Pierre-Basile Lepaute (1750-1843), known as Sully, was born in Thonne-le-Thille (Meuse). He went to Paris in 1766 and served his apprenticeship in the family workshop. He was an associate of Jean-Baptiste Lepaute and his cousin Pierre Henry from 1774 and, with the latter, he purchased his uncle's business in 1789. Following the departure of his cousin in 1795 he brought in his nephew Jean-Joseph Lepaute, known as Collignon. Their association lasted until 1811.
The French Republican (decimal) calendar was officially in use from 24 October 1793 to 1 January 1806, when it was abolished by Napoleon I. By 7 April 1795 it was no longer compulsory to use decimal time. As with the present clock, many clockmakers chose to show both decimal and duodecimal time on their dials.
Although various clocks were made during this period which show both Republican and 'standard' time (see, for example, an obelisk clock sold these rooms 6 December 2006, lot 30) the use of decimal striking is extremely rare. Given its complexity this is perhaps not surprising. The sequence is as follows: 1 single blow at 10 minutes; 1 double strike at 20 minutes; 1 double and one single strike at 30 minutes; 2 double strikes at 40 minutes; 2 double and 1 single strike plus previous hour strike at 50 minutes; 3 double strikes at 60 minutes; 3 double and 1 single strike at 70 minutes; 4 double strikes at 80 minutes; 4 double and 1 single strike at 90 minutes; 5 double strikes and the hour strike at 100 minutes (the hour).
A similar clock, also signed P.B. Lepaute is in the Musée National des Techniques in Paris. The present clock is apparently identical to one made for the 'Concours sur les moyens d'organiser le Montres & les pendules en divisions décimales' organised by the Convention Nationale, by the 'Décret' voted on 21 Pluviôse, Year II of the Republic.
With the proclamation of the French Republic on 22 September 1792 it was decided that all public documents would be dated Year I of the Republic; a decree of January 1793 determined that Year II of the Republic commenced 1 January 1793. The date of Year III on the present clock therefore corresponds to 1794 in the Gregorian calendar.
The revolutionary day was divided into ten hours of one hundred minutes (with one hundred seconds). The week was dispensed with and each month of thirty days was divided into three décades, leaving 5 or 6 holidays at the end of the year.
The names of the décades were called in straightforward fashion: primidi, duodi, tridi, quartidi, quintidi, sextidi, septidi, octidi, nonodi, decadi. The names of the months were rather more poetic, reflecting the attributes of the time of year: Vendémiaire, Brumaire, Frimaire, Nivôse, Pluviôse, Ventôse, Germinal, Floréal, Prairial, Messidor, Thermidor and Fructidor. The dish 'lobster thermidor' comes from the eleventh month of the revolutionary calendar (these designations may be seen on the complex Sarton skeleton clock in the present sale).