited edition anniversary Swatch — at least until they sell out.

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