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Chinese Enamel Pieces Lead Sotheby’s Watch Sale

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By William Stolerman

A selection of historic enamel timepieces originally made for the Chinese and Turkish markets are leading Sotheby’s upcoming watch sale in Geneva.

Comprising 244 lots estimated in excess of CHF 5.5 million, the sale brings together an impressive range of timepieces charting the evolution of watchmaking from the 1620s to the present day.

Trade relationships between Swiss watchmakers and China began in the Court of Constantinople in the late 16th century and whilst luxury timepieces were first seen as objects of curiosity, by the time of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1796) they had become highly prized among China’s elite.

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Top of the pile is a rare gold, enamel, jewel and pearl-set automaton caterpillar (below), probably made by Henri Maillardet, circa 1800 (est. CHF 350,000- 450,000).

Made in 1805, this automaton remained of unknown origin until it was restored to working order in 1928 when it promptly wrote the words “written by the automaton of Maillardet”.  

Automatons were especially appreciated in the East where they were used to animate a wide range of objects including clocks and watches.

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Elsewhere you’ll find a rare gold, enamel, diamond and pearl-set musical lorgnette watch probably made by Piguet and Meylan, and a pair of gold, enamel and hard stone centre seconds watches with split pearls attributed to William Ilbery.

Geoffroy Ader, European Head of Watches at Sotheby’s, said: “Recent sales have witnessed a strong and ever-increasing demand for antique pieces of particular historic and decorative interest.”

“Among these are very rare enamel timepieces and automatons made for the Chinese and Turkish markets, especially sought after by buyers from the Middle East and Asia.”

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The auction will be held on November 14 at the Hôtel Beau-Rivage and also includes some contemporary pieces such as a Patek Philippe ref. 5020 (above).


Written by kevin

October 21, 2010 at 1:55 am

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