The first "Chinese Market" watches were made by Jesuit missionaries during the Ming Dynasty in the late 16th century. The Emperors had an avid interest in horological and astronomical instruments, which allowed the missionaries to enter China.
By the late 18th century, Chinese patrons requested only the finest watches, featuring complicated movements such as repeating, music or automatons. To satisfy their desire for aesthetics, the cases had to be highly enamelled with motifs representing nature or classical scenes, set with pearls and precious stones. Many of these marvels were made for the Imperial Palace in Beijing.
The present watch and its attractive combination of a lavishly decorated case, a watch and a musical movement is perfect example for such a timepiece made by special order for a Chinese dignitary.
Although not signed, its style and the quality of the case are typical to the work of the celebrated firm Jaquet-Droz.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1721 and died in Bienne in 1790. He was one of the most brilliant and innovative clockmakers of his era, specializing in musical and automaton watches and clocks, boxes, fans, singing birds and other ingenious playing-toys. His astonishing creations fascinated nobility, kings and emperors of the world, notably China. Pierre Jaquet-Droz travelled widely, notably in England, France and Spain. In Madrid he was condemned to death by the Inquisition for allegedly practicing black magic but was saved by the Bishop of Toledo. During the latter part of his life he took his adopted son, J.F. Leschot into business and the company continued to prosper until after his death.
Relaunched in the 1990s, the Jaquet Droz watch company is part of the Swatch Group of Switzerland since 2000.
The later added backplate of the watch is stamped with the Chinese signature "HANTALI", meaning "the one who gives receives", the famous hallmark owned by Vrard for decades.
Vrard & Co. were amongst the most eminent watchmakers specialized in watches for the Chinese Market, founded in 1860 under the name Laidrich & Vrard. As of 1862, the firm started its operations in Tsientsin, followed by a branch in Shanghai which also represented Bovet. Timepieces made by Vrard ranged from simple to highly complicated pieces, the cases often made and enamelled by renowned Genevan makers, notably Louis Rosselet, Marc Dufaux, Louis Millenet, Louis Pauthex, or P.A. Champod.
One of Vrard's most important creations was made for the Empress Cixi, resulting in the title "by appointment to the imperial family of China"
For an illustration of Vrard's Chinese Trademark "Hantali" and history of the firm see La Montre Chinoise by Alfred Chapuis, pp. 159-160.