Lot 45
  • 45


300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


    CIRCA 1928
  • coral, enamel, diamond, turquoise, mother-of-pearl, gold, lapis lazuli, onyx, ruby cabochon
  • width 10.8 cm, depth 9 cm, height 6 cm when closed, 14 cm when open
• eight-day gilt lever movement, 19 jewels • dodecagonal dial centered by hexagonal engraved turquoise plaque, chapter rings composed of mother-of-pearl tiles, gold Roman numerals heightened by gold-flecked indigo enamel, the inner intervals set with diamonds, diamond-set stylized hands in the form of a fanciful dragon, all hinging open to access the winding and setting system, the bezel composed of lapis lazuli mosaics applied with turquoise in gold collets at 5-minute intervals • the whole designed as a tortoise, the hardstone shell carved in repeating hexagons and edged in onyx to the exterior and gold to the interior, hinging open to reveal the dial, the tortoise shell and head heightened with gold, opaque black and turquoise enamel, ruby cabochons and turquoise, the profile applied with turquoise and black enamel in archaistic stylized dragon scroll with cabochon rubies at the intervals, the tortoise's mouth with a gold stylized Chinese shou character for longevity applied in black enamel, the tortoise's tail and feet realistically carved • the tortoise surmounted upon a tiered base composed of carved frosted glass and onyx, the corners set with cabochon turquoise finials within gold collets, the onyx base applied with a 'Tutti Frutti'-style turquoise jardinère issuing forth flowers composed of carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires • dial signed Cartier, movement signed Longines and European Watch & Clock Co., Inc., cuvette signed European Watch & Clock Co., Inc., cuvette hand-stamped with Cartier reference numbers

Catalogue Note

Considered a symbol of longevity for their famously long lifespans, the tortoise enjoys a prominent position in Cartier's Art Deco productions. The storied creature serves as the muse for multiple examples of the firm's most important clocks from the animalia genre within that period. The Tortue wristwatch model was also inspired by the tortoise. A particularly apt motif for timepieces, the present tortoise further features a stylized Chinese shou character for longevity.

The present example offers collectors the opportunity to study a previously unknown clock of great importance and of highly unusual design. Cartier clocks from the period are highly imaginative, in fanciful and awe-striking forms, among them the famed Mystery Clocks. The present lot is noteworthy for the concealment of the dial and movement - indeed, the very function of the piece as a clock - within the tortoise shell itself. Closed, the piece is an ornately designed objet; open, the utility of the piece as a clock is revealed, delighting the beholder with its utterly ingenious design. The act of opening the shell to a viewer for the first time is a joy such that only the clever minds in the atelier of Cartier could engineer.  

In addition to its expert marriage of form and function, the tortoise's intricate design serves as a testament to the broad-ranging inspiration Cartier looked toward in their Art Deco period creations. Elements of Indo-Persian and Mughal motifs are evident in the turquoise central portion of the dial and the carved colored stones of the Tutti Frutti floral vase to the base. References to China are abundant, from the shou character, to the dragon hands and the dragon scroll to the profile of the piece.

A nearly identical clock is illustrated in black and white in Nadelhoffer, H., Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, p. 248. For other tortoise clocks, see Nadelhoffer, pl. 63, 72 and p. 248. For a discussion of the animalia genre of Cartier clocks and further illustrated examples, see Reflections of Elegance: Cartier Jewels from the Lindemann Collection, pp. 23, 29, 163 and 172-3.