Accompanied by a fitted presentation box, gold, blue and white enamel key and cardboard inventory card inscribed No. 72, Montre Or Ls. XVI, Horloge sonnerie à quarts. Jaquet-Droz, 1780.
The first "Chinese Market" watches were made by Jesuit missionaries during the Ming Dynasty in the late 16th century. The Emperors had an avid interest in horological and astronomical instruments, which allowed the missionaries to enter China.
By the late 18th century, Chinese patrons requested only the finest watches, featuring complicated movements such as repeating, music or automatons. To satisfy their desire for aesthetics, the cases had to be highly enamelled with motifs representing nature or classical scenes, set with pearls and precious stones. Many of these marvels were made for the Imperial Palace in Beijing.
The present watch and its attractive combination of a lavishly decorated case and a complicated movement featuring an "en passant" quarter repeating is perfect example for such a timepiece made by special order for a Chinese dignitary.
Although not signed, its style and the quality of the case are typical to the work of the renowned Jaquet-Droz. A comparable watch, especially also in regard to the movement construction, is illustrated in La Montre Chinois by Alfred Chappuis, p. 63. The black and white image of the movement shows a similarly decorated balance cock, also set within the backplate, as well as amongst others the bridges bearing Jaquet-Droz's signature, missing on the present watch.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1721 and died in Bienne in 1790. He was one of the most brilliant and innovative clockmakers of his era, specializing in musical and automaton watches and clocks, boxes, fans, singing birds and other ingenious playing-toys. His astonishing creations fascinated nobility, kings and emperors of the world, notably China. Pierre Jaquet-Droz travelled widely, notably in England, France and Spain. In Madrid he was condemned to death by the Inquisition for allegedly practicing black magic but was saved by the Bishop of Toledo. During the latter part of his life he took his adopted son, J.F. Leschot into business and the company continued to prosper until after his death.
Relaunched in the 1990s, the Jaquet Droz watch company is part of the Swatch Group of Switzerland since 2000.