Robert Robin (1741-1799) was one of the finest clockmakers of 18th Century France and highly regarded for both the excellence of his work and its ingenuity. J-D. Augarde notes: 'Il appartint au cercle restreint des grands horlogers de la fin du XVIIIe siècle qui apporterent une contribution particuliere au perfectionnement des instruments de la mesure du temps' (Les Ouvriers du Temps, Geneva, 1996, p. 391). He was received as a master clockmaker in November 1767 by decree of the Council exempting him from the apprenticeship qualification, probably because he had already displayed exceptional talent. The year this clock is dated (1778) he was appointed Horloger du Duc de Chartres and that same year he was honoured by the Académie des Sciences, who approved two of his inventions. One of the articles he presented to the Academy was on his remontoire: 'Mémoire contenant des réflexions sur le proprieté du Remontoire, un éschappement naturel avec une courte description d'une pendule dans lacquelle ces effets sont éxecuté'. Other appointments included Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi in 1783 and Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire de la Reine in 1786. In 1794 he was made clockmaker to the Republic and in 1796 to the Directoire.
Joseph Coteau (1740-1812) was arguably the finest dial enameller of his day. W. Edey wrote of him: '[He] has remained unequalled... although the best of his successors were able to reach his level of virtuosity, they never achieved his perfect proportions nor his lush sweetness, which was an attribute of the ancien régime alone' (French Clocks in North American Collections, The Frick Collection, 1982, p. 22). Born in Geneva he became maître-peintre-émailleur at the Académie de Saint-Luc in Geneva in 1766. By 1772 he was installed in Rue Poupée, Paris. A skilled miniaturist, he also discovered a new method for fixing raised gold on porcelain and worked closely with the Sèvres factory in developing their 'jewelled' porcelain. For Coteau see also lot 84.
THE MANTEL REGULATOR
The design of this type of mantel regulator is said to have been inaugurated by Robin in 1777, with its glazed case intended to show his sophisticated remontoire system. The term regulateur de cheminée had not yet been invented and at the time such clocks were described as pendule quarrée en ordre d'architecture à panneaux de glace (square clock of architectural order with glass panels).
Marie-Antoinette is known to have liked such clocks. Four appear on the list of forty-five clocks she had put into safekeeping during the Revolution. An inventory of the chateau of Saint-Cloud undertaken by the Revolutionary government in 1794 describes two clocks in Pièce des Nobles of Marie-Antoinette's apartment that had not been there at the time of the 1789 inventory. One of these, a Coteau zodiac-dialled mantel regulator by Robin dating from 1792, was probably the example exhibited from a private collection at the Frick in New York in 1982 (see Edey p. 88) and bears many stylistic features in common with the present clock. Although owned by the Queen it is unlikely she ever saw it as she was not allowed to visit Saint-Cloud after 1791. Edey attributes the case of that clock to Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1751-1843) but the refinements of the present clock case make an attribution to the great ciseleur-doreur Pierre Gouthière (1732-c.1814) more likely. Another example of closely related design and dated from the mainspring to 1784 is now in the Frick Collection (see The Art of the Timekeeper, Masterpieces from the Winthrop Edey Bequest, Frick Collection, 2001, p. 18), the case also attributed to Thomire. Both those clocks are signed 'Robin h[orloge]r du Roy', in keeping with their slightly later date. Other signatures found on Robin clocks include the simple 'Robin' (Augarde p. 394 and P. Hughes, French Eighteenth-Century Clocks and Barometers in the Wallace Collection', London, 1994, p. 92); 'Robin Horloger de Monsieur', the 'Monsieur' refering to the King's brother, the Comte D'Artois (D. Roberts, op. cit., p. 30); 'Robin à Paris', as with the present clock (also French Clocks, Vol. II, Paris, 1981, p. 163 on a Coteau zodiac dial; on a regulateur de parquet sold in the Vitale collection, Christie's London, 26 November 1996, lot 274; and on a mantel clock sold, Christie's London, 19 December 2004, lot 85); whilst later, when royal associations became dangerous, he signed 'Robin aux Galeries du Louvre' (see Augarde p. 392).
Tardy illustrates a mantel regulator, probably by Robin, with enamels by Coteau of related design and with an enamel bob (p. 136), although the latter is a very unusual feature. He also illustrates (p. 139) a very similar Robin mantel regulator to the present clock, although with plain pendulum (and different hands). Roberts (p. 31, fig. 26-4) illustrates an ormolu mantel regulator with similarly-decorated Coteau zodiac dial (floral garlands interlacing monochrome-painted medallions bordered in gilt) signed 'Robin H.ger du Roy'.
EQUATION OF TIME
Prior to the standardization of time in the 19th and early 20th Century, a development required by increased speed of travel, each community used its own local time, determined by a sundial. As the observed motion of the sun is not constant through the seasons, apparent solar time (sundial time) and mean solar time (clock time) only agree four times a year and can differ by up to sixteen minutes. The difference between the two is the equation of time. Equation clocks such as this example by Robin automatically adjust the relationship between the two minute hands throughout the year. The gilt-metal hands show apparent solar time (hours and minutes) and the blued steel hands show mean solar time (minutes and seconds).
The remontoire system on the clock frequently rewinds the weights, which therefore give a constant force to the escapement.