Liao Pin ed., Clocks and Watches of the Qing Dynasty, From the Collection in the Forbidden City, Beijing, 2002
Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata, A Historical and Technological Study, London, 1958
Derek Roberts, Mystery, Novelty and Fantasy Clocks, Atglen, 1999
Alfred Chapuis, La Montre Chinoise, Neuchatel, 1919
A number of Chinese clocks modelled with flowering jardinieres may be seen in the Palace Museum, Beijing. In it simplest form a cloisonné enamel vase is set with a clock and issues enamel flowers with opening leaves (see Liao Pin, op. cit., pp.44-45). That example was made in the clockmaking workshops of the Forbidden City. More elaborate tiered examples with typical Guangzhou cases of ormolu embellished with basse-taille enamels comparable to the present clock may also be seen (op. cit., pp.55 and 72). English clockmakers also made use of the elaborate decorative opportunities afforded by the 'flowerpot' design and the Palace Museum includes examples retailed by both James Cox and Timothy Williamson (pp.91 & 96). Another Chinese jardiniere-form clock may be seen in the present sale (lot 1509).
Potted landscape contained within basins or jardinieres appeared to be very popular with the Qing court and a number of these were sent from the Guangdong workshops. Cf. five examples of decorative 'potted plants' were included in the exhibition, Tributes from Guangdong to the Qing Court, Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 1987, and illustrated by Yang Boda in the Catalogue, no. 58, as a tree with flowering plum blossoms in a rectangular jardiniere, ordered in the 13th year of Qianlong (1748); no. 59, featuring a peach tree; no. 60, finger citrus growing from a flower pot; and no. 61, a prunus tree beside a red berries.
The addition of automaton singing birds on a clock of this type is unusual and shows the influence of the tabatières and bird cage clocks of late 18th Century Switzerland. Although the art of mechanically reproducing birdsong predates the Christian era the technique of making naturalistically moving and singing birds was perfected by the brothers Jaquet-Droz and Jean-Fréderic Leschot, who set up business together at La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1764 (see Chapuis & Droz, pp.193-195, Roberts pp.191-196). Such novelties were particularly well received in China (see Chapuis, pp.26-27) and many items with birds of every kind were sent to China by the Jaquet-Droz and their partners and successors, Leschot of Geneva and Henri Maillardet of London (see Chapuis & Droz, p.211). According to records of the Swiss clockmakers Robert & Courvoisier they produced some forty birdcage clocks between 1784 and 1789. Jaquet-Droz first started supplying goods to James Cox in London in 1783 (see Roberts, p.197) and in 1791 this reference appears to the sale of a singing bird clock to China: 'Cox and Beale owe for goods despatched to them on the vessel L'Argonaute to be sold on behalf of Jaquet-Droz and Leschot-- A pair of clocks with griffins made of marble and unpolished gilded bronze with striking mechanism, dead seconds, a carillon and a bird in spangles perching on the top singing its own song and a tune.' (Chapuis & Droz, p.215). There is a notably fine birdcage clock in the Palace Museum which has the distinctively 'Chinese market' addition of an automaton catherine-wheel cresting and which also has an automaton water feature (Liao Pin, pp.88-89; Chapuis & Droz, p.216). Other examples of Swiss singing birds in cages are illustrated in Roberts (pp.186, 192 & 198).