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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

CARTIER Mystery Clocks… unveiled

What's Houdini got to do with timepieces? Plenty as it turns out. Not Harry Houdini himself, but the original artist and watch inventor who he took his stage name from. That man is Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the man who designed the mystery clock. Houdin was a self-taught magician and engineer who was fascinated by the idea of the disappearing act and sleight of hand tricks. His work involved the use of transparent glass displays and hidden mechanisms that connected to the display of the clocks he built, and won renown for its inventiveness. Many of his clocks involved hiding the gear train within the clock base, which was then connected via a rod or serrated glass or crystal dial to the display, creating the illusion that the clock ran without any additional wheels. During the 19th and early 20th century, mystery clocks were highly popular among the elite, who found it a fascinating design. 

Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin Mystery Clocks c.1850

Originally inspired by the work Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the first Mystery Clocks were designed for (Louis) Cartier in 1913 by Maurice Couet and known as the “Model A.” They featured rotating rock crystal discs to which hands were mounted to indicate the hours and minutes. The rock crystal allows the viewer to see right through the clock, which seemingly has no perceptible means for the hands to move. The mechanism by which the crystal discs turn is invisibly powered by gears hidden in the frame of the clock, while the base of the clock conceals the main body of its mechanical movement. For decades the “Pendule Mystérieuses” or “Mystery Clocks” have captured the imagination. The cost and complexity of the mystery clocks has meant that, over the years, few examples have been made and they achieve astronomical prices every time they come out in auction. 

Cartier Mystery Clock set with Citrine in Black Jade and enamel
Cartier Mystery Clock set in Quartz