Mechanical Craft around 1800
Chronology : 1800-1809 1810-1819 1820-1829
1783 Trunk and Ears of the Time Elephant
2012 SOLD 1.6 M£ including premium
The musical automaton for sale on July 4 in London by Sotheby's is highly sophisticated. Around 1780, the Swiss have not yet started the trend of songbirds. The main element of the piece is a big elephant that moves its trunk and ears and turns its eyeballs. Standing on the clock, it carries on its back a canopy covered pagoda surmounted by a Catherine wheel. The whole is 102 cm high.
This incredible object, estimated £ 1M, brought out from oblivion the maker who signed it, named Peter Torckler, listed in the commercial registers of London from 1780 to 1783. He thus appears as a skillful contemporary but probably also an unsuccessful competitor of James Cox.
There is no evidence that this piece went to reach China. It was probably in London in the 1890s when it was bought by the Shah of Persia.
POST SALE COMMENT
This piece of large size and extreme rarity was sold £ 1.6 million including premium.
I invite you to discover its main movements in the videos shared by Sotheby's.
1784 The Eyes of the Negresse
2019 SOLD for € 1.45M including premium
In 1784 in Paris, the baron de Ville d'Avray buys the office of Intendant du Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. In the shop of the clockmaker Furet in rue Saint-Honoré, a black head wearing a Nubian princess turban amuses the public. Ville d'Avray buys this piece for 4,000 livres.
This bronze bust conceals an ingenious clock, and its base contains a mechanical organ. The piece is 72 cm high overall. The woman is wearing a pair of hanging earrings. One of them triggers the appearance of the figure of the minutes in place of the iris of the right eye and similarly the figure of hours in the left eye. The other earring triggers the music.
Ville d'Avray is waiting for a good opportunity to place this clock. It clogs up very quickly by the coagulating oils, and he has it twice revised. He also acts to diversify the music. The clock is finally offered to the royal family among the 1792 new year gifts. Queen Marie-Antoinette decides not to leave this fragile piece in the hands of the Dauphin.
The Négresse was not a unique piece. The royal copy was authenticated in 1956 on the occasion of an exhibition at the Orangerie by Pierre Verlet, curator of the objects of art of the Louvre Museum. It wears two plaques in the name of Furet et Godon, who were associated from 1784 until Furet's bankruptcy in 1786.
Belonging since 1937 to the collection of the comtes de Ribes, the "Négresse de Marie-Antoinette" is estimated € 1M for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on December 11, lot 10.
Dated 1817 by a former supplier of Godon, probably after a repair, an incomplete copy of the same model was sold for € 810K including premium by Delorme Collin du Bocage on November 23, 2007. Three other examples are known.
1786 Automaton and Serinette
2015 SOLD for $ 2.53M including premium
His workshop started in the 1770s the theme of the bird cage that will deserve a great success. The song of the bird is obtained by a miniature mechanical organ named serinette with a unique note per pipe. Six pipes are enough to provide the illusion of a high variety.
In the middle of the next decade, Pierre Jaquet-Droz is associated with his son Henri-Louis and with Jean-Frédéric Leschot and engages the best mechanicians of Geneva including Henri Maillardet and Jacob Frisard. The trend to miniaturization increases and Frisard invents around 1784 the box that throws out the songbird at opening and folds it back at closing.
Success invites for the diversification of models and the integration of these mechanisms in enamelled goldware of highest luxury. The Chinese imperial court is interested in these innovations. From London, the clever entrepreneur James Cox maintains trade relations with the Far East.
On June 11 in New York, Sotheby's sells a sumptuous automaton with an articulated singing bird made by Jaquet-Droz, Leschot and Frisard circa 1786 and sold to Cox in 1787, certainly for the Chinese market.
This piece 16 cm high has the shape of a scent flask with its stopper and also incorporates a watch, as it was often the case in this range of products. The size of the bird, 12 mm high, demonstrates the extreme miniaturization achieved by Jaquet-Droz at the time of Frisard.
This automaton is estimated $ 800K, lot 104. It is the first of three Swiss mechanical wonders operated by Sotheby's in the video below:
1790 London Clock for the Chinese Market
2014 SOLD for £ 2.27M including premium by Sotheby's
1793 English Presentation Clock to the Qianlong Emperor
2008 SOLD for HK$ 36M including premium by Christie's
late 18th century - Chinese Jardinière Clock
2008 SOLD for HK$ 39.5M including premium by Christie's
1790s Technology Transfer from London to Canton
2010 SOLD 3.8 M$ including premium
But Qianlong was also a big fan of clocks, a craft where the British were clever. It is told that this emperor owned more than 4,000 clocks, decorated with musical automata. He set up specialized workshops in Beijing and Guangzhou, which started by importing the clockwork from England.
