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    Sale 1348

    Important Pocket Watches and Wristwatches

    12 November 2007, Geneva

  • Lot 208

    Swiss. An extremely fine and rare 18K gold, enamel, black onyx and split pearl-set automaton in form of a mouse


    Price Realised  


    Swiss. An extremely fine and rare 18K gold, enamel, black onyx and split pearl-set automaton in form of a mouse
    Unsigned, attributed to the workshop of Henri Maillardet, Geneva, circa 1810
    With keywound gilt-finished movement, the realistically shaped, chased gold body entirely set with baroque half-pearls and painted in black enamel to simulate the mouse's fur, black onyx eyes, gold nostrils, translucent orange enamelled muzzle, engraved gold ears, belly and articulated legs, woven gold fabric tail, the belly with two wheels, the keyhole to the side, unsigned
    54 mm. overall length

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    The present automaton is part of an exceedingly rare series of less than 10 examples of such a mechanical mouse to appear in public to date. Other examples of these exquisite esthetical and technical marvels are owned by the world's most renowned museums and collections, notably the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, the Sandoz Collection (formerly Bernhard Frank Collection, Paris), the Sir Lionel David Salomon Collection and the Asprey Collection.

    When activated, the present little creature advances in an extremely lifelike manner with all four feet moving, the little head moving up and down as if it was nuzzling the ground. It suddenly stops, the head and the forefeet start moving simultaneously as if it was eating its pickings. It then performs twice a volte-face before continuing its way to the opposite direction from where it came from.

    The cycle then starts again but with the exception that the sense of rotation of the volte-face changes: if the mouse had turned to the left side it will now turn to the right.

    Small automata in the form of animals, singing bird boxes and watches incorporating moving figurines were particular popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries. These wonders of precision amused the public with their lifelike actions and musical sounds and were often used as toys by the wealthy. In addition to being spectacular showpieces, they also attracted the interest of Royalty and Nobility, notably Chinese emperors and dignitaries, and made impressive state gifts.
    Amongst the most prolific and gifted makers of such elaborate items were undoubtedly Jaquet Droz and Leschot, the first of their time to create singing bird pieces, as well as Henri Maillardet (1745 - c1815), the director of Jaquet Droz's London branch.

    The gifted watch and clock maker Henri Maillardet is particularly renowned for his fine automata, amongst them an automaton figure capable of drawing as well as writing verses in both French and English. Made around 1810, this remarkable automaton belongs since the late 1920s to the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia.
    Maillardet organized some of the most renowned exhibitions of animated pieces, including in the Great Room, Spring Gardens and in London's Gothic Hall, Haymarket, where he showed amongst others his "Siberian Mouse", the "Ethiopian Caterpillar" and the "Egyptian Lizard".

    Scarcely appearing in public, especially in such wonderful condition such as the present lot, these little marvels are highly sought after collector's items in today's market.

    For a description and illustration of automata animals including a mouse see "Les Automates" by Alfred Chapuis & Edmond Droz, pp. 248 & 249.

    Pre-Lot Text