With matching gold keys decorated with miniature polychrome enamel bouquets of flowers and butterflies, one reverse depicting a polychrome enamel lakeside landscape, and a fitted presentation box.
The present watches are listed on Louis Cottier's hand-written invoice of 18 January 1962. He dates the pair from 1820-30, charging the amount of Swiss Francs 610 for the servicing of the movements, requiring a total of 61 hours.
Objects destined for the export to China were, to the contrary what one may think, not made in the Chinese style but designed in the Louis XV, Louis XVI, Directoire and Empire styles as favoured by Chinese patrons. These timepieces, snuff boxes, fans and other objects were of distinctive design, distinguished by their unsurpassed quality and splendid decoration. Decorations and forms were inspired by nature and everyday items, such as sealing wax cases, fruits, animals, musical instruments, cherubs, classical paintings, mirrors, sewing necessaries, singing bird boxes, automatons, telescopes, form watches and many others, the spectacular cases ornamented with precious and semi-precious stones, pearls and enamel miniatures, genuine works of art created by the most famed artists of the time.
These objects were often made in pairs, the decoration identical but mirror-imaged so that they would face each other when displayed. According to tradition, this unusual habit had two reasons, one symbolic and one practical: the Chinese love for symmetry represented also by the lucky number "2", suggesting harmonious coexistence and, to some extent, reproduction, and the popular Chinese proverb stating "good things come in pairs". The practical aspect was the availability of a substitute - should one of the items need to be returned to Europe for repair for example, a process likely to take several months at the time, there was still its "twin" left to embellish ones' home.
Often used as offering from a European dignitary to a Chinese dignitary, absolutely no effort was spared in the manufacture of these unprecedented, veritable marvels made to please the Chinese mandarins.
The present pair of mirror-image duplex watches made by the celebrated manufacturer Vaucher of Fleurier is an extraordinarily fine and rare example of such marvel. Not only of highest quality and with perfectly mirror-imaged floral decoration, another most noteworthy particularity is the fact that the two watches are identically numbered: one features the stamped number 160 to cuvette and movement rim, the second one 160., the same number but followed by a dot.
The identical numbering of pairs of watches with the addition of a dot after the number of the second pieces of the pair is a characteristic of watches made in the Val-de-Travers, notably Vaucher (see The Mirror of Seduction - Prestigious pairs of "Chinese" Watches, Patek Philippe Museum, edition 2010, p. 128).
It his however exceedingly rare, even sensational, that such pair makes an appearance at auction, particularly also if preserved in such wonderful, original overall condition.
For an example of another pair of mirror-inverted watches by Vaucher, Fleurier, with similar steel duplex movement see op.cit., pp. 130 & 131.
Charles-Henri Vaucher (born c1793 Couvet, Neuchâtel , d. ?), played an signifcant role in the establishment of Chinese market watches made in Fleurier. Around 1820 he moved to London to open a branch which also supplied watches to the celebrated William Ilbery whose son or nephew did a watchmaker apprenticeship in Fleurier. William Ilbery was the fiancée of Vaucher's daughter Anna-Suzanne who tragically passed away in 1845. An avid businessman, Vaucher lived half the year in London and took care of a number of other commerce such as tools, iron and importation of textile. In 1834 he wrote as justification for a delay in the delivery of 18 pairs of watches ordered by Ilbery "From time immemorial we cannot remember having experienced business doing so well".
In 1838 Vaucher sent a number of watches, some enamelled, to Canton. This attracted the attention of Louis Bovet who mentioned them in a letter to his uncle Edouard (see La Montre Chinoise by Alfred Chapuis, p. 140).
A drawing showing the residence of Charles-Henri Vaucher in the centre of Fleurier, around 1830, is prominently illustrated in op.cit., p. 184.
The Vaucher watchmakers of Fleurier
The Vaucher families were decisive in the introduction and development of Fleurier's watch industry, specializing in the manufacture of pocketwatches. In 1750, 28 different Vaucher families were living in Fleurier and although sharing a common ancestor, the members did not consider themselves as closely related. The difference between the families was marked by adding a wedding name or location such as "Vaucher sur-les-Moulins", "Vaucher du Guilleri", "Vaucher-de-la-Croix" or "Vaucher-Ferrier".
Watches with lavishly decorated cases especially made for aristocratic customers and engraved with Vaucher signature are important witnesses for the work of these gifted watchmakers in Fleurier, Geneva, London and Paris, highlights in museums, private collections and at public auctions.