“Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939”, Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 14 April - 19 August 2012; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 13 October 2012 - 24 February 2013; Charlotte, Mint Museum of Art, 22 September 2013 - 19 January 2014.
“Cartier and America, Legion of Honor”, San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 19 December 2009 - 9 May 2010.
Jason T. Busch and Catherine L. Futter, Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939, New York, 2012, pg. 140 for an illustration of this clock, accompanying the following exhibition “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World's Fairs, 1851-1939”, Kansas City, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 14 April - 19 August 2012; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, 13 October 2012 - 24 February 2013; Charlotte, Mint Museum of Art, 22 September 2013 - 19 January 2014.
Martin Chapman, Cartier and America, San Fransisco, 2009, pg. 156, 163 and 167 for the illustrations of this clock, accompanying the following exhibition “Cartier and America, Legion of Honor”, San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 19 December 2009 - 9 May 2010.
Magical Messenger of Mystery -'Le Ciel'
Born in an era when artisans were unfettered by the forces of commercialism and freely lavished their imaginations upon their creations, the Cartier Mystery Clock captivated observers and commentators alike, with their enchanted floating hands that mystifyingly kept time without any discernible mechanisms to turn them.
The making of each clock demanded the best talents of various specialists, not limited to the clockmaking world. Artists, enamelers, orfèvre-boîtiers, watchmakers, goldsmiths, engravers and polishers would often take up to a year of intense, highly skilled labour to produce each flawless masterpiece. Famed collectors of the Mystery Clock included American financier J. P. Morgan, the Queen of Spain (Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg), Queen Mary of England (consort of King George V) and the Maharaja of Nawanagar.
Created in 1928, 'Le Ciel' was likely inspired by the Pons-Winnecke comet's appearance in June 1927. An extraordinary example, this special collection produced by Cartier between 1922 and 1931 incorporated re-mounted antique Chinese jade carvings from 18th and 19th century. Only thirteen clocks from the collection are still known to exist: 'Le Ciel' being one of them.
Embracing the wondrous orbit of the planets, 'Le Ciel' is saturated with symbolism. The celestial dial, embellished with bejeweled shooting stars and planets, depict the majesty of the midnight sky – as the diamond-set comet hands celebrate the mystical planetary cycle. The dial is then supported by a pair of two antique jade carps resting on an everlasting fountain. The elements of the sky and water are seamlessly perfected in harmony represented by the adornments of the fish, through the adulerescence of the moonstone and the beauty of carved coral.
In Chinese culture, carps have symbolised strength and power as well as abundance and profitability. Exemplifying an infinite source of freedom and vitality, the combination of fish and water has enraptured Chinese art since antiquity. Robust with exuberance and vigor, the prosperous and auspicious fish celebrates the essence of its natural element: water. Liu An, the mystical Prince of Huai-nan, once expressed the nature of water as such: "In length it is without limit, in distance it has no shores; in its flows and ebbs, its increase and decrease, it is measureless... for it flows and rushes with echoing reverberations throughout the vast expanse of Earth and Heaven." A sacred invitation to the endlessness of time, the fountain of aqua pura represents a spiritual opening, a metaphor to the ambrosia of eternity.
Encapsulating the clairvoyance of immortality whilst juxtaposed to faithfully serving as the messenger of time, 'Le Ciel' is a true rarity of its making. Representing the epitome of Art Deco's most creative period and the quintessence of Cartier's clockmaking, Sotheby's is proud to present this rare and exceptional bejewelled timepiece at our auction.
"Marvels of the clockmaker's art, unreal and seemingly woven from moon beans, they veil the mysteries of time."
La Gazette du Bon Ton, 1925
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