Automaton watch of cooper's yard
Lot 117
A fine and rare enameled gold pearl set cylinder watch with vari colored gold quadruple automatonCirca 1800, pendant numbered 8323
Sold for US$ 76,900 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
A fine and rare enameled gold pearl set cylinder watch with vari colored gold quadruple automaton
Circa 1800, pendant numbered 8323
Gilt movement with separate bridges for time and automata, plain balance, coqueret, hinged gilt cuvette with winding instructions, the enamel dial painted to represent a rural landscape with a river and mountain in the background, the gold automata figures depicting workmen in a cooper's yard, one hammering, the other using a smoothing plane, to one side a fire chars the staves and a fountain flows, case back guilloche with blue enamel within bezel set with pearls. 56mm


  • The present watch is a tour de force that combines two forms of reciprocal motion in the figures hammering and wood working with two addition rotary motions producing the effects of a fire and a fountain.

    Another example is illustrated in Le Monde des Automates by Alfred Chapuis & Edouard Gélis Paris (1928), Vol. 2, p. 58, fig. 334

    The popularity of the automaton watch during the late 18th and early 19th century coincided with the transformation of the watch from mechanical jewel into precision timekeeper. Frivolous as they may seem, automata played an important role in this evolution.

    The 17th century had been, in the words of G. H. Baillie, the watch's "Age of Decoration." During the 18th century, the watch evolved both mechanically and decoratively. The pressing need for a reliable marine timekeeper brought about the innovations that made precision timekeeping possible. This form of precision was achieved at the expense of bulk. The substantial marine chronometers of Arnold and Earnshaw were not meant for personal use. However, during the last quarter of the century, Breguet, Lépine and their followers redesigned the pocket watch. The resulting slim, precise and often complex watches were the forerunners of the modern complicated pocket and wristwatches.

    18th century watches were, above all, expensive luxury goods whose outward appearance reflected their cost. Watch case making was the trade of the so called smallworkers, enamellers and goldsmiths who produced a variety of luxury objets de vertu. Among the most remarkable were the newly fashionable snuff boxes or tabatières. Tobacco, "snuffed" rather than smoked, made these gold boxes an important luxury accessory. With heightened demand, came innovation in the techniques of goldsmithing and enameling. Snuff boxes and, not incidentally, watch cases rose to the status of works of art.

    Miniature automata were the offspring from a union of the mechanical and decorative arts that defined these luxury trades. The watchmaker demanded ever more complex motion from the interaction of wheels and pinions. Combined with the ever more detailed enameling and gold work, the automaton watch was born. As the 19th century progressed, some of these mechanical techniques were put to use practical watch manufacture, others remain today only to amuse.
  1. Jonathan Snellenburg
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