• Important Watches auction at Christies

    Sale 2867

    Important Watches

    30 May 2011, Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

  • Lot 2174

    Attributed to Frères Rochat

    The only publicly known matching pair of mirror-image gold, enamel, agate, pearl and diamond-set singing bird pistols, made for the Chinese Market

    CIRCA 1820

    Price Realised  


    Attributed to Frères Rochat

    The only publicly known matching pair of mirror-image gold, enamel, agate, pearl and diamond-set singing bird pistols, made for the Chinese Market
    CIRCA 1820
    Rectangular gilt brass movements, chain fusées, circular bellows, double-barreled pistol-shaped cases, the grips with translucent scarlet enamel over engine-turned background, set with one pearl and diamond-set and one diamond-set rosette, split pearl-set lower edges, the upper edges decorated with black enamel and pearl-set laurel wreaths, the grips' reverses embellished with gold and black enamel pattern and pearl-set scroll and foliage motifs, both pistols centred by split-pearl framed gold plates chased with a lion on one side and a stag on the reverse, the top edges set with half pearls, gold matted and engraved hammers, the heads of the flint vises engraved with lion's heads, gold vise nuts terminated with diamonds, agate flints, gold pan covers with polished interiors, the outsides engraved with acanthus leaves, their springs terminating with diamonds, opening under the right pan covers for sound, the blue enamelled double barrels decorated with paillonné and laurel foliage simulating damascene works, three barrel-like ramrod pipes to the undersides, the ramrods containing the keys for the bird movements, the birds released by the percussion of the hammers when the triggers are depressed, the front covers opening and revealing painted varicoloured enamel bouquets of flowers over turquoise enamel, the birds set with realistically multicoloured feathers, lifting to the top of the barrels, turning, flapping their wings, opening the beaks and moving their tails, in time to a lifelike imitated bird song, when the song has finished the birds will automatically retreat inside the pistols and the covers will close, unsigned (2)

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    With two presentation cases and three keys.

    A stunning marriage of 19th century Swiss automata technology and exquisite craftsmanship, this pair of singing bird pistols epitomizes the creativity of watch makers in Europe to satisfy the ever-growing demands for clocks and automata by the Imperial court and its courtiers in China, as well as European aristocrats and royal families, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Barely a handful of single singing bird pistols are known in the entire world and they are found in the world's most prestigious museums and private collections. One single pistol is found in the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem which houses the Sir David Salomons Magnificent Collection of Clocks and Watches (see The Art of Time - The Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks by George Daniels and Ohannes Markarian, L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, edition 2009, p. 62). Another single pistol is recorded in the Maurice Sandoz Collection in Switzerland. The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, Switzerland owns two single pistols, one of which was purchased at Christie's in 1989.

    The present pair is the most advanced version of this type of singing bird pistols attributed to Fres Rochat and the only publicly known examples of their kind in a matching pair. Thier stunning beauty and perfectly preserved condition render these pistols amongst the greatest rarities in the world of automated objects. As renowned Swiss watchmakers and historians Chapuis and Gelis so aptly wrote in their book e Monde des Automates (The World of Automatons), still regarded today as the ultimate reference on automatons, "Among the objects incorporating singing birds, these very fine pistols present the greatest difficulties, both in their conception and execution."
    This pair of singing bird pistols was prominently displayed at the recent landmark exhibition The Mirror of Seduction - Prestigious Pairs of Chinese Watches, curated and held in 2010 at the celebrated Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
    Ever since the late 16th century, when the Jesuit missionary Matteo European powers saw this infatuation as their chance to gain access to the highest reaches of the Chinese court by selecting clocks or watches as tributes or gifts. To satisfy the Chinese market, master goldsmiths, enamellers and technicians, from England, France and Switzerland respectively, combined their skills and artistry to manufacture increasingly lavish and whimsical timepieces and objects of fantasy in all guises.

    The present pair is attributed to Frères Rochat, three brothers who worked in Geneva, Switzerland from 1800 to 1835. They were most famous for perfecting the highly complex singing bird mechanism and placing it in cages, mirrors and even pistols. The ingenuity of these pistols is beyond description: each pistol features a bird that shots out of the double barrels, pivots, moves its wings and tail, and opens its beak to sing and then disappears again. With the spectacular combination of sumptuously decorated cases and exceedingly intricate movements, these matching pistols are the perfect example of such coveted decorative objects made for discerning dignitaries and royalty in China and Europe.


    Formerly in the Asprey Collection.


    Prominently described and illustrated in the exhibition catalogue of The Mirror of Seduction - Prestigious pairs of "Chinese" Watches, Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, pp. 78 - 81, and in Flights of Fancy - Mechanical Singing Birds by Sharon & Christian Bailly, p. 225.


    The Mirror of Seduction - Prestigious pairs of "Chinese" Watches, Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, 15 May - 16 October 2010.