Lot 345
  • 345


600,000 - 1,000,000 USD
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  • Gilt bronze, enamel and paste
the richly gilded upright case of rectangular section resting on four elaborately ornamented bracket feet ending in scrolled toes, joined by pierced aprons with garlands of leaves and berries, supported at each corner by columns cast with opulent foliate scrolls, flowers and fruit terminating in four grotesque animal heads, the central panel enclosing a later associated painted 6 3/4-inch dial with Roman numerals and pierced bright cut engraved gilt hands, the paste-set bezel with convex glass, cornered by applied clear paste-set flower heads amidst trailing leafy sprays set with green paste-set brilliants, surmounted by a painted automaton scene depicting a Chinese garden setting with figures passing over a bridge, all against a mirrored background, the polished side panels each lavishly decorated with applied shell handles within a beaded frame and suspending pierced scrollwork, the case surmounted by a pierced foliate balustrade framing a further automaton of spiral twisted glass rods simulating a cascading waterfall, supporting an elaborate gilded double-gourd vase decorated with scrolling flowers and leafy sprays, the lower part of drum shape housing the automaton with ten paste-set flower-heads centered by a Catherine's wheel against a translucent blue guilloche enamel ground, all turning and revolving simultaneously with the striking work, the upper part similarly decorated with scrollwork and set to the front with the auspicious Chinese characters 'da ji' (Great Prosperity) in vibrant red paste stones, the sides with tied drapery in translucent blue enamel crowned by a white and red paste-set revolving pineapple form finial, a spring barrel movement contained within the lower portion for driving the automaton work on the vase, the case now with purpose fitted late 19th Century three train fusee movement with anchor escapement, trip repeat quarter striking on a nest of eight bells and striking the hours on a further bell, the automaton functions all driven by the striking train, the backplate engraved with foliate scrolls and spuriously signed Robert Philip.


Formerly in the Collection of R. G. A. Wells Esq., London
Partridge Fine Art Ltd., London, 1985


Partridge Fine Art Ltd., Summer Exhibition 1985, pp. 90-93


Overall, the clock is a magnificent and impressive example of its type. The condition for the different parts are as follows: Upper double-gourd section: The finial is a later replacement with stones that are a different cut and color, suggesting a 19th century date and consistent with the dating of the movement. The blue enameled ribbons suspended on both sides of the double gourd show areas of loss on both sides and some filled-in / repainted areas. The blue enamel on the lower part of the double gourd shows three multi-pronged starcracks. All ten small pinwheels and the large central pinswheel are later replacements, again, probably done in the 19th century and consistent with the dating of the movement. At least ten white paste stones on the lower part of the double gourd are replaced. The middle section: The balustrade at the base of the double-gourd has a half inch area of loss at the back, and two small quarter inch losses on the side. The four small finials set on the corners between the balustrade are later replacements. There are parts missing from three of the four floral sprays suspended from the balustrade, and there are parts on two of the four floral sprays which have been broken off and reattached. There are small holes set in regular intervals on the gilt bronze platform surrounding the crystal sugar rods, suggesting that there may have been an additional balustrade which is now missing. The finials behind the grotesque animal heads are also later replacements. There are some losses to the gilding on the grotesque animal heads. The body: The painted panel above the dial shows some repainting on the lower two corners, and some of the tips of the hanging vine scroll on the upper edge of hte panel are missing. The center of the four paste-set floral sprays surrounding the dial were later replaced, again, probably 19th Century and consistent with the dating of the movement. Some of the green paste stones are missing, and some were replaced. Three white paste stones around the dial are a different color and may be later replacements. Overall there is some wear to the gilding on all four back plates, and the gilding of these plates is of a different, lighter tone. There is some minor wear to the extremities of the cast design. All the screws with which the cast parts were attached to the back plates are of a later, probably 19th century date. The Movement: It should be noted that although the movement is replaced, it is properly adapted to run the automaton functions as it was intended by the original maker. As indicated in the catalogue, the movements are late-19th century replacements. The going and striking movement is in good operational order striking nearly in phase and only off by a minute. A full service is recommended. The automaton work is driven off the striking work, thus the automaton's duration is dependant on the length of strikes (for instance, the duration of the automaton on the first quarter is shortest and on the hour is longest). The chimes will require adjustment as they are now out of tune. The hammer striking the quarters has been bent to accommodate the bell (this movement would have originally been fitted with gongs). The quarter striking bell has now been inverted. The base of the case has been cut to accommodate the pendulum on the movement. The movement fitted in the gourd functions erratically and appears to be late-19th century. This secondary movement appears to drive the finial to the top, however the connection requires adjustment as it is not functioning properly. The pull which activates the automaton on demand is now replaced with a chain that has been repositioned. There is another hole toward the back which presumably would have accommodated the original pull. The Dial: The present dial fitted to the clock is a 20th century replacement and is a paper facsimile of the 19th century dial that was previously fit when the movement was replaced. The 19th century dial also accompanies the clock, however it has sustained damage. It now has a dip in the center and has lost some enamel down to the copper. This 19th century dial will require full restoration. The reverse of the dial is generally undamaged with only a small area of counter-enamel loss to the center. The back is stamped "V", which is the dial maker's mark.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. All dimensions in catalogue descriptions are approximate. Condition reports may not specify mechanical replacements or imperfections to the movement, case, dial, pendulum, separate base(s) or dome. Watches in water-resistant cases have been opened to examine movements but no warranties are made that the watches are currently water-resistant. Please note that we do not guarantee the authenticity of any individual component parts, such as wheels, hands, crowns, crystals, screws, bracelets and leather bands, since subsequent repairs and restoration work may have resulted in the replacement of original parts. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. In particular, please note it is the purchaser's responsibility to comply with any applicable import and export matters, particularly in relation to lots incorporating materials from endangered species.NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

