Guangzhou Workshops, 260 x 490 x 160 mm, circa 1790
A rare Chinese gilt-metal, silver and stone-set table clock with Swiss quarter-striking movement and musical movement that activates on the hour and can also be activated manually, Jiaqing Period, Qing dynasty (1796-1820)
Case: gilt copper and brass, silver, paste-stones. Dial: enamel, bezel with a bayonet fitting. Movm.: circular brass full plate movement, 2 barrels for going and striking train, 2 hammers/2 bells, rack strike mounted on the backplate, count wheel, anchor escapement, silk suspended compound pendulum with the lower bob in the form of a Cicada insect with stone set eyes. Musical movement: Released automatically on the hour by the clock following the hour strike or at-will by means of a small button on the right side of the case. A second button changes between the two tunes. Brass cylinder with steel pins, the comb comprised of 17 sets of four teeth attached by screws to the brass base plate. Powered by purpose made going-barrel mounted within its own plates enabling the music to run for 8 days and wound through the side of the case on the left side. All mounted on a brass sub plate within a wooden frame designed to amplify the sound.
Modelled in the manner of a Chinese table screen or painting frame and supported on two fluted columns from a rectangular base. The upper section of waisted cartel shape, the back and front borders chased with trailing floral designs, the front enclosing, within a silver frame of facetted red stones, a matted panel mounted with stylised chrysanthemum flowers and foliage above and below the dial. The bezel chased with acanthus foliage encircling a row of alternating red and white facetted crystals. The bezel has a bayonet fitting and is designed to be removed to reveal the winding squares.
The rear frame engraved with a similar design, enclosing a plain gilt panel centred with a detachable bezel pierced and engraved with further stylised flowers and foliage to release the sound of the bells. Surmounted by a finely cast, chased and gilt mount designed as basket of flowers, set with a red and green stone cabochon motif flanked by cornucopias of flowers and cherubs trailing leaf foliage. The whole supported on two fluted columns upon double ogee plinth and rectangular base, with fluted corner columns, surmounted by pierced and chased gallery, the sides inset with matted panels of which the front is edged with facetted red stones in a silver frame, with two further red and green cabochon motifs flanking a chrysanthemum flower. Fluted splay feet enclosing chrysanthemum flower and foliage mounts.
Almost without exception, clocks made in the Guangzhou workshops wind from the back. The same is true for the majority of clocks made in Switzerland for export to China, many signed with English names, and, indeed a good proportion of entirely English made timepieces. Although the accuracy of the clock was not of paramount importance to the Chinese collectors, nevertheless the piercing of the dial for the winding apertures was considered to be an interruption of the smooth passage of time. Although the movement of this clock has to wind from the front due to the entire striking mechanism being mounted on the backplate, the makers have employed an ingenious and elegant solution to avoid the winding arbors being visible. The arbors are mounted below the dial, and accessed by removing the stone set bezel which has a “bayonet” fitting and can be turned by a small arc to the left enabling it to be released. Replacement is accomplished by reversing the procedure.
The invention of the "comb" musical box is credited to Antoine Favre-Salomon of Geneva (1734 - 1820). First mention of his invention is recorded in the Registre de la Société des Arts de Genève for the 15th. February 1796. Up to this date musical clocks, watches and boxes used a pinned cylinder, but with hammers to strike on a set of bells. Alfred Chapuis, writing in his book Histoire de la Boîte`a Musique, suggests that, as a result of the Republic of Geneva being entirely surrounded by French forces, the whole horological trade was suffering from a trade embargo, notably with England which was a renowned source of sets of bells, and this could have been the reason that Favre-Salomon conceived the idea of steel springs to create the notes. Chapuis further notes that Favre is thought to have worked with Jean-Frederic Leschot, associate of and successor to the business of Jaquet-Droz, perhaps the most renowned manufacturer of automaton and musical objects for the Chinese Market. Extremely fine and reliable return springs were an integral part of such objects, and Favre would have been familiar with the the fact that they emit a musical tone when plucked. Due to the political turmoil, Favre does not appear to have benefited from his invention, but over the next 20 years, the idea was developed by a number of his contemporaries. Initially each tooth in the comb was mounted individually, and the principle applied to watches and small objects. The “combs” developed from single teeth for each note to pairs, threes and fours, with the single piece comb being introduced by François Lecoultre as early as 1814 according to a report on the Exposition des Produits de l’ Industrie Genevoise held in 1828. Due to the difficulty of manufacture, the single piece comb did not become standard until after 1818. Notable makers included Piguet & Meylan, Lecoultre, Henri Capt and Nicole, but amongst the early pieces very few are signed.
Objects using similar decorative techniques and design are known, including mirrors, pictures and timepieces. These include a mirror, designed to hang in a carriage, and incorporating a watch signed W. Beckford, London, 12969, and a hand mirror with a movement also by Beckford, which we had in our 71st auction on November 19th, 2005, lot 364 and is now preserved in the Patek Philippe Museum, Inventory No. S-87. Both are from the Guangzhou workshops with imported English movements. A characteristic of clocks and objects from the Chinese workshops is a far greater understanding of the symbolism associated with the elements used for the decoration compared to their English and Swiss made contemporaries. The stylised Chrysanthemum flowers are associated with intellectual accomplishments, powerful yang energy and a strong life force. The cicada is the Fengshui symbol of immortality and the possibility of a good rebirth.
Pieter Friess, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, 2015, Vol. III, p. 376.
Alfred Chapuis etc., Histoire de la Boîte`a Musique et de la Musique Mécanique, Lausanne, 1955.
Case: very good
Dial: very good
Movm.: very good, capable of running
Dial: very good
Movm.: very good, capable of running