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Lot No. 95
Estimate  250,000 - 350,000 €
This is a lot of a former auction!

Hilaire Bassereau, Horloger Mécanicien de L'Empereur / Étienne-Lucien Blerzy à Paris / attributed to Frères Rochat à Genève, 94 x 48 x 32 mm, 323 g

, circa 1808

An important gold enamel combined singing bird snuff box of museum quality with concealed quarter repeating watch, studded with half pearls - with green velvet-lined original morocco box

Case: 18K gold, enamel and half pearls. Maker's mark "ELB" (Étienne-Lucien Blerzy, Paris), third Parisian standard mark for gold 1798-1809, French gold guarantee mark 1809-1819. Dial: enamel. Watch movement: bridge movement, cylinder escapement, 2 hammers / 2 gongs, three-arm brass balance. Singing bird movement, attributed to Frères Rochat: rectangular brass movement, chain/fusee, bellows, eight cams and a whistle with sliding piston for the song's modulation. The cams rotate four times per song and lift one step every rotation, allowing a long duration of singing, the multicoloured feathered bird with moving wings, beak, and turning head rotating on its axis. It is facing the inside of the medallion which is mirror polished and concave, enlarging the bird in its reflection, gold engraved grill. Cam-controlled raising of the bird medallion and the bird, with five-wheel train finished by a pinion in eccentric bushing to regulate the speed of the opening and closing. The complicated mechanism allows for precision control of the raising of the bird and medallion, and its speed.

The rectangular case is allover decorated with engine-turned pattern and translucent royal blue enamel as well as gold Champlevé enamel: palmette ornaments, scrolls of vine leaves and flowers, basins filled with fruit and a classical-style vase with handles within oval cartouches.
The top is fitted with a central hinge that operates two lids; on the left is the snuff compartment with a watch built in the lid. The watch is concealed by a separate hinged, round cover with a pearl-set border. On the right is the compartment for the singing bird movement; the bird itself is, like the watch, concealed by its own hinged round lid. The delicate bird has a multi-coloured plumage and moves its head, wings, beak and tails before a concave polished gold plate, which magnifies the image of the singing bird. A slider on the front activates the automaton, a slider on the back releases the quarter repeater.

The box is fitted with symmetrical double lids, where one conceals the singing bird and the other the hides the watch; this design is unusual and particularly rare. The small box - which is intricately and lavishly decorated with pearl-set borders - can be attributed to Frères Rochat, who were regarded as the best makers of singing bird boxes of their time.
A box very like this one with similar design (and equally small), is illustrated on page 208 of "Flights of Fancy" by Sharon and Christian Bailly. The box described in the book is apparently unsigned; it is presumed that Frères Rochat were not dealing directly with their Chinese customers but used agents, who often did not want the pieces to be signed with signatures other than their own. This means that boxes that may have been intended for the Chinese market were commonly left unsigned.

Jean-Hilaire Bassereau (1743-1810) was Horloger de l'Empereur et Roy, a fine Parisian maker, student of Lepine.
Bassereau was an extremely versatile maker, who created many luxurious pieces such as carillon watches or singing bird watches. One of his precision timekeepers for example is a chronometer with pivoted detent escapement held by the British Museum. For a time Bassereau's business was located in the Rue Vivienne, where it was continued by his son. It later moved to the Rue Neuve des Petits Champs. Upon his death in 1810 Bassereau's widow took over the business and it was registered under her name until 1840; then it was sold to Henri Dautreme. Dautreme continued trading at the Neuve des Petits Champs location until 1890.
Source: "Watchmakers and Clockmakers of the World", by G.H. Baillie Vol. I, Edinburgh/London, 1947, p. 18.

Many pieces by Bassereau are today held by renowned museums and collections:
- A musical clock with carillon was part of the Sandberg Collection and in 2001 sold by Antiquorum for CHF 284,000 (lot 279).
- A singing bird clock, formerly part of the Sophia Lopez Suasso-de Bruyn (1816-1890) Collection, is today owned by the Stedelyk Museum in Amsterdam.
- A large diamond-studded gold and enamel quarter hour bell repeater butterfly, signed Hre. Bassereau Pl. Royal, is today part of a private collection.
- A chronometer is owned by the British museum (Ilbert Collection).

Étienne-Lucien Blerzy was a relative of the famous maker of gold boxes, Joseph-Etienne Blerzy. Étienne-Lucien himself worked with jeweller to the court of Napoleon, Bernard-Armand Marguerite, to create several fine boxes for the emperor. We know that between March and August 1806 Marguerite received an order for 100 gold boxes that were worth a total of 380,688 Francs; the boxes were to be lavishly decorated with diamonds, initials and portraits.

Boxes made by Étienne-Lucien Blerzy are still sold for very high prices today: in June 2015 a gold presentation snuff box with the initials of Napoleon was sold at Christie’s in London for GBP 110,500 (lot 251). In May 2016 Christie’s sold another box with the initials of Carl XIII of Sweden for GBP 52,500 (lot 16). The Victoria & Albert Museum owns an oval box studded with pearls (formerly part of the Farquhar Matheson Collection).

Frères Rochat , the Rochat Brothers, Ami Napoleon and Louis worked in 140, rue de Coutance, between 1810 and 1835. They were trained by their father, Pierre Rochat, in the family workshop at a place called Chez Meilland au Brassus, in the Vallee de Joux lake region, Switzerland. At the beginning they worked for Jaquet-Droz and Leschot. After having lost their fortune in building speculations, they came to Geneva in 1815 and prospered again by making most curious marvels of small mechanics, which were highly appreciated by connoisseurs and sold to the principal courts of Europe. Ami Napoleon Rochat, the eldest son, made a speciality of the singing bird boxes which established the reputation of the name Rochat all over the world. The work was absolutely perfect, namely the singing, the extreme complication and smallness of the mechanism, the bird opening its beak and turning its head when singing.
Case: very good
Dial: very good
Movm.: very good, capable of running, cleaning recommended

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