A s the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Sales approaches, we have an opportunity to focus on one of the more interesting niches within the horological world, namely, table clocks. With the revitalised and growing interest in mechanical wristwatches in recent years, there has been a natural growth in intrigue within other aspects of the analogue, mechanically-powered market. Table clocks have particularly benefited from that attention, with the semi-static timekeepers embodying the convergence of mechanical timekeeping and sculptural art, each piece serving as a sobering reminder to appreciate the passage of time.
Here we take a closer look at four exemplary lots from Important Watches I that highlight the best of craftsmanship and fascination – both visual and mechanical – in table clocks, with three incredible pieces from Patek Philippe and a fourth from Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Patek Philippe, “Lake in the Savannah”, Reference 20071, Circa 2019
Standing tall on three cylindrical brass feet, the Patek Philippe, "Lake in the Savannah” is an elegant example of a unique domed table clock, first introduced as a one of one in 2019 as part of the watchmaker's Rare Handcrafts collection. The gilt brass clock has a warm-toned dial at its centre with lovely hour markers and hands, the timekeeping driven by the Patek Philippe calibre 17''' PEND, with the mechanism rewound via an electric motor.
Depicted on its surface is a lively scene of a namesake lake in the Savannah, with a vibrant display of the topography of the area, including detailed silhouettes of animals and vegetation against a background of wondrous blues, pinks, oranges, and reds. The saturated illustration is achieved with cloisonné enamel, with the intricate technique making use of powered glass mixed with other materials to create a paste that can be applied to metal, glass, or ceramic surfaces, and then fired to achieve the visual result. To create colours as bold as those seen in this table clock, the paste can be mixed using a variety of metallic ores, all of which are fired in an oven to create a smooth and vivid finish.
Patek Philippe “Crystal Amber”, Reference 10008M-001, Circa 2020
With an elegant amber hue, this unique dome table clock is the product of a storied partnership between Patek Philippe and French fine crystal manufacturer Baccarat. Dubbed the “Crystal Amber” for its reddish hue, the timepiece presents the combined craftsmanship of each maker and their respective disciplines in one work, representing a physical embodiment of hundreds of hours of mechanical and artistic labour.
At a glance, the table clock features a familiar domed cylindrical body decorated throughout with hand-engraved and beveled diamond-cut crystal surfaces. Towards the centre of the cylinder is a warm-tone dial, showcasing Patek Philippe’s side of the collaboration. The watchmaker’s refined work is seen via an elegant hour track with Roman numeral indices, and the passing hours and minutes indicated with a pair of stylised, skeletonised hands powered by the Patek Philippe calibre 17’’’. Baccarat then takes the lead in the aesthetic seen elsewhere in the clock, with its own mastery of crystal-work on display in the quintessential dome clock Patek Philippe format, highlighting a marvelous artistic form to the horological canvas.
Patek Philippe, "Une page d'Histoire," Reference 1350M
Like the “Lake in the Savannah,” the Patek Philippe "Une page d'Histoire" Reference 1350M is a classic example of a dome table clock that makes use of cloisonné enamel from the historic brand. Produced in 1990, the clock exemplifies the watchmaker’s commitment during this era to preserving some of the most intricate art forms — here in the form of its elaborate enamelling — alongside useful technology, such as the clock’s photo-electric cell that powers its operation. These types of clocks from this era are exceedingly rare, with this example representing a unique expression of its Geneva-based maison’s artistry.
While the dial of the clock is classic Patek Philippe clockwork, complete with a sectored brass background, roman numerals, interlacing Calatrava Crosses, and a pair of stylised cathedral hands, it is the enamel work of the brass case that stands out to the eye. The enamelling was executed by Elisabeth Perusset Lagger, a master enameller who produced polychrome enamel masterpieces for Patek Philippe in the second half of the 20th century. Making using of captivating earth tones and flashes of vibrant accent work, the case displays a heated battle in progress, and thus earns it’s the clock its nickname "Une page d'Histoire".
Jaeger-LeCoultre, “Atmos du Millénaire Marqueterie,” Reference 5523101, Circa 2008
The Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos is one of the best known and most significant table clocks in watchmaking history, and the “Atmos du Millénaire Marqueterie”, reference 5523101 could well be considered the contemporary pinnacle of this legacy. Making use of a 1000-year calendar, the clock in its creation was intended to capture the romance of a complete millennium, using an elegant display and striking craftsmanship to do so.
The word “Marqueterie” in the title of the piece refers to the word technique used to create the dynamic exterior. It requires the assembly and combination of small pieces of wood that vary in colour to create contrast and the illusion of texture. Visually, the layout of the clock's dial includes hour markers in the centre with a minute track on its direct periphery. Beyond the minute track at 6 o’clock is a moon phase indicator, while a window spanning from 10:30 to 1:30 displays the month in full. The outer edge of the display is the coveted year gauge, which spirals inwards and uses a dedicated thin hand for indication. The Jaeger-LeCoultre calibre JLC 555 powers the timekeeping of the clock.
Included as part of the lot are 10 lacquered and gilt-brass cylinders that each contain a delicate sheet of parchment paper to be used for recording consequential moments and memories throughout the millennium. The base of the clock has a tension-locked drawer where each of the delicate cylinders are intended to be stored, each preserved note to be immortalised as part of a new 1000-year legacy.