David Roentgen, maître in 1780.
This sophisticated obelisk clock, demonstrating the successful collaboration of the celebrated ébéniste David Roentgen with the clock-maker Peter Kinzing, is a superb example of Roentgen's exquisite craftsmanship of ingenious technical complexity.
The Roentgen workshop was founded in 1742 in Herrnhaag, Wetterau, by David's father Abraham (1711-1793) who had been apprentice in The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and London. His earliest known pieces are of pure English design and workmanship and Abraham even referred to himself as Englischer Kabinettmacher in an advertisement for the Frankfurter Messe of 1754 (D. Fabian, Abraham und David Roentgen, Das noch aufgefundene Gesamtwerk ihrer Möbel- und Uhrenkunst in Verbindung mit der Uhrmacherfamilie Kinzing in Neuwied, Bad Neustadt/Saale, 1996, p. 11). His reputation grew rapidly, and soon after his move to neighbouring Neuwied in 1750, he supplied furniture to a number of illustrious clients, including his protector, Fürst Alexander zu Wied (1738-1791) and the Archbishop and Elector of Trier, Johann Philipp von Walderdorff (1701-1768) (J.M. Greber, Abraham und David Roentgen, Möbel für Europa, Starnberg, 1980, vol. I, pp. 48-49). His son David (1743-1807) joined the workshop as a Schreinergeselle in 1757, and submitted the invoice for his first commission in 1766 and officially took control of the workshop in 1772. Under his leadership it developed into a truly pan-European enterprise (D. Fabian, op. cit., 1996, pp. 13-14). As part of this campaign, Roentgen travelled to Paris in 1774 to present a desk to Marie-Antoinette (now in the Marjorie Merriweather Post Collection, Hillwood Museum). He also spent time in Paris studying the new neo-classical style and by the late 1770s his furniture shows him to have adopted this new style entirely. His earlier efforts having yielded tremendous business success, Roentgen was soon supplying the French, Prussian and Russian courts as well as many of the most discriminating aristocrats throughout Europe.
The long-case clocks made by Roentgen were originally inspired by Thomas Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinetmakers Director, 3rd ed., 1762 (Greber, op. cit., vol. I, p. 137). However, the English cabinet-maker's influence was more pronounced in those clocks Roentgen produced in the early and mid-1770s whereas those produced from 1780 until the end of the decade, including the present model, were almost exclusively decorated with a more severe neo-classical restraint. The sophisticated avant garde design of this clock sets it aside from the earlier models. The obelisk-shaped corpus with its trapezium outlines following the swing of the pendulum, is decorated only with discreet ormolu beading, accentuating the panelling of the case, as well as the geometric ormolu mask around the dial and the surmounting triangular pediment and urn finials. Closely related clocks include one in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Cologne, originally from the collections of Prince Georg von Sachsen-Meiningen-Römhild and another with brass fluted central panel rather than the glazed door, conserved in the Palace of Pavlovsk as evidence of Roentgen's extensive deliveries to the Russian court, are illustrated in D. Fabian, op. cit., 1996, pp. 210-16, cat.421-32.
A clock of identical obelisk shape by Roentgen and Kinzing was sold anonymously, Sotheby's New York, 1 November 1997, lot 264 ($310,500).
Peter IV Kinzing (1745-1816), from a dynasty of clockmakers in Neuwied stretching from 1681-1861, married the daughter of the clockmaker Herman Achenbach and partly collaborated with his father-in-law until he took over his workshop in 1772. From 1755, the independent Kinzing workshop was already producing clocks together with the Roentgens (Fabian, op. cit., 1992, p. 44). Almost all of David Roentgen's important clocks were made in collaboration with Kinzing, who also supplied Roentgen with other sophisticated mechanical works, including table pianos. Incidentally, the same year Marie-Antoinette purchased yet another clock from Roentgen and Kinzing for presentation to the Academy of Science (now Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers) in 1785, Roentgen was named Ébéniste mécanicien du Roi et de la Reine and Kinzing was named Horloger de la Reine.
The difference between solar and mean time is known as the equation of time. The invention of the pendulum in 1658 brought a far greater degree of accuracy to timekeeping and it became very apparent to the new owners of these clocks that the solar day (time taken from a sun dial) does not accord with the mean day. This variation is due in part to the earth's eccentric path around the sun and, in part, to the inclination of the earth's axis to the equator. These factors sometimes act in concert and sometimes in opposition which means that whilst mean time is a constant factor, solar time can vary throughout the year by as much as 16 minutes fast or slow of mean time. Clocks showing solar time had been invented by 1700 but they were very simple affairs compared to the Parisian Ferdinand Berthoud's (maître horloger in 1754) invention of a highly complicated movement incorporating an entirely new system showing the equation of time, which required elaborate and complex differential gearing. The result of which meant he was able to display two minute hands revolving in concert on the same dial, with the mean time hand displaying 'regular' time whilst the solar hand constantly varies in front or behind the mean hand throughout the year.