Tuesday, 18 September 2012

CARTIER citrine and ebonite mystery clock

Clocks that do more than just tell time have fascinated connoisseurs for centuries. Singing bird boxes, automatons, and Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin’s pendules mystérieuses captured the imagination of an eager clientele in the nineteenth century. It would take another century before clocks again achieved a similar level of inventiveness. In the second decade of the twentieth century, Louis Cartier collaborated with Maurice Coüet to create clocks that seemed to defy natural laws: the hands moved without any visible operating mechanism. Called mystery clocks, these new inventions mesmerized viewers. Although there was no scientific mystery behind how these clocks worked, there was an artistic magic in the ingenuity and craftsmanship that created the optical illusion. The clock hands were set into transparent rotating discs with toothed metal rims propelled by gears in the clock case. These intricately made clocks took from three to twelve months to complete by as many as six or seven skilled craftsmen. They are considered the apogee of Cartier’s work during the 1920s and 1930s.

The dials on most Cartier mystery clocks are rock crystal; only a few examples incorporate citrine. Citrine has the same see-though quality as rock crystal, but on this clock its striking coloration counterbalances the surrounding turquoise chapter ring and ebonite frame. Rose-cut diamond florets soften the linearity of the design. The clock is in the shape of a Japanese screen and the yellowish tones of the citrine recall the gold-leaf decoration on many such screens.

This clock was formerly in the collection of Anna Thomson Dodge, wife of Horace E. Dodge, co-founder of the Dodge Brothers Company. Her mansion Rose Terrace in Grosse Point, Michigan, housed a collection of European art and antiques, many of which were given to the Detroit Museum of Arts. Other pieces can be seen at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. One of the first single-axle mystery clocks produced by Cartier, this clock is a testament to the time in which it was made and to the connoisseurship of the person who owned it. It is truly one of the masterpieces of Cartier’s Art Deco period. It will be presented by Siegelson at the Paris Biennale. 

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