Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET
19 More
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET
22 More
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET

SWISS, THE ENAMEL ATTRIBUTED TO JEAN-LOUIS RICHTER, GENEVA, CIRCA 1805

Details
ATTRIBUTED TO PIGUET & CAPT. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT AND MAGNIFICENT 18K GOLD AND ENAMEL, PEARL-SET MUSICAL AMPHORA FORM WATCH WITH CONCEALED AUTOMATON, MADE FOR THE CHINESE MARKET
SWISS, THE ENAMEL ATTRIBUTED TO JEAN-LOUIS RICHTER, GENEVA, CIRCA 1805
Movement: manual, oval full plate, fixed barrel, cylinder escapement, steel escapement wheel, silver four-arm balance with diamond accents. Music and automaton with five-wheel train, small two-wing fly governor, pinned barrel with six stacked tuned teeth, automaton animated by two cams driven by the musical train
Dial: white enamel, Breguet numerals within an oval blue enamelled plate with aperture for the visible polished steel diamond-set balance, white enamel subsidiary seconds above
Case: Painted enamel panel below the watch decorated with a scene of Helen and Paris, opening to reveal the varicoloured gold automaton scene of a bow swing with a cherub at one end and a seated winged figure playing the lyre at the other, a winged cherub playing the kettle drums below, finely painted background with a wooded landscape, the body of the case richly set with graduated pearls and inlaid with polychrome champlevé enamel, sides with foliate engraving, set with pearls and polychrome champlevé enamel, the handles set with graduated pearls in a leaf design, the painted enamel panel over the watch movement decorated with a vase of flowers in a gold engraved border and a further translucent green enamel border with lion’s head decoration, a scene of a putto riding a swan above, 97 cm. high, 57 mm. wide
With: A 19th century gold-tooled red morocco fitted case and double-ended gilt metal key
Remarks: Exceptional "Montre de Fantaisie", fresh to the market & unknown until today

Brought to you by

Alexandre Bigler
Alexandre Bigler Vice President, Head of Watches, Asia Pacific

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

Condition report

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

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Originally from a pair of amphoras made in Geneva around 1805 for the Chinese market, this sumptuous gold and enamel ‘montre de fantasie’ had, remarkably, remained completely unknown. In fact, it had been in the ownership of a private Japanese family in whose possession it has been for many decades. The highly important rediscovery of this precious mechanical treasure brings fresh to the open market a lost masterpiece of early 19th century Geneva art and craftsmanship. Christie’s is both honoured and thrilled to present at auction this extraordinarily beautiful and immensely rare object made for the Chinese market which our research shows is the missing half of an original mirror-image pair. Excitingly, its twin now resides in the world-famous Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

It had long been a tradition to send objects to China in pairs, According to Alfred Chapuis, ‘Le Miroir de la Séduction’, Musée Patek Philippe, Geneva, 2010, p. 28, "the Chinese love symmetry; all gifts to a superior, and above all the Emperor, were given in pairs." It seems certain that many pairs of Chinese Market watches and boxes were split up as a result of looting by the British and French during the raid on the Summer palace in Peking in 1860.

Attributable stylistically to Piguet and Capt, the most important Geneva makers of complicated small automata and watches in the early 19th century, the making of the present musical automaton amphora watch was a feat that required quite exceptional skill to achieve. The combination of a stunningly decorated gold case and a highly complicated movement is a perfect illustration of the ingenious and precious automata timepieces made for the Chinese Imperial court.

The discovery of the present amphora adds a fourth piece to the number of known examples – two mirror image pairs. These four amphoras are among the most important creations of the Geneva goldsmiths and mechanicians in the opening years of the 19th century.

The four known amphoras forming two mirror-image pairs are as follows:
Sold Antiquorum Geneva, The Sandberg Watch Collection, 31 March-1 April 2001, lot 47 (905,000 Swiss Francs). Now in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.
The pair to the above, Sold Christie’s Hong Kong, 22 May 2021, lot 2505. (12,250,000 Hong Kong Dollars). Now in an important private collection.
Sold Antiquorum Geneva, 22 April 1995, lot 501 (556,250 Swiss Francs). Now in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.
The present amphora, a new discovery and the pair to the above.

The concealed automaton scene of a ‘bow swing’ is amongst the rarest and most attractive of the genre and particularly unusual in having a scene inspired by classical mythology rather than a bucolic subject. A pocket watch featuring a very similar automaton scene to the present watch is in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, (Inv. S-122). Another with a variation of the same scene is in the Masis Collection, (Inv. 1184).

