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Details & Cataloguing

Important Watches

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Geneva

Probably by Piguet & Meylan
AN EXCEPTIONAL AND RARE GOLD ENAMEL AND PEARL MUSICAL FRUIT KNIFE WITH DOUBLE BLADE MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET CIRCA 1805-1815
• the gold handle painted en plein with designs of a taille d'épargne urn, and a love trophy, centered by an oval panel with polychrome enamel clusters of fruit; the reverse similarly decorated, and centered by a polychrome enamel burst of flowers issuing from a vase; decorated overall with split pearls against translucent blue, green, and red enamel over engine turning; plain gold sides with engraved chevrons, two folding blades including one pink gold and one steel blade • barillet music work with six tooth comb concealed within the handle, the music activated by a button to the side, the key wound music work with winding hole concealed by a slide at the side of the case
length 94 mm
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Provenance

Sotheby & Co., Fine Watches, Russian Works of Art And Objects of Vertu, London, March 18, 1968, lot 153.

Antiquorum, Important Watches, Wristwatches, and Clocks, Geneva, April 2, 2000, lot 395.

Catalogue Note

Accompanied by a similarly enameled winding key with floral decoration, and an associated purpose-built leather presentation box.

Musical fruit knives are especially rare treasures, the majority of which are single bladed. The present lot is double bladed, and according to our research, one of only three known examples of musical double bladed fruit knives. Of these, two reside in museums, with the present example the last in private hands.

Additionally rare is that this piece is key wound, a characteristic that appears to relate specifically to double bladed musical knives.  Of the known single bladed knives, all are wound by the far more simple system of a slide built in the case side.

The designs of fruit and flowers may likely correspond to their respective blades; the gold blade meant for piercing fruit, whilst the steel blade may have been reserved for cutting flowers. Unlike steel, gold is not affected by the corrosive effects of fruit juice. By the well preserved nature of the present lot, it may be more accurate to suggest that this superb object maintained its primary function as an item of conspicuous consumption. 

To the best of our knowledge, the present piece is likely the pair to the knife in The Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks, at the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, Jerusalem, Inventory BO 19-70. The Salomon Knife was formerly in The Collection of Gustav Loup, the noted Genevoise collector of Chinese market watches and clocks. Loup, a close friend of Alfred Chapuis, collaborated to write La Montre Chinoise, where many of Loup’s pieces are illustrated.

Chapuis gives a highly detailed  description of The Salomon Knife along with an illustration in his book La Montre Chinoise, noting that it is of: "gold with music, in Empire style, with translucent red and painted enamel and jewels. Steel blade for cutting flowers and gold blade for fruit. Geneva work (1810-1815)," (see op. cit, re-edition 1983, p. 64, fig. 42). It is also illustrated in Daniels, George, Markarian, Ohannes, The Art of Time, The Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks, edition II, 2009, p. 63, now lacking musical movement.

Unlike The Salomon Knife, the present lot is fully functioning and in overall well preserved condition.

The third double bladed musical fruit knife may be found in the collection of the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, Inventory S-316, Exhibit 19, see Friess, Peter, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, 2015, Volume IV, p.395, further illustrated and described in Moore, Simon, Pocket Fruit Knives, 2008, p. 113, pl 5.25.

Luxurious miniature novelties, such as the present lot, became exceedingly popular during the late 18th century, and appealed greatly to the Chinese Market. The Emperor of China and his court were as fascinated by European mechanical novelties as the Europeans were by Chinese works of art. The Jesuit priest, Matthew Ricci was allowed to enter the forbidden city of Peking with gifts of chiming clocks for the Emperor in 1600 (Alfred Chapuis, La Montre Chinoise, p.23). The Portuguese trading port of Macao (founded in 1514), and later established warehouses by European merchant companies in Hong Kong solidified a strong platform for trade with the Chinese Market through Canton.

The Barillet movement was developed by Antoine Favre in 1796, and made it possible to incorporate music work in smaller objects, such as the present lot. The mechanism is activated when the pins on a revolving cylinder or disc, pluck the teeth of a steel comb. 

The present lot will be published in Ian White's forthcoming book, The Majesty of the Chinese Market Watch, Antique Horological Society 2018.

Important Watches

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Geneva