clocks AND AUTOMATA
1570 The Complications of Orpheus
2018 SOLD for $ 275K including premium
A group of twelve gilt metal horizontal astronomical table clocks have many characteristics in common including a relief frieze on the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice charming animals from Europe and Africa. They appear as a hybrid between clock and astrolabe for offering a universal measurement of time.
The clock itself has three hands. One of them makes a 24 hours rotation indicated as a double 12 when the marks are accompanied by numerals. The other two hands run the solar minutes and the lunar time. Depending the specimens, it strikes hours or quarters.
In the following of the astrolabes, a planisphere engraved with reference lines enables to determine the unequal hour which is the division into twelve intervals of the time between sunrise and sunset, varying according to the rhythm of the seasons and to the longitude. Other indications apply to planets and zodiac, not missing also the annual calendar, the day of the week and the Italian time. The bottom plate is removable to access the mechanism.
A 23 cm diameter specimen, well preserved although several components have been modified or changed, was sold for £ 260K including premium by Christie's on July 5, 2002. The catalog explained that its attribution to South Germany around 1570 was linked to the Nuremberg engravings that served as models for Orpheus' images and to a mark punched on two other pieces of the group that also appears on a clock of another type at Stuttgart Castle.
The best preserved Orpheus clock surfaced in 2007. It is estimated $ 250K for sale by Bonhams in New York on December 6, lot 68. Its dimensions are almost identical to the specimen above. Its two bells ring hours and quarters.
#SaleUpdate: A highly important South German quarter striking astronomical table #clock from the group known as "The Orpheus Clocks",— Bonhams (@bonhams1793) December 6, 2018
circa 1570, sold for $275,000 inc. premium in today's Art of Time sale in New York https://t.co/0BaBwiBosb pic.twitter.com/RLhadHL5Yp
The Art of Time sale in NY on Dec. 6 is led by a highly important astronomical table #clock, from the group known as "The Orpheus Clocks". While no two of the clocks are identical, all share a finely cast frieze depicting the legend of Orpheus & Euridice. https://t.co/i3lSVadOE1 pic.twitter.com/PMie6RLXLN— Bonhams (@bonhams1793) November 21, 2018
1620 An Outstanding Collection of Early Clocks
2009 SOLD 205 K€ with no applied buyer's premium
Clockmaking was invented to provide an audible indication of the time, that the sundial could not enable. The English language followed for these instruments the Latin onomatopoeia clocca, which became Clock. This technique was first developed for the purpose of regulating activities and prayers in religious institutions.
The invention of the wound spiral spring allowed the miniaturization of these instruments. Regulating mechanisms improved the accuracy: the fusee was a conical piece of transmission, and the stackfreed had a pressure effect. These techniques compensated for the gradual loss of force of the spring. The dial and hand were soon rendered necessary to add a continuous reading to the discontinued audible information.
In the sixteenth century the development of complications attested the ingenuity of craftsmen. Many secondary information, especially astronomical, became the necessary complement in the most sophisticated instruments. The study of movements led to the creation of automaton animated clocks at that early time.
On May 24 in Milan, Patrizzi auctions an exceptional collection of these instruments of the Renaissance.
One of these clocks, made in South Germany in 1570, includes many complications including the length of the day.
POST SALE COMMENT
This specialized auction was a great success. All 70 lots were sold (white gloves!) for a total of € 2.6 million in excess of 60% to the estimates.
Here are the results of three pieces :
A gilt brass complicated astronomical revolving table clock, Southern Germany, circa 1570 (as announced in my article above): 125 K €.
A gilt brass and ebony revolving monstrance table clock, probably Germany, circa 1620: 205 K €.
A French alarm table clock, Gilbert Martinot, Paris, dated 1565: 170 K €.
It is both the hammer price and the price paid by the buyer, as Patrizzi auction house does not charge a commission to the buyer, who for that reason does not pay VAT.
1625 RENAISSANCE TIME
Swiss people love instruments made for time measurement. In its press release announcing the sale of September 18 in Zurich, Koller proudly announces that it is traditional with them that "some important clocks are being offered for sale." My modest experience in searching auction news allows me to confirm that it is absolutely true.
On the art market, the clock may be classified either as furnishing or as watchmaking, according to its characteristics. Although finely painted, the Ulm clock to be sold by Koller comes into this latter category.
Made circa 1625 and signed Christof Pleig, this iron table clock summarizes the knowledge of the Renaissance in terms of time measurement. In a turret decorated with allegories including a memento mori, it provided all the information that one could wish: hour, minute, date, day of the week, phase of the moon, zodiac, duration of day and night, sunrise and sunset times.
This marvel that was exhibited on loan in a museum of its hometown is estimated 100 KCHF.
