Cartier, Pendule Mystérieuse, “Model A”, made in 1919 – sold Sotheby’s Geneva, CHF 314,500 (USD 279,231), 10th May 2009, lot 105.

GENEVA - Clocks telling the time with their hands floating in thin air sound decidedly implausible, but such timepieces really do exist, or so Cartier would have you believe. For decades the “Pendule Mystérieuses” or “Mystery Clocks” have captured the imagination.

Originally inspired by the work of the 19th century French magician and clockmaker Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the first Mystery Clocks were designed for Cartier in 1913 by Maurice Couet and known as the “Model A.” They featured rotating rock crystal discs to which hands were mounted to indicate the hours and minutes. The rock crystal allows the viewer to see right through the clock, which seemingly has no perceptible means for the hands to move. The mechanism by which the crystal discs turn is invisibly powered by gears hidden in the frame of the clock, while the base of the clock conceals the main body of its mechanical movement. The cost and complexity of the mystery clocks has meant that, over the years, few examples have been made. Amazingly, Sotheby’s Hong Kong are offering three Cartier Mystery clocks on 7th April as part of an Important Private collection.

Lapis lazuli, rock crystal and diamond-set mystery clock by Cartier, made circa 1990. Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 7th April 2013, lot 2528.

The three include an elegant lapis lazuli and rock crystal single stem mystery clock (lot 2528) that has an elegant simplicity to its design, but the addition of 10 carats of diamonds lend it an unmistakeably Regal feel.