Attributed to Charles Ducommun. An extremely fine, very rare, large and important 18K pink gold, enamel and pearl-set openface quarter repeating watch with virgule escapement and varicoloured gold automaton depicting Moses striking the rock
Attributed to Charles Ducommun. An extremely fine, very rare, large and important 18K pink gold, enamel and pearl-set openface quarter repeating watch with virgule escapement and varicoloured gold automaton depicting Moses striking the rock
Attributed to Charles Ducommun. An extremely fine, very rare, large and important 18K pink gold, enamel and pearl-set openface quarter repeating watch with virgule escapement and varicoloured gold automaton depicting Moses striking the rock
2 More
On lots marked with an + in the catalogue, VAT wil… Read more CHARLES DUCOMMUNMoses Striking the Rock Automaton
ATTRIBUTED TO CHARLES DUCOMMUN. AN EXTREMELY FINE, VERY RARE, LARGE AND IMPORTANT 18K PINK GOLD, ENAMEL AND PEARL-SET OPENFACE QUARTER REPEATING WATCH WITH VIRGULE ESCAPEMENT AND VARICOLOURED GOLD AUTOMATON DEPICTING MOSES STRIKING THE ROCK

SWISS, ATTRIBUTED TO CHARLES DUCOMMUN, CASE STAMPED FTD AND NUMBERED 4536, CIRCA 1800

Details
ATTRIBUTED TO CHARLES DUCOMMUN. AN EXTREMELY FINE, VERY RARE, LARGE AND IMPORTANT 18K PINK GOLD, ENAMEL AND PEARL-SET OPENFACE QUARTER REPEATING WATCH WITH VIRGULE ESCAPEMENT AND VARICOLOURED GOLD AUTOMATON DEPICTING MOSES STRIKING THE ROCK

Swiss, attributed to Charles Ducommun, case stamped FTD and numbered 4536, circa 1800
Movement: Manual, full plate with fixed barrel, virgule escapement, skeletonized polished steel cock, highly polished steel repeating work set on the backplate, repeating on a bell activated by depressing the pendant, the automaton activated by depressing the same pendant, after switching a lever protruding from under the dial at 1 o’clock
Dial: Small eccentric white enamel, applied varicoloured gold automaton scene depicting the prophet Moses striking the rock with the staff in his right hand, after the second stroke the rock opens, revealing a waterfall with realistically flowing water, two kneeling Israelites drinking water from their chalices, a polychrome enamelled scene depicting the people of Israel beneath the Eye of God in the background, an oval aperture below framed by graduated split pearls revealing two putti flanking an altar to love striking a bell in unison with the repeating
Case: Three body, the bell mounted in an unusual way to the band, repeating and automaton activated by depressing the pendant, mode chosen by a slide in the band, when set to repeating the hours and quarters are struck in unison by the two putti, when set to automaton Moses strikes the rock, case punched with casemaker's initials ‘FTD’ and numbered 4536, punched with Neuchâtel chevron gold mark, 66 mm. diam.

Provenance
Tonkin Collection, New York.
Literature
'Patek Philippe Museum - The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Vol. IV', Peter Friess, pp. 22 & 23: Similar watch, case stamped FT and numbered 8044.
‘Les Automates’, A. Chapuis, Neuchâtel, 1949, p. 188, fig. 213, 214, similar watch in the Sandoz Collection.
‘La Montre des Origines au XIXe siècle’, Claudia Cardinale, p. 202, pl. 168.
’Taschenuhren’, Reinhard Meis, pp. 164 & 165, another example of a Moses automaton watch.

Special notice

On lots marked with an + in the catalogue, VAT will be charged at 7.7% on both the premium as well as the hammer price.

Brought to you by

kegel_sabine
Sabine Kegel

Check the condition report or get in touch for additional information about this

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

The ‘Moses’ automaton watches are perhaps the most famous and iconic among all the Swiss automaton timepieces made in the early years of the 19th century. These extremely rare and highly complex automatons somehow mesmerize the viewer, and once seen in action they linger always in one’s memory thereafter. The sheer difficulty of conceiving and realizing a mechanical movement capable of operating a series of delayed actions and combining it with a varicoloured gold and enamel scene of premier quality is a paragon of watchmaking, paying tribute to the outstanding skills of Swiss master watchmakers, casemakers, jewellers and enamellers of the period.

To the best of our knowledge, this spectacular specimen is the first to be offered at international auction in a decade. For the past almost 20 years it has been revered as part of one of the world’s great private watch collections, it is an exciting moment indeed that Christie’s is able to give today’s collectors the once in a generation chance to own one of these most elusive of automaton watches.

The choice of scene is derived from the book of Exodus (Greek for departure, expedition, procession), the second book of the Hebrew bible and the Old Testament. The Book of Exodus tells how Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness to Mount Sinai, where Yahweh reveals himself and offers them a Covenant: they are to keep his Torah (i.e. law, instruction), and in return he will be their God and give them the land of Canaan. In Exodus 17:1-17, the Israelites encamped at Rephidim, there was no water and the people quarrelled with Moses. (Exodus 17:1-2). God told Moses to strike the rock at Horeb to produce water, and they called the place Massah (trial) and Meribah (quarrel) (Exodus 17:5-7).

The extremely complex automata of realistically simulates the scene in three sequences: Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff, the rock opening to reveal a flowing waterfall, framed by two kneeling Israelites drinking the water from their goblets. An opening underneath the scene reveals a second automaton scene comprising two putti striking a bell apparently in unison with the repeating. The varicoloured gold appliques are of highest quality and impress by their richness and the finely chased details but also the realistically flowing water simulated by a revolving glass rod. The superb quality of the painted enamel background depicting the Children of Israel beneath the Eye of God brilliantly illustrates the celebrated art of enamel miniatures originating from Geneva in the early 19th century.

Only five "Moses" automaton watches are known to have survived, all are slightly differing in form, size, finish and enamelling. Each of these horological masterpieces is today a part of the world's most prestigious collections:

1 - The Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.
2 - The Sandoz Collection, Musée de l'Horlogerie du Locle, Château des Monts, Le Locle, Switzerland.
3 - The Beyer Clock and Watch Museum, Zürich.
4 - Christie’s Geneva, May 16, 2011, lot 71, by tradition given as a gift by Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III, to Field Marshal Lintorn Simmons GCB GCMG.
5 - The present watch, consigned by an exceptional collector.

The present ‘Moses’ automaton watch can firmly be attributed to the Neuchâtel maker Charles Ducommun when compared to two of the other known examples; the watch sold at Christie’s in 2011 was signed ‘Ch. Ducommun dit Boudrit’ and bears identical casemaker’s initials ‘FTD’ to the present watch; the specimen in the Sandoz Collection which is illustrated in Chapuis ‘Les Automates’ and in ‘La Montre des origines au XIXe siècle' by Claudia Cardinal, has very similar movement construction and also identical casemaker's initials to both other watches.

Charles Ducommun dit Boudrit or Boudry
Charles Ducommun, also called Boudrit or Boudry, was a master watchmaker from Neuchâtel. He worked in Madrid before settling in Geneva where he became particularly renowned for his complicated watches featuring equation of time, calendars, jump hours, automata and others.

More from Rare Watches

View All
View All