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.