1662 The 350th Anniversary of the Pendulum Clock
2008 SOLD 26 K£ before fees
The clock department of Bonhams said that this auction house sells more clocks than any other one in the world. It is undoubtedly true, as I have not spotted who else is capable of arranging whole sales on the single theme of clocks and barometers.
The next sale is in London on December 9 and includes 150 lots.
The press release is celebrating the 350 th anniversary of clocks with pendulum.
Lot 145 of the sale can be dated precisely in the first four years of production in England of this instrument that would become one of the most successful of our civilization. It is a table clock mounted on a base, and inserted in a cubic box topped by a triangular fronton. As such it can not be distinguished from later models of the seventeenth century.
But it is signed by James Cowpe, and located in ffox Hall in South London. Note that the ff lowercase at the beginning of this word is not a spelling mistake, contrary to what Bonhams seems to believe, but a usual feature in Welsh language. Cowpe stopped his English business in 1662, probably to continue his career in the France of Louis XIV.
It is therefore certain that the instrument has escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666. Carried away by his enthusiasm for that lot, Bonhams is not clear on its price: 25 K £ in the press release, 15 K £ in catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
To the delight of the auction house, the press release was right. Result: 26 K £ before fees.
1662 longitude at sea
The latitude is easy to find by observing the position of the sun at noon. Longitude is such a puzzle that captains prefer to follow the meridian up to the latitude of their point of destination before sailing westward or eastward.
In 1656 Christiaan Huygens builds the first pendulum clock, with a precision of 15 seconds per day 60 times better than the previous timekeepers. The inventor is friend with English royalists exiled in Holland. King Charles II is restored in 1660.
The Royal Society of London, created in the same year, is passionate about the Huygens pendulum and its potential application to the measurement of the longitudes. Its principle is known : the comparison of the apparent solar time with a reference of time calibrated in the port before the departure makes it possible to know the angular distance already traveled by the ship.
The application at sea is extremely difficult because of the disturbance of the clock by the agitation of the boat. In 1662 one of the founders of the Royal Society, Alexander Bruce later 2nd earl of Kincardine, designs an improvement in the stability of the Huygens clock by suspending the mechanism to a cardan ball and lowering the center of gravity of the equipment.
Bruce has two clocks made in The Hague by the clockmaker Severijn Oosterwijck who was a preferred supplier to Huygens. The idea of that duality is to reduce the measurement error by placing the clocks at both ends of the boat. One of these instruments is destroyed at sea during its delivery and in 1663 Bruce has made a replacement clock by an English clockmaker.
The captain in charge of the experiment announces excellent results which convince neither Huygens nor the Royal Society. The project is cancelled in 1665. The mechanical part of both Bruce's longitude clocks will be integrated shortly after in domestic clocks where they will remain unidentified during more than three centuries.
Both resurfaced. The English timepiece has now entered the collection of the Royal Observatory. The Dutch timepiece signed by Oosterwijck will be sold in its current housing on March 15 by Dreweatts at Donnington Priory in Berkshire, lot 108. Here is the link to the press release.
We are very excited about our upcoming Fine Clocks, Barometers & Scientific Instruments auction on 15 March.— Dreweatts 1759 (@Dreweatts_1759) February 24, 2018
This auction includes the historical Bruce-Oosterwijck Longitude Pendulum Sea Clock.
The catalogue is now available online!https://t.co/B4NasaytbE#dreweatts #fineclocks pic.twitter.com/P6rCzrx3JU
1664 The Very Long Nights of a Lit Pope
2009 SOLD 90 K€ with no applied buyer's premium
Many discussions on time instruments deal of progress and complexity of mechanisms, but the craftsmen were also to be attentive to the needs of their customers.
Thus Pope Alexander VII, who was an insomniac, wanted a table clock where he could read the time at night. He required it to be silent in order not to disturb him if he slept.
The business was entrusted to Giuseppe Campani, who put a candle behind a pierced dial, named his invention the Notturno, and made it an object of fashion for the Roman aristocracy. He worked with artist Carlo Maratta, whom style is recognized in the colorful religious scenes which adorn the center of the dial. Doing everything to please his specific customers, Campani used for his pieces the external shape of a Baroque altar or of a church facade.
A Notturno clock will be auctioned by Patrizzi in Milan on 28 and 29 November. With a total height of 1 m on a 68 cm base, it is decorated with an oil on copper showing the Assumption of the Virgin between Saints Dominic and Philip. It is very similar to another copy dated 1664, and is estimated 120 K €
Online bidding is powered by LiveAuctioneers, who share the image and catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
Result is far below the estimate for this rare and curious Notturno, sold 90 K €.
Note that Patrizzi auction house does not charge the buyers.
an altar clock
On October 15, 2014 in Paris, Jean-Claude Renard sells an altar clock topped by a large musical automaton as voluminous as the clock proper, lot 209 in the catalogue shared by the bidding platform Interencheres, estimated beyond € 80K. Together, these two bodies in painted wood measure 120 x 64 x 55 cm, on a base 138 cm high.
