LONDON - This magnificent automaton clock is one of the highlights of the Treasures sale this July and a testament to the trade and artistic influence between East and West.

ormolu-clock-tavella-blogA George III ormolu, Geneva
enamel and paste-set musical
automaton quarter striking
tower clock for the Chinese
market, London, circa 1790.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw an explosion of European interest in all things Chinese. The import of goods such as tea, silks and porcelain from China grew rapidly but it was a one-way trade with the Chinese showing little interest in English commodities.

The East India Company, who controlled commerce with China, found that trading conditions were never easy and it was often essential to present lavish gifts to facilitate deals. High quality novelty clocks and watches made in London proved popular gifts and, as they filtered into the upper echelons of Chinese society, demand for these 'sing-songs' increased.

Some of the finest offerings found their way into the Chinese Imperial collections and this clock is one such example. It exhibits a particularly rare combination of Western and Eastern symbolism having a tiered pagoda form but of Neo-classical design. The number and scale of the automaton features are exceptional and with ormolu and enamel panels of the finest quality.

By the late 19th century it was housed at Jehol (Rehe), the summer palace of the Chinese Emperor, and was obtained by the famous Swiss/Chinese collector, Gustave Loup, who regarded it as one of his greatest treasures.


The Property of a Swiss Private Collector. A George III ormolu, Geneva enamel and paste-set musical automaton quarter striking tower clock for the Chinese market, London, circa 1790. Estimate £1,000,000–1,500,000.