A bracket clock by Robert Philp was offered for sale these rooms 25 November 1998, lot 312. That example also had a three train movement and the case was decorated with chinoiserie motifs, whilst the unsigned dial also showed sweep seconds; all factors indicative of a clock made for the Chinese market. Another example, also signed Rob.t Philp on the backplate was sold 17 November 1994, lot 44. Interestingly, this movement was housed in a chinoiserie pagoda case, although in this instance the case itself was stamped HOBSON (or possibly HQBSQN) indicating English manufacture. It seems likely, therefore, that Philp had a strong connection with the China trade.
The history of clockmaking in China dates back to the 11th century, when Su Sung built a water-driven astronomical clock tower (AD 1090). However, mechanical horology was not known until the late 16th century when the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) arrived in the country.
Following the Jesuitical practice of attracting converts through education Ricci took with him a knowledge of horology and other skills, such as the classical technique of building 'memory palaces' in order to remember large amounts of information.
Settling west of Canton in 1583, Ricci and his companion Father Ruggieri set up a large clock which struck the hours. Such a thing was previously unheard of in the Empire and led to Ricci being introduced to mandarins and scholars. Eventually the two Jesuits petitioned to be introduced to the Emperor Wan Li (1572-1620) himself and set out to meet him with two clocks as gifts. They arrived in Peking in January 1601. Although they did not meet Wan Li, the Emperor was clearly pleased with gifts as they were given permission to establish a mission in Peking and it is also recorded that Wan Li took with him one of the clocks - a small table clock - with him wherever he travelled, whilst four eunuchs from the Mathematical College were appointed to learn everything about the clocks.
Western technology played a key part in the diplomatic relations between the West (initially represented by the Church) and the Emperors of China. This was the case with Ricci and was to remain so for the next two centuries. In 1618 the Jesuits established a library in Peking and in 1627 a reference work was written in Chinese entitled A Description and Illustration of the Mechanical Marvels of the West.
In the reign of the Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) an Imperial clock and watch factory was established within the Imperial palace and it is known that the Emperor himself studied mathematics, science and horology. One of his poems reads 'The skill originated in the West But, by learning, we can achieve the artifice: Wheels move and time turns round, Hands show the minutes as they change.' Other workshops were started in Guangzhou, Fujian, Nanjing, Suzhou and Yanzhou. In 1707 Kangxi employed Francois Louis Stadlin to run production of clocks in the palace factory; until his death in 1740 he taught more than 100 Chinese craftsmen how to make and repair clocks.
In the early years decorative parts were frequently imported or made by European workers in China. Later, European-trained Chinese workers began to make dials and case ornaments in the European style. European movements would be incorporated into Chinese cases and there is evidence of collaborative work between Chinese and European craftsmen. During the reign of the Emperor Quianlong (1736-1795) the palace's clockmaking factory prospered. This was closed by Emperor Jia Quing (1796-1820) and the workshops remained only for servicing the palace's clocks.
In 1757 the Emperor Quianlong had granted Guangzhou (or Canton) exclusive rights to control the import of foreign goods. Subsequently all European clocks were imported through the city. By 1791 the annual total of clocks, watches and automata was recorded as being in excess of 1000 items. Workshops in Guangzhou now started making clocks and from 1796 to 1820 the local industry developed apace, producing clocks which would ultimately be used as tributes to the Emperor. The Quing Emperors lived with their clocks chiming around them.
In 1987 clocks from the Palace Museum (Peking) were included in 'The Exhibition of Tributes from Guandong to the Quing Court'. The exhibition catalogue makes particular mention of the technical and artistic perfection achieved by 18th century clockmakers in Guangzhou. The technique of basse-taille enamel, imported from Europe, is found only at Guangzhou and the catalogue author Yang Boda notes that the 'glass imitations of diamond, ruby and sapphire found on clocks bear witness to the Guandong people's passions for gemstones' (op. cit). He also mentions that Guangzhou gilding was influenced by European techniques and has a lighter colour than traditional Chinese fire gilding.
See Allen H Weaver, Donald Day et al (op. cit).