Lot 39
  • 39


30,000 - 45,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Justin Vulliamy
Dial: white enamel, Roman numerals and outer Arabic five minute chapter ring, diamond-set skeletonised cross-over style hands Movement: fusée, cylinder escapement, plain steel 3-arm balance, diamond end-stone, balance cock engraved with mask and foliate scrolls, 2 hammers striking on the dust capCase: 18ct yellow gold, restored translucent blue enamel back with gold stars over engine-turned ground, decorative enamel blue and white enamel bands, applied diamond-set Royal Coronet and Cipher, “GR" on reverse, plunge repeat through the bow Dimensions: 50.5mm diameterSigned: movement signed Justin Vulliamy, datecode OMC Accessories: none


DIAL: in overall good condition, no visible cracks in porcelain dial. Two stones missing to the hands at the centre. CASE: in overall good condition, signs of wear and scratches throughout consistent with age of the piece. The enamelling on the case-back bears some scratches and marks in particular at 9 o'clock. MOVEMENT: not running at the time of cataloguing but the balance is free. Please note that the movement has not been tested for the accuracy of its timekeeping. Please note that Sotheby's does not guarantee the future working of the movement and that a service may be required at the buyer's discretion.
"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."

Catalogue Note

Justin Vulliamy was the patriarch of three generations of watch and clockmakers. He left Switzerland and moved to England becoming the partner of Benjamin Gray, whose daughter he married. Following his father-in-law's death, Vulliamy continued to employ Gray's coded numbering system, which is still not fully understood. It is known that the coding system moved from 3 letters to four letters around 1812.  This is one of a small number of watches in large cases covered in blue enamel and lavishly set with diamonds, which bear the crowned cypher of King George III (r.1760-1820). There are two currently in the British Royal Collection [Note 1], and two others which sound very similar were exhibited in a 'Royal Treasures' loan exhibition in 1937 [Note 2]. The cypher does not indicate that such watches were for the King's own use, but rather that they were royal gifts to friends and close personal acquaintances within the Court circle. For example, one of the two now in the Royal Collection is reputed to have been given by the King to the Earl of Courtown.

Like the present watch, the two watches in the Royal Collection originally contained movements by (François) Justin Vulliamy (1712-1797). The movement in the Courtown watch is now missing, but was almost certainly Justin Vulliamy ama, while the other movement is signed Justin Vulliamy rzr. It is interesting to note that these code numbers and that of the present watch indicate that the movements were made several years apart - c.1764 for ama, c.1768 for omc, and as late as c.1789 for rzr. This suggests that a number of these distinctive cases may have been made early in the reign of George III, and movements were subsequently inserted as required, and resized when necessary, as with the present watch. This was not an uncommon practice with particularly prized cases, and the surviving Vulliamy business papers record several such instances, as well as the reverse process of recasing earlier movements, though unfortunately they do not cover these royal watches.

The immigrant Swiss watchmaker Justin Vulliamy had previously been in business with his father-in-law Benjamin Gray, who had been King's Watchmaker to George II from 1742 until that King died in 1760. On Gray's own death in 1764, Vulliamy took full control of the firm, and although he himself never obtained the Royal Warrant as King's Watchmaker, probably because he was not naturalised and so remained ineligible for this Civil List post, he certainly maintained close links with the horologically-minded new king, George III, and the Royal Household. Indeed, he received a personal appointment as clockmaker to Queen Charlotte, while his son and partner Benjamin Vulliamy (1747-1811) received a warrant as King's Clockmaker in 1772, and was in due course to be succeeded in this post by his own son Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854), who retained the Royal Warrant under several sovereigns until his death in 1854.

With sincere thanks to Roger Smith for his kind assistance with the detailed research on this watch.

1) Royal Collection, Inventory numbers RCIN 43796-7 and RCIN 65350.  They can be seen on the website of the Royal Collection Trust.

2) The watches exhibited in 1937 are noted in Cedric Jagger, Royal Clocks (London 1983), p. 307, nos. 501 and 513B.  An enamel and diamond watch in the same exhibition, no. 258H, which was apparently given by George III to Lord Harcourt, may have been similar. Interestingly, the lender of no. 501 was Kenneth Clark Esq., quite possibly the famous art historian who was then Director of the National Gallery.

For a short account of the Vulliamy family of watch and clockmakers, see Roger Smith's article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford 2004 - also available online).