During the late 19th and early 20th centuries several Swiss clock makers including Alfred Hof and Gübelin produced exceptional quality enamelled mystery clocks. The pieces' similarities seem to suggest that the same firm made the cases, but whether this was either of those mentioned or a third is unclear.
This charming desk clock was almost certainly a special commission for a client with a fondness of St Moritz and the surrounding Engadine mountains. The enamel scene includes various views of the nearby peaks as well as Lake St Moritz where a group of people are playing ice hockey. The meticulously carved ivory skier stands on a mirror possibly representing Lake St Moritz whereas the grey marble base may well symbolise the hardy mountain rocks.
Alfred Hof was born Alfred Hermann Hofzumahaus (1884-1938). Originally from St Gallen he came to Geneva in 1904 as a student. By 1912 he had changed his family name to 'Hof'. He married Louisa Charlotte Miège and they have three children. Alfred Hof was a watchmaker, initially representing The C.H. Meylan Watch Co. of Brassus with a branch opening in Geneva in 1920. The company produced and sold watches and clocks as well as their parts. His colleagues included Henri Piguet, Jean-Théodore Piguet and Léon Audemars. Alfred Hof died on the 2 January 1938 in Geneva.
German-born Emile Otto Bischoff (1898-1957) came to Geneva for the first time in June 1926 in order to marry Martha Wilhelmine Charlotte Richter (1900-1991), who lived with her German parents in Eaux-Vives, Geneva. The couple got married in September and lived with Martha's parents, who were financially supporting the two. While Martha organised her parents' household, Emile, wounded during the war, received a monthly pension of 32 Marks. This amount was to increase now that he was married. Nevertheless, he established himself as an enamellist, probably inspired by Martha, who studied the art of enamelling at the Ecole des Arts Industriels de Genève. After employments in Italy and Germany, she worked as an enamellist for Patek Philippe. They had one son.
For similar clocks see Derek Roberts, Mystery, Novelty and Fantasy Clocks, p. 86 as well as Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata: A Historical and Technological Study, trans. Alec Reid (London 1958), pp. 116-118
Christie's would like to thank Anouk Dunant Gonzenbach from the Archives d'Etat de Genève for providing valuable information about the artists