Very often, watches and precious objects made in Geneva at the beginning of the 19th century are not signed. This was most likely due to customs restrictions and the continental blockade imposed by the British to counteract continental trade under Napoleon’s reign, Geneva having been annexed to France since 1798.

Although signatures or trademarks are sometimes found inside the movements or cases, the enamels often remain anonymous. It is only by comparison with the rare signed pieces that have survived that we can today attribute the achievements of the Geneva enamel painters to a particular workshop. The enamel paintings of the the two Amphoras (the present example and its pair in the Patek Philippe Museum) thought to depict Helen and Paris, have historically been attributed to Jean-Louis Richter (1766-1841), the enamel paintings of the other pair, decorated with scenes of children, have now been re-attributed by scholars to Jean-François-Adam Hess (c.1740-1814).

Piguet & Capt (active between 1802 and 1810-1811)
Henry-Daniel Capt (1773-1841) and Isaac-Daniel Piguet (1775-1841), two young watchmakers from Le Chenit, a small village in the Vallée de Joux (Canton of Vaud), came to Geneva to work at the beginning of the 19th century. They joined forces on 16 Ventôse of the year X of the Republic (March 7, 1802), under the name of Piguet & Capt, and specialised in the production of prestige timepieces (watches, snuffboxes, bonbonnières, jewellery, etc.), incorporating horological complications (quarter-repeater), and scenes with automata, with or without music. They were among the first in Geneva to use the musical mechanism with pinned cylinder (or planted pins) and tuned vibrating blades.

This mechanism was invented in 1796 by Antoine Favre-Salomon (1734-1824), a Genevan clockmaker and mechanician, who presented it to the Société des Arts (created in 1776) for use by all. This new mechanism plays music by making steel blades of different lengths vibrate by means of a cylinder fitted with “goupilles piquées” (pinned pins) or “picots plantés” (planted pimples) according to the expressions of the time. This cylinder is either driven by a gear and motor barrel, or is directly the barrel containing the mainspring. The blades, tuned to the tones of the musical scale, are arranged like a keyboard – hence the early term “musique à peigne” (comb music). In its early days, this original mechanism was incorporated into small precious objects; only later was it put into boxes made of wood or other materials, more or less richly decorated, in an autonomous way.

The partnership between Capt and Piguet was dissolved at the end of 1810 or the very beginning of 1811. While Henry-Daniel Capt continued to work alone for a few years, Isaac-Daniel Piguet joined Philippe-Samuel Meylan (1772-1845) in a new partnership.

Henry-Daniel Capt, Isaac-Daniel Piguet and Philippe-Samuel Meylan were the main Genevan manufacturers of miniature automata and music pieces in the first third of the 19th century. Although most of their works are unsigned, they sometimes engraved their names or stamped their trademarks on their movements.

Jean-Louis Richter (1766-1841)
Jean-Louis Richter was born in Geneva in 1766 and learned his art from the celebrated David-Etienne and Philippe-Samuel-Théodore Roux.

Throughout Richter's lifetime he was known for is characteristic heads which were upon closer inspection of interesting proportion and doll like features. Contrary to what is usually thought, painted enamel subjects are seldom through ones own imagination, and Richter himself was inspired by, may it in some cases loosely, known paintings and prints of the period. There are some differences between Richter's interpretations and the originals but this can be mostly attributed to the constricted techniques of enamelling. These changes though are most harmonious and it is sometimes suggested that this was the will of Richter himself.

Although his signature can be found on some of his works, the majority of his paintings remained unsigned but are easily recognisable as being his from their quality and style.

Richter's landscapes and figures are among the most accomplished works of the period and can be admired in Geneva's Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Emaillerie and in the prestigious Patek Philippe Museum.

We are grateful to Eric Tortella for his assistance and study in researching this watch.

Provenance:
Private collection in Japan
The mirror-image pair to the present watch was sold: Antiquorum Geneva, 22 April, 1995, lot 501. Now in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva.

Literature:
A watch with very similar ‘bow swing’ automaton scene is illustrated in: ‘The Majesty of the Chinese Market Watch – The Life and Collection of Gustave Loup of Tientsin and Geneva, Watch Dealer and Collector ( 1876-1961), Ian White, 2019, p. 197.

A watch with a variation of the present ‘bow swing’ automaton scene is described and illustrated in: A Voyage Through Time – The Masis Collection of Horological Masterpieces, Richard Chadwick, 2020, pp. 228-231.

Camerer Cuss, Terence, ‘The Sandberg Watch Collection’, Geneva, Antiquorum Editions, 1998, no. 309, pp. 402-403.

Friess, Peter, ‘Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch’, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2015, vol. III, pp. 500-501.

More from Timeless Marvels

View All
View All