The ecclesiastical origin of this piece makes no doubt: the automaton animates God, the Angel of the Annunciation, Madonna and Child, the Magi and Adam and Eve, and once belonged to the chapel of the Palazzo Fieschi in Genoa.
The author, the manufacturing location and the date have not been identified, but the movement is comparable to a clock made in 1706 by Morand for Louis XIV.
The clock and the automata are in working condition, as demonstrated by the specialist Denis Corpechot in the video below, shared by Interencheres on Vimeo before the 2014 sale. I also invite you to read the article published in French by Interencheres.
POST SALE COMMENT
Unsold in October 2014
SOLD for € 50K before fees in May 2015 :
This clock has been SOLD by Jean Havin in Oizon, France, on May 17, 2015, lot 158 in the catalogue shared by the bidding platform Invaluable. Result caught during the sale on the bidding platform but not recorded in La Gazette.
1698 A Longcase Clock by Thomas Tompion
2009 SOLD 240 K£ including premium
Thomas Tompion is considered the most important English watchmaker. Wikipedia tells us that he manufactured about 650 clocks and 5500 watches. His workshop was in London. He was one of very few watchmakers who were admitted to the Royal Society, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
All of his clocks were numbered. The serial number 301 comes up for sale at Christie's in London on June 4. It is 2.27 m high with a walnut case and dates from around 1698 (then William and Mary). It has an autonomy of one month.
The estimate is 200 K £. In its catalog, Christie's provides three higher results for pieces of similar models. The most expensive, sold in September 2004 for 520 K £ including expenses, had a royal provenance. A visit to their archives allowed me to view a regulator sold 620 K £ including fees in July 2003.
POST SALE COMMENT
The clock remained at its lower estimate. It was sold 240 K £ including premium. I had seen in the catalog that this serial number 301 was a bit (a very little bit) simplified in its decor compared to usual models.
1763 A FRENCH ORRERY CLOCK
Clockmakers are necessarily fascinated by the regularity of the movement of the planets around the Sun. The patron who in 1704 had built a planetarium clock left his name in the English language to such instruments, the orrery clocks.
Designated in French as a Sphère Mouvante, a pendulum clock dated 1763 won the admiration of top scientists, including Berthoud. Executed at the request of a secretary of Louis XV named Jacques-Thomas Castel and relying on his calculations, it is also a beautiful piece of furniture for center room made in kingwood and decorated with gilded bronze, for a total height of 2.40 m.
Within an armillary sphere consisting of rings of the equinoxes, the solstices, the equator and the ecliptic, the solar system is moving. Not only the five known planets of the time and our Earth and its moon are here, but also Jupiter and Saturn are shown with their satellites.
This witness of the century of Enlightenment is estimated £ 700K, for sale by Christie's in London on July 7.
A Gilded Clock for Qianlong
With the help of the Jesuits, these workshops imitate European models in forms, technique and workflow. A true quality system is applied, including rewards and punishments after appreciation of the work.
On October 3 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a sumptuous pendulum clock 47 cm high bearing the imperial mark of Qianlong, lot 3421 estimated HK $ 15M.
It has the shape of a square based tower surmounted by a double openwork dome and by a gallery with baluster pillars. The dial marked in Roman numerals for hours and in Arabic numerals for minutes is Western inspired. The luxury brought to this object is typically Chinese with a rich carving of leaves and flowers. All the external bronze walls are entirely gilded.
Imperial Chinese clockmakers matched under Qianlong the know-how of their English colleagues. This clock is clearly not a Chinese case housing an English mechanism but a piece entirely made in China : its horizontal escapements are a local innovation.
It is very difficult to date this clock with precision inside the six decades of the Qianlong period. It should however be noted that it has no complication except for a rudimentary quarter-hour sound strike by a shock on a bronze bowl.
It probably predates the emperor's passionate interest in musical automatons developed in Europe during the second half of his reign. The need to maintain the commercial contact with Switzerland and England will ensure for a century the success of the Guangzhou workshops, constituting a further phase of Chinese luxury clockmaking.
SO MANY COMPLICATIONS UNDER LOUIS XVI
The regulator is a challenging time piece. It is used as a reference for setting the other clocks. The large size of the pendulum provides the required accuracy, and it became the masterpiece of watchmaking.
A regulator from Louis XVI reign is available by Aguttes in Paris, Hôtel Drouot, tomorrow December 9. Estimated 200 K€, it has all the above qualities and more. It shows hours, minutes, seconds, month, leap years, the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon. It also provides time for many cities worldwide. This information is divided into a main dial and four smaller ones.
