The Qing emperors were endlessly fascinated by Western mechanical ornaments and scientific instruments that arrived at court as tribute, of which timepieces were particularly favoured. Yang Boda in the catalogue to the exhibition, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, Art Gallery, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1987, p. 55, notes that most of the imported timepieces were made in London and Chinese clocksmiths in Guangzhou were commissioned to create accurate copies of imported clocks from the early 18th century following an edict in the fourteenth year of Qianlong's reign (p. 63). He further mentions the great demand for watches and clocks by the Qing emperors who 'lived and worked under the chimes of their clocks' which embellished every wall and table of the Palace complex as well as 'watches for the saddle on horseback and clocks for the sedanchair' (p. 63).
This piece was created to adorn the interior of a carriage. Although no other closely related appears to be published, a gilt-copper dressing table with a similar rococo-styled watch surmounting a mirror, from the Qing Court collection and still in Beijing, is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Scientific and Technical Instruments of the Qing Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 178; and a gilt-bronze inlaid handmirror, with a watch surmounting the mirror, is published in The 200 Pieces You should Know. Timepieces, Beijing, 2007, pl. 168.
The engraved name, W. Beckford, suggests that this piece has been made in imitation of a William Beckford original, an English watchmaker of the 18th century. An inlaid handmirror of lobed form, with a watch above the handle and signed 'William Beckford', in the Patek Phillipe Museum, Geneva, was included in the exhibition The Values of a Family Watch Company, St Regis, Singapore, 2010.
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