Liao Pin ed., Clocks and Watches of the Qing Dynasty, From the Collection in the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2002
Roger Smith, 'The Swiss Connection, International Networks in some Eighteenth-Century Luxury Trades', Journal of Design History, 2004, Vol.17, No.2, pp.123-139
Tardy, French Clocks The World Over Part II: From Louis XVI style to Louis XVIII-Charles X Period, Paris, 1981
A musical 'portico' clock of closely related design may be seen in the Palace Museum in Beijing (see Liao Pin, p.106). That example, along with many others in the Imperial collection, is apparently signed by Timothy Williamson, a luxury goods retailer working at the end of the 18th Century. It differs from the present clock in a number of ways, including the addition of an automaton figure striking a bell above the main drum case and also in having automaton figures below the case. The replacement hawk and rockwork mount on the present clock has therefore most likely supplanted an automaton figure (probably a bird) or figures of some kind. This mount is clearly a Chinese addition, as discussed by Gu Fuxiang in the introduction to this catalogue; the hawk and bear form the Chinese rebus for ying xiong, meaning hero. Interestingly, the clock in Beijing is more distinctly ornamented in the 'Chinese taste'. For example, the floral sprays on the top of this clock are replaced by paste-set pineapples on the Beijing clock. The Beijing clock dial also has the decorative seconds hand so often found on Chinese market clocks. In design, however, the two are fundamentally the same and in particular the enamel-decorated columns are almost identical. It seems highly likely therefore that both came out of the same workshop. The portico design shows the influence of a popular French model of the late Louis XVI period (see Tardy, pp.63-70). Generally, French 'portico' clocks are not embellished with enamel panels, although French skeleton clocks of this period are (op.cit, p.84). The movement is distinctly Swiss in manufacture and the fine enamels are typical of those being made by Swiss craftsmen. The dial, with its dot minute track, could easily be English or Swiss but the hands owe much to English design of the late 18th/early 19th Century period. Likewise, the finishing of the ormolu case is executed in a manner one might expect to find on an English clock. It is therefore entirely possible that this clock was made by a combination of Swiss and English workmen. Swiss retailers such as Jaquet Droz retained premises in London and Swiss craftsmen worked in the city. To see both Swiss and English influences on a luxury item such as this clock is therefore not surprising.
For a full discussion of Anglo-Swiss trade connections in luxury goods at the end of the 18th Century see Roger Smith, pp.123-139 who writes, in relation to the famous manufacturer of clocks for the Chinese market, James Cox:
'Construction of the highly-ornamented cases and the complicated machinery that they contained was carried out by a wide range of craftsmen employed as out-workers or by sub-contractors. At first, during the 1760s and 1770s, most of Cox's workmen were based in London, though many were immigrants including several clock and watchmakers from Switzerland. However, when...he re-established his business in the 1780s, Cox seems to have turned to the Jaquet-Droz workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds, London and Geneva to supply many of the elaborate watches, snuffboxes etc. which he exported to the Far East under his own name...Many of the exotic gilt-metal and jeweled cases for the objects sold by the Jaquet-Droz to Cox and other London exporters were probably brought over from Switzerland, but some of the work was certainly done by Swiss craftsmen based in London.' (pp.131-132)
Comparison may also be made with another 'dressing table' clock in the Palace Museum collection, by William Hughes (see Liao Pin, p.113).