Signed by the watchmaker Jean-Simon Bourdier, it probably belonged to him. The dials are signed Coteau, the best enamel craftsman of his time. The height of the case, 2 meters, is usual for this category of instruments.
1785 The Jumping Bird of Jaquet-Droz
2014 SOLD for CHF 290K including premium
Jaquet-Droz teamed from 1769 with two talented mechanics : his son Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. The 1780s were the top period of their business which had its main workshop in Geneva and a branch in London and subcontracted some realizations to Henri Maillardet.
A clock with bird cage comes in the sale of November 8 and 9 by Antiquorum in Geneva, lot 578 estimated in excess of CHF 200K. It is not signed but its attribution to Jaquet-Droz et Leschot is almost certain. The details of the design enable to establish some chronology of the automata, and this piece is dated around 1785.
The bird in painted metal is moving beak, tail and wings and rotating. It jumps from one perch to another through a lever whose speed exceeds the persistence of vision. The movement of a painted waterfall is another refinement of this trademark. The animation is released every three hours and can also be triggered manually.
On June 26, 2011, Rouillac sold for € 150K including premium a piece with two birds for which the clock under the cage is visible only when the system is hanging.
I invite you to play the video shared by the auction house on YouTube :
1801 THE TIME OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC
2011 SOLD 322 K£ INCLUDING PREMIUM
The French Revolution was political, social, cultural, industrial. They had to find new solutions to supplement theantiquated customs of the previous regime.
It was also wished to close the gap against England, whose economic power was growing. In 1798, year VI of the Republican calendar, was held the première exposition publique des produits de l'industrie française (first public exhibition of the products of French industry), which lasted three days.
The formula was effective. The second exhibition lasted six days, the last three days of the year VIII and the first threedays of year IX (1801), in the courtyard of the Louvre. The deserving craftsmen received honors and awards, according to the practice that was to last throughout the nineteenth century.
This period was prosperous for the mechanical and watchmaking industries. The clock by Hartmann, dated An VIII, for sale by Bonhams on June 28 in London, is certainly the specimen that was exhibited in 1801 and earned him an honorable mention.
It is somehow his chef d'oeuvre (masterpiece). In the old meaning, the "chef d'oeuvre" referred to the piece that the worker constructed to reach the status of maître (master). Such object was acknowledged as the best demonstration of his skills.
This is an automata clock 75 cm high in gilt bronze, estimated £ 200K. The eight enameled dials are signed by Joseph Coteau, which is the best reference of the time in this area.
Months and days of the week are identified in the terminology of the Republican calendar. This universal clock includes the zodiac, the cities of the world, the phases of the moon and sunrise and sunset.
POST SALE COMMENT
Such a lot is sometimes hard to sell, especially when the craftsman is virtually unknown. The price, £270K before fees, 322K including premium, thus directly rewards the quality and originality of this clock.
It is shown on the release shared before the sale by Artdaily.
1810 SINGING BIRDS BY FRERES ROCHAT
2010 SOLD 2.1 MHK$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
I have already noted the connection between clocks and top precision automata. Two centuries ago, in Geneva, Rochat brothers have produced these marvels of musical automata: the singing birds.
Often presented in cages, the subjects were made with the best care and the greatest skill to imitate real birds in their appearance, movements and songs.
It was a family specialty, and it would be futile to assign a piece to a family member rather than another. Note however that the first Rochats had worked with Jaquet-Droz, the famous maker of automata whose models could include up to 6000 components.
On October 9 in Hong Kong, Antiquorum sells an object made for multiple uses that is reputed to have belonged to Empress Joséphine.
This box in gold and mother-of-pearl, 21 x 11 cm, made around 1810 is a jewel case surmounted by a bird cage. The mechanism is punched FR for Frères Rochat. In the best tradition of its theme, a multicolored feathered bird flaps its wings, opens its beak, tails up and rotates on its axis.
This lot is estimated HK $ 1.5 million.
POST SALE COMMENT
This amazing lot was sold HK $ 1.75 million before fees, 2.1 million including premium, slightly above its low estimate.
1811 The Worm that Walked by Itself
2013 SOLD 230 K£ including premium
I previously discussed here a jewelled automaton caterpillar by Maillardet that sold for CHF 405K including premium at Sotheby's on November 14, 2010 from an estimate of CHF 350K. Another copy with somewhat different jewel pattern is estimated £ 150K, for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 3.
I understood at that time that this piece was made in London by Maillardet. The new catalog sheds some new light on the mysterious animal.
Around 1770, when Jaquet-Droz developed his extraordinary automata in Switzerland, London was still the undisputed capital of clockmaking and will long remain the Western hub of the trade with China.
Henri Maillardet was from 1783 an agent of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot in London. He appears now no more as an inventor but at most as an assembler. His claim to fame is as a showman: in 1811 he toured England to exhibit a menagerie of automata.
