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Lot 1299 - 15 May 2018

Spring Fine Auction

A George III ormolu, Geneva enamel and paste set automaton timepiece
For the Chinese market, attributed to William Carpenter, circa 1800 with later movements

The case surmounted by a twin-handled urn issuing rotating tri-form gilt flower heads with stiff-leaf below, the paste-set body with blue, green, red and clear stones, and with six hexagonal-shaped rotating 'florets', raised on a quadruped bacchic pedestal, supported on splayed cloven feet between wreaths, the rectangular case with four vase-shaped finials, above a paste set pediment, the sides each with a polychrome enamel blue-ground panel designed with a foliate spray, and housing the later musical movement, No. 33702, with a 41-toothed steel comb, tripped by a small lever on the right hand side, which when activated turns the automata on the vase, the front inset with a later white enamel dial and later Swiss gilt lever movement, with hinged back door, on a stepped plinth, with paste set border, on foliate cast ball feet
29.3 cm. high. Illustrated

William Carpenter produced many complex automata clocks for the Chinese market. He was a member of the Clockmakers' Company from 1770-1817, gaining his Freedom in 1781. He worked at various addresses in Soho, London; 45 Frith Street 1778-1784; 15 Frith Street 1790-95; 10 St Martin's Court, St Martin's Lane 1798-1812 and in 1817, at the age of about 77 years old, retired to 5 Haberdashers Walk, Hoxton. He worked with James Cox on the production of his complex automata clocks; was a frequent customer of the clockmakers Thwaites and Reed, with 50 'jobs' noted in their account books. A number of these were for clockwork drive motors, rather than clocks, which were presumably for automata work.
The attribution of this clock to Carpenter can be confidently made, as four other clocks are known with the same case design decorated with Geneva enamel plaques, two of which are signed for William Carpenter.[1]
1] Sold by Arne Bruun Rasmussen, International Auctions, Copenhagen, 29-30 April, 1980 is signed C. Penter 4794, which is an abbreviation of Carpenter. This clock is similar in all external respects to this lot, including a very similar surmounting vase.
2] Sotheby's, London, Fine Clocks and Watches, 10 May 1954, lot 68. This clock again has the same case design, is surmounted by a variant vase design, topped with a running figure; is signed William Carpenter London, the dial, with Roman numerals and centre seconds hand is signed Payne & Co., 163 New Bond Street London (31.7cm high)
3] With Jeremy Ltd., London. Again the same case design, but surmounted by a vase of a different design; the white enamel dial with separate subsidiaries for the hours, minutes and seconds; no details are available of the movement, musical or automaton features (30cm high).
4] Sotheby's, London Good Clocks Watches, Barometers and Horological Books, 20 July 1989, lot 507. This clock again has the same body design, but is surmounted by a cupola decorated with paste stones with finial; the two train fusée chain movement, signed William Carpenter, London, with verge escapement and chiming on eight bells (26cm high).
It was the Emperor Kangxi (d. 1722) who developed a strong interest in watches and clocks, building a large collection. However, his grandson, Qianlong, whose reign spanned most of the 18th Century (1735-1795), with a huge budget, collected throughout his 60-year reign. This resulted in a substantial expansion for English merchants and makers. An observation by the missionary Valentine Chalier in 1736 ' As for clocks, the Imperial palace is stuffed with them…..there must be more than 4000 from the best masters of Paris and London…'. As Dr. White notes in his extensive book English Clocks for the Eastern Markets, Qianlong was simply the greatest collector of Western clockwork there has ever been.

[1] Ian White, English Clocks for the Eastern Markets (Ticehurst, UK: Antiquarian Horological Society, 2012), pp 233, 236-238.

We are grateful to Dr. Ian White for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Condition report

The musical and automata are working.  The case has been kept under a glass dome so has a good clean unrestored surface but would benefit from a clean.


Please note as per the catalogue description, the clock does not have its original movement.  This has been replaced by a Swiss watch movement for the timekeeping with an associated dial.  The musical movement is of the type typically found in a Swiss mid 19th century small music box, see additional image.


There is one paste stone loose from the foot of the vase.  


The enamel panels which form the surround to the front have some small chips.  The two side panels are in good condition.  The back panel has a small amount of damage to the lower right screw area.  Non of the panels are restored.


The case has been drilled with a second winding hole to the rear.  The screw on winder is now directly set on the winding arbour, where as previously it may have had ‘Geneva’ stopwork, which if so, would then line up with the first winding hole which is central.

Estimate £7,000 - £10,000
Sold For £34,000