VIP (Very Important Piece): bespoke orreries by NOSTI, aka Alison Canning of Polruan 

Photographs by Simon Burt Photography 

American financier JP Morgan famously said: “Millionaires don’t use astrology; billionaires do.” Morgan himself was a believer, using astrologers to help guide him timing his businesses and investments. He wasn’t the only high-profile fan; Elizabeth I would never go to war without first consulting John Dee, a mathematician and astronomer who also dabbled in astrology and the occult. If the stars weren’t aligned, peace would reign.  

Morgan and Good Queen Bess would no doubt have coveted a beautiful orrery like those designed by NOSTI, aka Alison Canning of Polruan. Named after Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery – patron of the first known example, built in 1713 by George Graham – an orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, a 3D version of the two-dimensional natal chart. Both outline the positions of the planets around the sun on the date and time that you were born.   

A Neoteric astrological orrery by NOSTI

Born and raised in the Tamar Valley, Alison worked in PR for 25 years, in London and New York during which time the atmosphere became more mercenary. “My values weren’t being met and I felt miserable and burnt out, so I packed it in, sold up and drove towards the sun, back to Cornwall,” she recalls. “I didn’t think of it as a spiritual journey, but that’s exactly what it turned out to be.”  

Alison’s parents had retired to Fowey, and she settled on the opposite bank of the river, with panoramic riparian views across to St Fimbarrus church. There, she mulled over what to do with her new life. “I had always had an interest in nature and the cosmos, as well as faith systems, astronomy and astrology. I had a eureka moment – why not create a 3D birth chart?” 

Her first attempts were worthy of Blue Peter, using a pizza tin, kitchen roll holder and ping-pong balls. “It looked ridiculous but worked perfectly.” From this, a prototype was made. “I thought, if I can make one, I can make lots.”  

Alison now uses around 15 suppliers for different parts of the orreries. “I’m their smallest client,” she explains. “What I can get from Cornwall I do – granite bases, wheels from Tintagel – but it involves precision engineering, so I might have to go further for a specialist.” Crystals are sourced from China and carefully matched to their celestial counterparts: including citrine for the sun, red jasper for Mars and rose quartz for the moon.  

There are three “editions” available. Antiquarian features images inspired by the medieval clock tower – the Torre dell’Orologio – in St Mark’s Square, Venice, printed on ivory leather to resemble old parchment, and mounted on a black granite wheel with solid brass components. Empyrean, with its royal purple leather and semi-polished, golden granite wheel, has a more spiritual look ideal for anyone drawn to magic and mysticism; and Neoteric is sleek and modern version, in ebony leather, nero granite and stainless steel for the style-conscious minimalist. All editions are sold with a glass dome to protect the workings from interference by children or animals, and to keep the orrery dust-free. 

NOSTI’s Antiquarian astrological orrery

The brand name, NOSTI, is a contraction of “nosce te ipsum” the Latin form of the Ancient Greek motto, “know thyself”. Says Alison: “When born, you get a genetic imprint – this is either random or reincarnation, depending on what you believe.” She hands me my own natal chart, which has me pegged as a thinker, self-starter and hard taskmaster. I’m surprised to see just how accurate it is, bar the odd trait.  

That said, Alison sees her orreries as “largely ornamental”, and she would like to see them in galleries as objets-d’art. “I’m very much at the beginning of my astrology journey – that’s a lifetime’s work. These orreries are for you to use as you wish – you could keep yours at your birth settings, or you could move the planets every day. You can take the crystals out and meditate with them, which might determine your behaviour.” 

Asked for a prediction a la Mystic Meg, Alison indicates that Jupiter – planet of luck, expansion and wealth – was retrograde into Capricorn but in April will pass into Pisces. “That’s a good sign for everyone, and I think the business might take off at that point.” 

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