The caterpillar or silkworm was announced for the first time during the tour of 1811. It is unlikely that the English copy wore some jewelry. The two specimens discussed here now appear rather as having a Swiss origin, perhaps for the Chinese market.
These doubts are not surprising due to the scarce original literature on this production which was not a major art.Today, in the era of electronic automation, the interest in these precursors is necessarily different.
The automaton caterpillar is not talkative about its origin but works perfectly, which was also the case of the specimen seen in 2010.
POST SALE COMMENT
Pleasant result but no excess for this amazing automaton : £ 230K including premium.
Let us admire in the video shared by Sotheby's for the next sale the elegant movement of its eleven elements:
1812 Breguet's "Montres de Carrosse"
2009 SOLD 720 KCHF including premium
The queen of Naples, Caroline Bonaparte Murat, was a diligent and demanding customer of Bréguet. Christie's auctions in Geneva on May 11 a copy which was made specially for her and sold to her as early as March 18, 1812.
15.8 cm high, it includes many complications, including day, month, year, day of the week and the phases of the moon, and an alarm. It is presented in its travel case and with its original key.
For this royal silver clock which never left the family, the estimate is 240 KCHF.
POST SALE COMMENT
The watch market is going very well. Three exceptional results have been achieved in this sale. I include the premium in the figures, as always for this auction house.
The price of the carriage clock seemed attractive to me. Of course! The market has confirmed its historical value, up to 720 KCHF.
I had previewed a Patek Philippe watch, without devoting a specific article. This 1936 oversized prototype was sold 1.89 MCHF on an estimate of 300 KCHF.
More accustomed to these high prices, a 2499 Patek Philippe watch was sold 1.93 MCHF on an estimate of 1 MCHF. This estimate somewhat too conservative for this model had not prompted me to discuss it (there was already an article about this reference in this group).
We can not be more optimistic in these times that continue to be difficult in other sectors of the art market. Watchmaking of top range is a great value.
1812 Gifted by Antide Janvier
2010 SOLD 433 K€ including premium
The master of the genre was Antide Janvier, a clockmaker native of the French Jura who became fascinated with the mechanical movement of the celestial bodies. His precocious skill as a mechanic was recognized, and he devoted his life to his calculations, his armillary spheres and his clocks.
He forsook his business poised for substantial financial hardship. Our regulator includes a plaque indicating that it was given by him on 1 January 1812 to a named person, otherwise unknown but who was perhaps a competitor of whom he sought favors.
On this specimen, astronomy is represented by a detailed map of the moon adorning one of the two dials, in a bezel providing the phase of our satellite and the day within the lunar month. The same dial has three hands. One is making an annual revolution, the other two respectively indicate the day of week and month.
This timepiece which reminds the scholarly speculations at the time of Bréguet and Gay-Lussac is estimated € 400K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Excellent results for two timepieces made by Janvier.
The regulator discussed in the article was sold € 433K including premium.
The previous lot, a clock with a moving armillary sphere made in January 1774 and repaired by himself in 1825, was sold € 325K including premium on an estimate of € 150K. It is a remarkable assessment of the precocity of Janvier which I mentioned in my article: he was 23 years old when he designed and realized this piece.
1815 Autumn in Geneva at Piguet and Meylan
2009 SOLD 2.2 MHK$ including premium
During the eighteenth century, and especially during the reign of Qianlong, the Chinese imperial court was interested in timepieces manufactured in Europe.
In 1812, Piguet and Meylan, partners since the previous year, are established in Geneva. These craftsmen are specialized in precision watches, automata and musical devices.
Add to it the decoration of watches with enamel miniatures, which became at that time a true specialty of Geneva: indeed the productions of Piguet and Meylan had all the required qualities to please the Chinese aristocracy.
One of these pieces is still in China, as it will be sold by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on October 7. This watch is illustrated by an allegory of Autumn in vivid colors which remained very fresh, and equipped with a musical hour striking mechanism. The release of the auction house dates it to circa 1815, then in the beginnings of this association that lasted until 1828.
The most sought after watches in this category are those with a concealed erotic scene. Sotheby's lot, which does not have this quality, remains quietly at an estimated 1.8 MHK$.
POST SALE COMMENT
Interesting result for this watch which was rare but not exceptional: 2.2 MHK$ including premium.
1815 the time of the russian patriotism
The people of Nizhny Novgorod managed a subscription for a monumental statue in honor of the two heroes of the 1612 events coming from their city, Minin and Pozharsky. Interested in the symbol represented by this monument, Tsar Alexander I decided that it will be erected in Moscow on the Red Square. Built in 1816-1818, it is still there.