A retrospective look at the extraordinary sale made by Christie's in Hong Kong on May 27, 2008 provides valuable information. The luxury of these imperial table clocks is fabulous.
The second highest result, 36 M HK$ including premium, an English piece, was probably one of those introduced to Qianlong by Lord Macartney when he endeavoured to strengthen trade in 1793. Then came at HK $ 34 million a clock mounted in China on an English movement dated about 1771. It is a great demonstration of technology transfer at the end of the eighteenth century.
Echoing the tradition of home auctions, Sotheby's will sell on 8 and 9 June the furnishings of the 45 rooms of the country manor of Mrs. Kluge, in Virginia.
The beautiful table clock with gilt brass and enamel, estimated $ 600K, has been made in the workshops of Guangzhou. The automaton includes a waterfall, and characters who pass a landscape. The mechanism is later.
See this lot, and an overview of the sale, in the article shared by Roving Insight.
POST SALE COMMENT
As good as the superb lots sold in 2008! The clock of Mrs. Kluge is a masterpiece. It was sold $ 3.8 million including premium.
1800 Breguet at the Time of the Marie-Antoinette
2016 SOLD for CHF 3.25M including premium
This enthusiast who played for Breguet a similar role as Graves with Patek Philippe 150 years later was probably the Count Fersen known as a fervent admirer of the Queen of France and the watch was named the Marie-Antoinette. It was completed in 1827, four years after the death of Abraham-Louis Breguet.
Breguet was the most skilful watchmaker of his time and the Marie-Antoinette could be used as a kind of prototype. On May 16 in Geneva, Christie's offers a high complication watch sold new in 1800 of our calendar (An VIII of the Republican calendar) to General Moreau. It is estimated CHF 600K, lot 123.
This pocket watch 55 mm in diameter has the serial number No. 217 of the brand. It is the only example beside the Marie-Antoinette to offer in the same case the perpetual motion and the equation of time.
The perpétuelle is a self winding mechanism with an oscillating weight offering 60 hours of autonomy from the effect of moderate movements of the user, with a protection against shocks on horseback. The equation of time is a correction of the difference between standard and solar times which can reach up to 16 minutes.
This piece does not include the technique of the tourbillon invented by Breguet in 1801. The steadiness is ensured by the échappement libre à ancre (lever escapement), another difficulty that only Breguet knew to overcome.
General Moreau died in the battle of Dresden in 1813. Breguet reacquired the 217 and modernized the dial before selling it in 1817 to Charles-Louis Havas, the financier who became famous for opening in Paris in 1832 the first ever newspaper translation business which became in 1835 his Havas Agency.
1805 Amphora by Piguet et Capt
2002 SOLD for CHF 4M (worth at that time US $ 2.4M) including premium by Antiquorum
narrated in 2021
The specialty of Piguet et Capt was the combination of miniature watches, automatons and music in jewelled structures of the greatest luxury, abundantly decorated with pearls and enamels. The shapes are varied : rings, snuff boxes, fans, shields.
On April 13, 2002, Antiquorum sold as lot 607 for CHF 4M including premium worth at that time $ 2.4M a 10 cm high amphora attributed to Piguet et Capt. It had been one of a pair.
This exquisite piece was made circa 1805 for the Chinese market, with an abundance of pearls. The upper part, between the top of the handles, is centered by two dials and an opening onto the mechanism. Note that skeleton watches were also a specialty of Meylan.
The belly of the amphora is a plaque painted in enamel in the style of Vigée-Le Brun. This small panel tilts forward to reveal a double-movement musical automaton in front of a pastoral background : a boy bounces a dog, and a young woman plays the guitar.
1808 Tourbillon for a King
2020 SOLD for £ 1.58M including premium
Breguet develops after 1806 the applications for its tourbillon. The four-minute rotation, replacing the one-minute rotation, decisively improves the stability.
The most enthusiastic horology lovers are alerted about this progress. France is at war with England. King George III discreetly uses the services of an intermediary named Recordon to obtain one of these watches.
Breguet retrieved the reference of this piece in their archives. Sold on June 29, 1808 to Recordon for the King of England, it appears to be the very first tourbillon to have been marketed. It includes a thermometer, which is certainly a specific requirement of the king, and a Robin escapement that Breguet rarely used. To mitigate the risk of interception by customs, the Breguet brand does not appear on the outside and the dial is signed by Recordon. The payment of the 4,800 francs was completed in 1813 by the Prince Regent.
