Art Deco clocks are sought after and treasured by collectors, specially the ones signed by Cartier which normally achieve up to ten times their price estimate when they come up for auctions. The one above is one of the rarest examples that I have come across in years. The clock box is set in yellow gold with Nephrite and a push down agate button, yet it is the dial what makes it so exceptional, it is inset with Kingfisher feathers and rose cut diamonds. It was made by Cartier around 1927.
It will be auctioned by Christie's Hong Kong on May 29th and the catalogue reference to the use of Kingfisher feathers is too good to miss!
"For thousands of years many cultures have used bird feathers not only for their beauty as decorative accessories, but to denote status, wealth and royalty. The use of kingfisher feathers as inlay for decorative objects such as jewellery, headdresses, panels and screens can be dated back as early as the Chinese Han dynasty, in 206BC, when craftsmen experimented with alternative media to gemstones.
The poet, Ch'en Tzu-ang, describes how kingfisher feather ornaments were desired by elegant women:
"The halcyon kingfisher nests in the South Sea realm
Cock and hen in groves of jewelled trees
How could they know that the thoughts of lovely women
Covet them as highly as gold?"
Translation by Paul W. Kroll
The process of preparing and inlaying the feathers requires much time and precision. Sections of kingfisher feather are carefully cut to specific shapes and sized to be set in a specific arrangement by hand with a light adhesive so as not to affect the delicate appearance and iridescence of the feathers. This technique originated in Canton, where it was called 'tian tsui', which translates as 'dotting with kingfishers'. The effect has a similar appearance to cloisonn enameling.
A collection of Chinese artifacts, including kingfisher feather jewellery, was presented at the London Exhibition of Chinese Art in 1936 at Burlington House, inspiring much interest in Europe. The production of such fascinating artifacts came to an end as a high art form after the Chinese Revolution in 1940, and as a result have since become highly valuable due to their rarity.
In an extract from Mrs Marco Polo Remembers by Mary Parker Dunning, she records her travel experiences of 1908 and describes the process of inlaying the feathers:
"I bought a kingfisher pin the wonder worker, a patient, spectacled Chinaman, takes a single hair from out of the bird's wing, draws it through a bit of glue and lays it on the silver foundation. Then another hair, which he lays beside the first. Then another and another and another, endlessly and headachingly and eye-tiringly, until he has laid the filaments from the feathers of the bird's wings so closely together that they look like a piece of enamel."
[Mary Parker Dunning, 1968]"