White Gold, Rhodonite, Onyx and Rock Crystal Mystery Clock, France

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Composed of two onyx porticos supporting a clock in rhodonite over a marble core, the dial in rock crystal outlined in onyx, decorated with Roman numerals, the silver hands shaped like the Empire State Building, on a similar rhodonite and onyx base.

·        Dimensions 7 x 6 x 3⅘ inches

·        Signed Cartier Paris

·        French assay and workshop marks

·        18 karat white gold

·        Single axis eight-day mechanical movement

·        Circa 1930

·        Accompanied by a fitted signed box and winding key


Maurice Rheims, French auctioneer, art historian and novelist

Catalogue Note

Clocks that do more than just tell time have fascinated connoisseurs for centuries. Singing bird boxes, automatons, and Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin’s pendules mystérieuses captured the imagination of an eager clientele in the nineteenth century. In the second decade of the twentieth century, Louis Cartier collaborated with Maurice Coüet to create clocks that seemed to defy natural laws: the hands moved without any visible operating mechanism. Called mystery clocks, these new inventions mesmerized viewers. In 1925, La Gazette du Bon Ton said, “Marvels of the clockmaker’s art, unreal and seemingly woven from moon beans, they veil the mysteries of time.”

Although there was no scientific mystery behind how these clocks worked, there was an artistic magic in the ingenuity and craftsmanship that created the optical illusion. The clock hands were set into transparent rotating discs with toothed metal rims propelled by gears in the clock case. These intricately made clocks took as much as twelve months to complete by as many as seven skilled craftsmen including a goldsmith, enameler, lapidary, engraver, and polisher. The clocks are considered the apogee of Cartier’s work.

This example is even more rare and unusual for both the design and materials. Rhodonite, the rich pink stone with black veining, was discovered in the Ural Mountains in Russia in the 1790s and was sought after for decorative objects by the Tsar and his friends. This is the only mystery clock Cartier created in this material. Even more unusual, the pure Art Deco monumentality and stepped hands clearly reference the Empire State Building. Complete in 1931, the famed building remained the tallest in the world for four decades and was also celebrated for its Art Deco design details. Cartier interpreted this architectural symbol of strength and style in the form of this iconic clock, creating a timeless work of art. 


Rhodonite, Onyx, White Gold