Remained in its original configuration, the Breguet watch of George III was sold for £ 550K including premium by Sotheby's on November 9, 1999. It is estimated £ 700K for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 14, lot 28.
A watch from the same period, with a Breguet escapement and without a thermometer, is certainly the very first to have incorporated the four minute tourbillon. Sold for 4,600 francs on February 12, 1809 for Count Potocki, it was sold for CHF 820K including premium by Christie's on May 12, 2014.
Fit for a King: King George III's Tourbillon Watch - an horological treasure discreetly sold by French watchmaking genius Breguet to the King of England in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars - will be auctioned in London in July. Click here for more details:https://t.co/Oal8BTVNgx pic.twitter.com/nfqYozr1fi— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) June 18, 2020
1814 Breguet, the Physicist of Time
2012 SOLD 4.3 MCHF including premium
The eighteenth century had highly important mechanics. Abraham-Louis Breguet, micro-mechanical genius, settled into pocket watches the most extraordinary complications of the clocks, and was the inventor of basic concepts such as the tourbillon and the wristwatch.
On May 14 in Geneva, Christie's sells two Breguet watches, each estimated CHF 800K. Both have two main dials, but for quite different reasons.
The earliest, sold in 1814, has two similar and symmetrical complete mechanisms. The idea of the inventor was to compensate the mechanical resonance, a source of error that was a challenge for the watchmakers. This is the first of three watches made by Breguet on this principle. The other two will be provided to the kings of England and France. Here is the link to the catalog.
The complication of the other is even more spectacular. One mechanism provides the official time calculated according to a regular day of 24 hours, and the other mechanism provides real solar time as it was read from sundials at the ground. The motion drift of earth and sun can reach a quarter of an hour, almost repetitively from year to year.
This specimen with the equation of time, sold in 1827, is posthumous. Antoine-Louis Breguet had succeeded his father. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
Forget the estimates. The press release was convincing, and the two Breguet watches are masterpieces from one of the most brilliant periods of watchmaking.
Technically very bold, the watch with two movements from 1814 was sold CHF 4.3 million including premium.
The watch with the equation of time was sold CHF 2.55 million including premium.
1820 The Singing Birds of Geneva
2011 SOLD 45.5 MHK$ including premium
These automata are pistol shaped and their barrels house the hundreds of mechanical components. The decor is exquisite and the materials are precious: gold, enamel, agate, pearl, diamond. They are shown on the release shared by Artdaily.
When the trigger is pulled, the colorful bird leaves at the end of the barrel, turns, opens and closes its wings and beak, sings. After such a work, it returns home.
They are in exceptional condition, as demonstrated by a video on the website of Christie's. Singing bird pistol automaton are very rare, and these are the only remaining specimens that have been kept as a pair. The auction house admits that it is difficult to predict the price of such an absolutely unique lot, and advances a very open estimate range: HK $ 20 to 40M.
POST SALE COMMENT
The prices of lots that are unique of their kind have no limit. Excellent result for this one: HK $ 45.5 million including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared on the web by Christie's :
1820 Questions for a Magician
2016 SOLD for $ 1.2M including premium
The magician answers to riddles or performs transformations or escapes. In the former type, the user inserts a tablet in a slot. This action starts the animation and the music which will end after the answer appears on the other side of the picture. These magician boxes are a specialty and maybe even an exclusivity of the brand of Piguet et Meylan.
On June 8 in New York, Sotheby's sells a gold and enamel snuff box concealing an automaton with a magician and a musician. This piece that had belonged to the collection of King Farouk is estimated $ 1.5M, lot 81.
As always, its make had required some specialized craftsmen. The study of punches allows to date it around 1820. The gold work is signed by Chénevard et Jouvet.
This box in perfect condition keeps for its questions five double-sided tablets that are differentiated by the position of an off-centered hole. A tablet is asking "Qui t'a créé ?" When the wand of the magician ceases to oscillate, the automaton responds in a window previously hidden in a tree : "CH Oudin".
The magician box does not however offer the same mystery as the writer of Maillardet : its gild brass movement is inscribed "Chas. Oudin, 52 Palais Royal, Paris" on a backplate.
Charles Oudin was one of the best assistants to Breguet for whom he worked on the mechanism of the equation of time and on the tactile watch before establishing his own business. Its participation in the mechanics of an automaton demonstrates an unexpected encounter between the followers of the two most brilliant mechanical engineers of all time, Jaquet-Droz and Breguet. The magician does not provide the answer to this riddle.
The animation of the magician is demonstrated in the video shared by Sotheby's to announce the sale :