The present watch and its combination of a lavishly decorated case and a high quality movement is the perfect example for a timepiece made for a Chinese dignitary.
The superb enamel decoration illustrates the celebrated art of enamel miniatures originating from Geneva in the 19th century. It was unusual during that period that an artist would sign his work, the enamel on the present watch however can be attributed to Jean-François-Victor Dupont (1785-1863), a celebrated enamel painter working in Geneva. He was famous for his portraits of eminent personalities (King George IV, Henry VI among others), as well as decoration of watches and boxes for the Chinese market. He worked frequently with Ilbery, Piguet & Meylan, Rochat Frères and others. Examples of his work can be found in the world's most renowned museums, notably Geneva's Patek Philippe Museum.
William Ilbery or Ilbury (c1760-1851) was a celebrated watchmaker from London, renowned for his exceptional timepieces made for the Chinese market. In 1836 Ilbery settled in Fleurier, left to Macao in 1839 and then to Canton. There he was known to have become friendly with Bovet and they met regularly, even though they were rivals not only in business but also in their private lives. Both were courting Anna Vaucher, daughter of Charles-Henry Vaucher of Fleurier, one of Bovet's competitors in Canton. Ilbery was in fact engaged to Anna Vaucher and even though he was constantly on travels Anna remained faithful to him and resisted the proposals of Bovet who hoped one day to win her over. Sadly no marriage ever took place since Anna became ill and died in 1845.
Ilbery's early watches were very much in the English style, fitted with full plate movements and duplex escapements. His later movements showed the influence of the free standing barrels of the Lepine calibre as used in Jaquet Droz's Swiss production signed in London and that of William Anthony, who worked in London. William Anthony (1764 - 1844), another celebrated watchmaker of his day, was sixteen years senior to Ilbery. He influenced greatly the latter's work and contributed substantially to the development of Chinese watches, however it is still William Ilbery who is known as the "father" of the Chinese watches. The cases Ilbery used for his timepieces were always of highest quality, lavishly decorated by the best Genevan enamellists of the time, notably Jean-François-Victor Dupont.
For biographical and historical information on William Ilbery, the inventor of the Chinese calibre, see La Montre Chinoise by Alfred Chapuis, pp. 180 - 184, including also the illustration of a similarly decorated gold cuvette (p. 182, pl. 147).