Over the centuries, clockmaking has evolved not just in precision and technical capability but also as an art form. With imagination of design and decoration, Pendules a sujet, clocks with movements that rested on the backs of animals from the 18th century and the pendules mysterieuses of the Blois clockmaker Robert Houdin of the 19th century contributed to clocks as precious works of art and not just functional timepieces.
The first quarter of the twentieth century produced some of the most spectacular clocks ever seen with the world's leading jewelry houses taking over from the traditional clockmaker. These were times of fantasy with no expense spared, precious metals and jewels being used in new and imaginative designs.
It is fitting that two of the clocks in this group are by Cartier, as it was this firm that arguably led the way in this artform. The Mystery Clock was an ingenious invention by Maurice Couet, a twenty-eight year old clock maker working for Cartier at the time. "Floating Hands" set in crystal is an amusing optical illusion with each hand connected to a separate crystal disc disguised in the frame of the clock. This is a spectacular example of Cartier's classic "Model A", that was first produced in 1913. The first model was sold to J P Morgan JR and Cartier's archives show that there was a halt in production between 1913 and 1919. This can only be attributed to the outbreak of World War I. It is not known how many mystery clocks were produced but it is thought that no more than ninety of any design were made. With the majority in private collections it is not often that such fine examples come to the market.
Family tradition tells us that this clock was purchased from Cartier by William Andrews Clark (1839-1927), remembered most for buying a Senate seat and leaving his name to the county in Nevada. In that county he owned a ranch called Las Vegas that because of his railroad interest soon becoming a thriving small town. He amassed one of America's largest fortunes and built one of America's most extraordinary mansions here in New York that was demolished shortly after his death. His art collection eventually went to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC.
Amongst Cartier's most spectacular achievements in the Art Deco period was their series of Egyptian clocks. The Egyptian revival in the earlier part of the twentieth century had been fuelled by the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 and jewelry houses from all over the world were eagerly creating bracelets, earrings and necklaces in this genre. However, it was Cartier that focused on objets d'art and created clocks and vanity cases that had no rival. Featured in this sale is a "Pendule de voyage Egytienne", a giant carriage clock with quarter striking and alarm. Overlaid with mother-of-pearl and carved coral motifs, it is one in a series of four created in the middle of the 1920's. Made for Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendl), it is a zenith of style and sophistication.
Not to be eclipsed by their European cousins, American jewelry houses were also at the forefront of this exciting era and the New York firm Black Starr and Frost made a small number of pieces that were able to rival the ateliers of Paris. Black, Starr and Frost is the oldest jewelry house in America and although originally founded in Savannah, Georgia in 1801, they moved their premises to New York a few years later to enjoy the growth of this young and exciting city. The mystery clock offered here is an exquisite example of the Art Deco style combined with this highly intricate technique.