Count Nicolas Demidoff was a Russian hero of the War of 1812 after living several years in Paris. He was also an art lover. Back in Paris in 1815 after the fall of the Empire, he ordered to Thomire a bronze clock inspired by the prototype made by Ivan Martos for the future monument.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire is the most famous Parisian bronze sculptor of his time, appointed maître fondeur at 21 in 1772 and then ciseleur de l'Empereur in 1809.
This heroic gilt bronze clock realized by Thomire for Demidoff is also monumental in its class : 102 cm high including its malachite base 80 x 30 cm. It remained in the Demidoff collection until 1880 and is estimated € 400K for sale by Christie's in Paris on November 4, lot 522.
The model was reused by Thomire in both same and smaller sizes with bases in other materials.
1821-1823 the musical cage
The model is developed by the great inventors of modern automata, the workshop of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot. A cage made by them circa 1785 was sold for CHF 290K including premium by Antiquorum on November 8, 2014.
At that early time all the major elements of the system are already present : the central column through which the execution of the life-like movement of the bird is transmitted, the simulated waterfall in the column, the mechanism hidden in the base, the musical entertainment triggered at defined times or at will. The illusion of the jump of the bird from a perch to another is an ingenious refinement.
On May 14 in Geneva, Sotheby's sells a later cage that is a very good example of the repartition of the work between several craftsmen. It is estimated CHF 400K, lot 176.
The structure is signed by Bautte et Moynier. Since 1791 Jean-François Bautte is a monteur de boîtes (box assembler) working in Geneva for clockmaking and jewelry. The music box operating 93 blades is signed by Charles-Frédéric Nardin whose activity in La Chaux de Fonds is known from 1806 to 1823.
This box offers a choice between three melodies including an extract from Weber's Der Freischütz which gives to this piece an earlier deadline of 1821.
The column is topped by a butterfly flapping its wings. Perches accommodate two jumping birds. This specific design is attributed to Jean-David Maillardet, the younger brother of Henri Maillardet who had been famous for exhibiting in London his menagerie of automata.
1826-1828 Bird and Kite in the Garden
2011 SOLD 300 K$ including premium
A clock for sale on April 13 at Sotheby's in New York is a synthesis of what was the best in Geneva in the early nineteenth century, and its signatures combine two prestigious firms of that time: Rochat, and Piguet & Meylan.
Overall 64 cm high, it is shaped like a Medici vase in gilded bronze which includes the mechanism and bears the whiteenamel dial of 9 cm in diameter. The vase is topped by a terrace which deserves a detailed description.
The centerpiece of the terrace is a fountain with rotating glass rods to simulate waterr, and whose column is surmounted by the singing bird automaton, a specialty of Rochat. A youth and a girl on a seesaw play with a kite,which gives its title to the model ("le cerf-volant"). The garden atmosphere is enhanced by a few potted plants.
The movement starts automatically three minutes before the hour, but can also be triggered manually.
Several components are dated between 1826 and 1828. The clock cannot be later than the latter date, which corresponds to the end of the association between Piguet and Meylan.
I found it unambiguously by its serial number in the archives of Antiquorum who sold it CHF 215K including premium on November 14, 2004 (lot 424). It is now estimated $ 200K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result: $ 300K including premium, close to the higher estimate.
The Guangzhou Workshops
2016 SOLD for $ 900K including premium
A clock made in Guangzhou after an English model was sold for $ 3.8 million including premium by Sotheby's on June 9, 2010 from a lower estimate of $ 600K although the original movement had been replaced by a triple fusee at the end of the nineteenth century.
Its case mounted on carved ormolu legs consists of four levels.
The main body shelters the clock above which a window displays the automaton of figures walking on a bridge in a Chinese garden. The next level is a waterfall whose illusion of movement is made by rotating cylinders. Above it a blue dial is animated by a central spiral wheel along with five flower heads rotating clockwise and five alternated others that rotate simultaneously counter clockwise on the dial's rim. The top level bears the two letters for 'Da Ji' meaning great prosperity.
Two other Da Ji 93 cm high almost identical as the clock discussed above have resurfaced. They are not dated but their movement with the triple fusee is perhaps contemporary of the modification of the previous example. The most visible differences are the replacement of the garden bridge by ducks on a wild pond and of the flower heads by patterns similar as the central geometric figure of that level.
One of them was sold for $ 1.27M including premium by Fontaine's on 21 May 2016. The other one is estimated $ 800K for sale by Clars in Oakland CA on June 19, lot 2401 here linked on the bidding platform LiveAuctioneers..
Clocks from a slightly simpler model have also been recently sold at auction. This model of similar height offers a rotating procession and leaves that open to disclose other topics. A single unit was sold for $ 275K before fees by Fontaine's on February 27, 2016 and a pair for $ 610K including premium by Clars on May 22, 2016.
It is alleged that the lot referred above from the 22 May 2016 sale is not a Chinese Imperial pair of clocks but reproductions recently made by a clock workshop in Tianjin. See report by SJX.