**Please be advised that bands made of materials derived from endangered or otherwise protected species (i.e. alligator and crocodile) are not sold with the watches and are for display purposes only. We reserve the right to remove these bands prior to shipping.

Important Notice regarding importation into the United States of Rolex watches
Sotheby's cannot arrange for the delivery of Rolex watches to the United States because U.S. laws restricts the import of Rolex watches. The buyer or a designated agent may collect the property in the country of sale."

Catalogue Note

From the time the first clocks were brought to China from Europe in around 1582, the Chinese Emperors were fascinated with European mechanical clockworks. As objects of curiosity and items of luxury, these early mechanical clocks incorporated mechanisms that could support accessory functions including music and animated figures. European clocks were called 'zimingzhong' or 'self-sounding bells' by the Chinese for their musical chimes and striking bells and were received by the Qing court with great enthusiasm. The demand was such that a workshop dedicated solely to western-style clocks was established by the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) among the palace workshops which was to be the beginning of a native clockmaking industry. With the help of Jesuit missionaries who supplied the technical knowledge and skills, Chinese clockmakers were trained and soon Chinese-made pieces joined those clocks that continued to arrive from the West. Contemporary sources suggest that by the end of the first quarter of the eighteenth century, clocks in the numbered in their thousands. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795) in particular was an avid collector of all types of timepieces and automatons and his enthusiasm for both European and Chinese-made clocks and watches saw no limit. He had thousands of European and Chinese clocks in his collection that were aimed at mesmerizing the beholder and prized for their novelty and design. More that 4000 examples were known to have existed in the Imperial Palaces and their chiming was to be heard throughout the day.

Distinguished by their magnificence, these timepieces rank among the most extravagant clocks made combining Western and Chinese decorative elements. The cases, of highly decorative ormolu, were often further embellished with brightly colored enamels and paste gems, the rich designs matching equally elaborate and complex clockworks and mechanical movements including musical movements and automata. Representing the Emperor's power and status, they were also regarded as the epitome of "Western" style and design. By the middle part of the eighteenth century, the fashion for Western clocks had disseminated from the imperial court to the upper levels of Chinese society, often rivaling the Emperor's own collection of clocks.

Many of these magnificent timepieces were inspired by the fabulous musical and automaton clocks commissioned by the English clockmaker James Cox, many of which were exported to the Far East during the 2nd half of the 18th century. While James Cox's fortunes declined in the later part of the 18th century, Chinese clockworkers had become expert at making clock movements in the English manner. At the same time, the Imperial workshops in the Forbidden City also raised their production of clocks and automatons recruiting the most skilled Western and Chinese craftsmen, artists and clockmakers from Guangzhou. Soon, a native industry emerged which supplied an increasing demand for magnificent clocks which were often sent as tributes to the Qing court by high-ranking members of society seeking Imperial favors. The port of Guangzhou in particular, developed as a manufacturing centre for clocks as Western clocks passed through the hands of many skilled craftsmen who not only studied them but also began copying them in a style that combined European and Chinese elements.

The present clock is remarkable in that it retains its rich original fire gilding and lavish paste jewels. The eye-catching performance of revolving waterfall rods and figures passing in a tranquil landscape setting before a mirrored background to the accompaniment of chiming bells still serves to astonish and amuse the present day connoisseur, just as it entertained and impressed an audience over two hundred years ago when the clock was made. The design of this magnificent clock combines the creativity, opulence and novelty that characterize so many of the finest works of art destined for Imperial use of the Chinese emperors in the 18th century.