Attributed to John Rich, London/Geneva, 105 x 63 x 46 mm, 639 g, dated 1804
An important and unique gold enamel musical box of museum quality, studded with half pearls: "The Orchestra"; with automaton and carillon musical movement with bells and vibrating blades. The box comes with its original silk-lined morocco case
Case: 18K gold and enamel. Rectangular heavy box with chamfered corners, all-over engine-turned pattern of horizontal waves and diagonal fine branching, cobalt-blue enamelling; opaque black vertical wiggly lines. Lid studded with half-pearls, central rectangular enamel plaque with floral gold rim in a fine blue enamel moulded gold frame. Very fine polychrome painting in the style of Jean-Francois-Victor Dupont: en plein picture of a bacchanal: a glade with a naked youth playing the flute and two scantily clad dancing nymphs. On the right a winged cupid pointing his love arrow at the dancing beauties. In the background leaved trees and a mountain against a blue sky. The sides of the lid are framed with a heart-shaped opaque light-blue Champlevé border. The chamfered corners are decorated with gold scrolls and opaque light-blue Champlevé enamel flowers on black ground. The sides and the base with engraved floral borders that have some opaque black enamelling on the sides. The inside has a classical automaton scene of an orchestra with elaborate engraving and polychrome enamelling: constructional stage with open curtain and two large flanking vases against a light-blue background with gold stripes. Central Empire-style reliefed triangular pediment with four sculpted musicians: on the left a conductor with articulated arm, on his side a seated singer who moves his foot with the music. In the centre a lady musician playing the virginals with articulated head and arms - her movements are particularly visible because they are mirrored in the lid. On the right a lady harpist with articulated arm.
Musical movement and automaton : highly intricate brass movement, gilt, chain/fusee, pinned barrel with 40 vibrating blades over two levels, eight coaxial bells with eight small ivory hammers, mainspring with scratched signature "Carrisol" and date "1804/12".
The morocco case bears an inscription in the cover:
"Mr. Duncan Camber (Zed. turned(?)) lined Block + Silver clamps at Corner p. £ 2 Keys".
John Rich was certainly a fascinating man. Some of his artworks are so extraordinary that one would expect to find an abundance of material on Rich, but this is not the case. Some of the most complicated automata such as the so-called "The Magician Box", or the "Sandoz Scent Bottle" are signed by Rich. Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, both authorities on automata, have described the Magician as "the most remarkable snuffbox known to the authors". The signature "Made by John Rich" is hidden on the barrel, so that the piece must be taken apart for it to be found. Some boxes that have been examined or restored are signed "John Rich, London" or "John Rich, London & Genève", whereas some others which are mechanically identical bear no signature at all. The same is true of Rich's watches; they are often not signed at all and if they are, the signature is found in such a concealed place that only a person who has taken the watch apart would be able to see them. Obviously some of the great automata makers did not generally sign their pieces on the surface, but they were very well-known and plenty of information about them can be found. This is different for John Rich; it has been assumed that he was originally from England and opened a shop in Geneva. Also his pieces shows some similarities to the work of Jaquet Droz and Leschot, which leads to the assumption that they were created by a master craftsman (or craftsmen) associated with them. Rich's work can be dated no earlier than 1780 and no later than the first few years of the nineteenth century, spanning probably from about 1780 to just after 1805; after a quarter of a century of magnificent mechanical achievements, John Rich has left hardly any information on himself except his work itself. The magnificence of his creations in combination with the little information that is available on Rich form a fascinating mystery which calls for someone to try and research the life and work of this exceptional man.
Source: Osvaldo Patrizzi "Dictionnaire des Horlogers Genevois", Geneva 1998, p. 342
Jean Carrisol , specialist springmaker, supplying the makers of musical watches at the end of the 18th beginning of the 19th century in Geneva.
The Art of the Automaton in Geneva
During the 1780s, Geneva opened a most intriguing chapter of horological history. The city developed, with great flair, the art of automatons: machines designed to imitate the movements of live beings or creatures. They ranged from the simplest forms, where a figure’s moving arms could point to the time, to complex, full-scale productions, such as pastoral scenes, theatre pieces or concerts. Automata were soon being used to animate a wide variety of objects, such as scent bottles, amphorae, mirrors or snuffboxes; their use as timepieces was often merely a pretext for possessing these exquisite creations. And since where there is life, there is sound, the automata were fitted with a musical mechanism. The acknowledged masters of this marriage between ornamental watches and automata included Pierre Morand, Henry Capt, Isaac Daniel Piguet and Philippe Samuel Meylan as well as the Jaquet Droz workshop in Geneva, with colleagues and successors Jean-Frédéric Leschot and Jacob Frisard. All were the brilliant creators of musical watches functioning first with chiming bells, and later with a cylinder or pin-drum that caused a comb made up of a set of blades to vibrate. These watches were especially prized in the East and during trade with Turkey and China they acquired a subtle local touch, a discreetly exotic charm that makes them easy to distinguish today. In the hands of the Rochat family and the Bruguier workshop, this tradition continued until 1850.
Source: La Tribune des Arts présente en exclusivité le Patek Philippe Museum, http://www.patekmuseum.com/as of 10/07/2011.
Movm.: very good, capable of running
Movm.: very good, capable of running