Please watch the video shared by Clars showing the clock for the June 2016 sale.
1867 MYSTERY CLOCKS
2009 SOLD 160 K$ INCLUDING PREMIUM
Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin should be acknowledged as one of the most intelligent men of the nineteenth century, along with Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Edgar Poe or Thomas Edison.
The passion of this unparalleled inventor was illusionism. In 1839, aged 34, he performed the synthesis of watchmaking and magic by inventing the mystery clock. Some of them are sometimes seen in French auctions. It is a clock with a transparent dial, whose mechanism is invisible.
I discuss now a mystery clock made by Tiffany in New York. Mounted on a pedestal, a bronze woman takes over her a sphere maintaining below it a large pendulum and over it the mysterious dial. The pendulum operates a circular eight day movement.
This Watches group is the only one that could generate some headache to me, but it's so exciting! If I understand correctly, the eight day movement and the movement of the hands are uncorrelated. The tiny mysterious mechanism is placed in the hands hub and is worked without a winder by the pendulum movement transmitted via a small pivot.
The bronze woman is dressed as a Greek according to a fashion popular in 1867, so providing for our clock a date estimated precisely around that year.
This surprising piece, estimated $ 100K, will be sold at Sotheby's in New York on April 20.
POST SALE COMMENT
I am pleased that this outstanding clock has achieved a very good price, well above estimates: $ 160 K inclusive.
1868 A Timekeeper for Harvard
2010 SOLD 540 K$ including premium
In 1868, the workshop William Bond & Son, operating in Boston, built a very small series of three exceptional regulators with conical pendulum. Their accuracy was for use in astronomical observatories. The first was delivered to Harvard and the second to Liverpool, England.
The third was kept in the workshop. It is on sale on November 20 in Marlborough MA by Skinner. Having not been integrated into an observatory, it still has its original case and its protective glass dome. An inscription in large letters "Bond's standard time" attests to the aim pursued by the Bond family to normalize the time.
The images of this lot are shared by the auction house on its catalog page. This piece is in perfect working condition. Its lower estimate is $ 300K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Excellent price for this exceptional piece: $ 475K before fees, 540K including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared on the web by Skinner Auctions :
1899-1903 FABERGE AS A FORERUNNER OF ART DECO
Fabergé's career fascinates me. This contractor was neither an artist nor a craftsman. He successfully established himself as a business agent between the imperial family and courtiers on one side, and a network of workshops developing an incredible array of luxury goods on the other side. The history of Cartier, a little later, presents similarities.
He introduced luxury in many everyday objects. Precious materials highlighting simple forms are not (or not only) an invention of the Art Déco style of the 1920s, as we find such achievements by Fabergé twenty years before.
A simple table clock becomes a luxury piece. It is presented in a silver gilt frame enameled with unusual colors, apple green and mauve, and closing as a triptych. It was produced for Fabergé by the workshop of Johan Victor Aarne in St Petersburg between 1899 and 1903.
This beautiful lot is estimated £ 400 K, for sale by Sotheby's in London in June 9.
1910 the soaring allegories of rupert carabin
2015 sold for eur 187k including premium
This furniture manufacturer integrates into his pieces female nudes expressing the passions, with a morphological realism that excludes eroticism. Misunderstood in his time, his quest for creative yet functional furnishings flanked with figurative themes anticipates Rateau and even Le Corbusier.
On April 8 in Paris, Millon sells a table clock signed by Carabin in 1910, during the short period when his artistic importance was acknowledged. It is estimated € 150K, lot 23.
The clock is inserted into an amethyst block that supports a patinated bronze 1 meter high. This unique piece made to order is entitled L'envolée des heures (Soaring hours).
The bronze displays six nude women. Three of them form a chain similar to a swirling smoke, the last of them expressing fear for arriving so high. The other three women will fail to stop this upward movement and the inexorable drift of time.
I invite you to play the video shared on YouTube by the auction house:
1910 PHALIBOIS AND HIS ILLUSIONIST
A mechanical automaton which was not sold last year is relisted on February 2 in Paris by the same auction house,Lombrail-Teucquam. Here is my previous article, without changes:
Following Vaucanson in France and Jaquet-Droz in Switzerland, manufacturers of automata gave to machines the ability to imitate life. The favorite themes are animals, magicians, writers, facial expressions.
At the end of the nineteenth century, when toy manufacturers reuse these techniques, the catalog of the Phalibois workshop began offering animated scenes on pedestal (sujets automatiques) in which characters are life size. It was the right time: the rise of advertising and the progress of electricity would open new applications to that industry.
In 1909, when Peary reached the North Pole, Decamps, who was the main competitor of Phalibois in Paris, had thegreat idea to reconstruct the scene for a department store. Thus was born the tradition of the Christmas windows (vitrines de Noël), in which for a century the children of Paris are amazed by the movement of these huge toys.
On February 4, 2012 in Paris, Lombrail-Teucquam sells a copy of La Lévitation, also named Le Magnétiseur, a musical life size automaton on pedestal made ca 1910 by Phalibois.
The animation is outstanding. The woman lies on a bench. The magician lifts her and demonstrates the levitation by passing a hoop around her body. He then lays her to the original position and she gently greets the public.
Announced in perfect working condition with its original equipment, this amazing piece is estimated € 120K. It keeps its magical mystery: the catalog does not give details about the mechanism.
POST SALE COMMENT
Unsold again, this time on an estimate of € 55K.
1928 Luxury and Refinement at Cartier
2009 SOLD 530 K$ including premium
Since the 1920s, Cartier provides the frames of watches and clocks built on the mechanisms made by leading watchmakers, with whom he co-operates: Vacheron Constantin, Audemars-Piguet, Movado, Jaeger-LeCoultre.
On October 21 in New York, Christie's sells a Cartier pendulette made around 1928, and typical of the Art Deco period. The hexagonal shape is simple and unspectacular, and the materials generate the luxury: transparent orange topaz dial, diamond hands, frame adorned with gold, mother of pearl, jade, coral.
In the tradition of Robert-Houdin and Tiffany (detailed in a previous article of the same group), the supreme refinement of this instrument is that the mechanism also is transparent and remains invisible in the bulk of topaz. This mechanism is the work of Maurice Coüet, of whom the press release says that he realized only twelve such mystery clocks for Cartier.
For this precious witness of the refined Art Déco style in France, the estimate is 500 K$.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result but slightly below the low estimate for this precious little clock: 530 K$ including premium.
1928 mystery midnight sky
Le Ciel, dated 1928, probably required no less than one year of work. The timepiece is a transparent mystery clock in night blue color enhanced with diamonds, mother-of-pearl and enamel. The random stars are shining from the back side and the floating hands simulate the tail of a comet.
This mystery clock is resting on two large jade carps set with moonstones and corals and colored with enamels. The fishes are laid on an everlasting fountain in rock crystal. The overall height is 22 cm.
This luxurious timepiece that blends modern technology and the eternal symbolism of the Far East is estimated HK $ 10.5M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 4, lot 1790. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1929 AN ALARM CLOCK BOXED BY CARTIER
2010 SOLD 250 K$ WITH NO APPLIED BUYER'S PREMIUM
In the 1920s, Cartier produced luxury table clocks using the mechanisms provided by the greatest watchmakers. The copy of Comet model for sale by Patrizzi in New York on March 9 is exceptional: the press release considers that it is "one of two clocks with the most complicated mechanism ever produced by Cartier.
We easily identify the complexity of a timepiece by the number of dials. On this one, the main dial is accompanied by a wicket with the phases of the moon and three smaller subsidiary dials providing the day of the week, the date mechanism and an alarm function.
Do not forget the importance of auditory information in the ancient use of these instruments. It includes a "grande sonnerie" (a term used in both French and English), which represents the top degree of sophistication for an audio presentation of hours and quarters.
Made in 1929, it has the characteristics of Art Deco: simplified box shape, refined decor of needles and dials, precious materials (yellow gold and nephrite). The estimate is not published.
It is easy, without going very deep in this group, to remember another Cartier table clock from same time, sold 530 K $ including premium at Christie's on October 21, 2009. It belonged to the rare category of mystery clocks, and was built with a variety of precious materials.
POST SALE COMMENT
$ 250 K were recorded by the hammer on this table clock. Remind that Patrizzi auction house does not charge the buyer. It had been estimated $ 300K. We see it in the catalog page shared by LiveAuctioneers.
I add a historically significant information: it was produced for Cartier by Maurice Coüet, who was also the maker of the clock sold $ 530 K by Christie's that I discussed earlier.
1985 BY GERALD GENTA FOR A ROYAL FAMILY
The market for contemporary watches is particularly appreciating the pieces with the more sophisticated mechanisms. There is often Patek Philippe at the top place, but other brands are of interest.
In the sale of Antiquorum in Geneva on 15 and 16 March 2008, I spotted a Swiss watch of Gérald Genta brand, in yellow gold, which was sold 238 KCHF inclusive. This "Grande Sonnerie" model is, according to Wikipedia, the most complicated wristwatch of the world.
The contemporary market is not limited to wristwatches. On June 4 in New York, Patrizzi is selling a pair of desk clocks made around 1985 by Gérald Genta for a royal family of Southeast Asia. It is a remarkable example of a skeleton timepiece, meaning that the transparent dial reveals the mechanism. They are in platinum set with diamonds and decorated with other precious materials, for a very aesthetic effect.
The pair is estimated 400 K $.