Geneva, May 15, 2023

LOT 457

Attributable to Piguet & Capt or Piguet & Meylan
Outstanding double-bladed pocket-knife with watch and music, made for the Chinese market; 18K yellow gold, enamel and pearls

CHF 250,000 - 350,000

EUR 256,000 - 356,000 / USD 282,000 - 394,000 / HKD 2,210,000 - 3,100,000

Sold: CHF 250,000

Outstanding double-bladed pocket-knife with watch and music, made for the Chinese market; 18K yellow gold, enamel and pearls.

18K yellow gold, enamel and pearls, key-winding, fantasy watch in the shape of a pocket-knife, with two folding blades, incorporating a music, made for the Chinese market.

White colour enamel dial, with suspended “Breguet” numerals; the centre hammered and the outside with a radiating motif engraved in taille-douce (fine cut); blued steel hands.

Yellow gold tapered mount, the edges with decoration engraved in taille-douce (fine cut), with parts in sky blue champlevé enamel with floral decorations and urns set with half-pearls; the back panel is decorated with a polychrome enamel plaque on a pink background with fruit and birds; the front panel has a sliding lower part to reveal the watch and its winding square, as well as the winding square of the music mechanism.

The knife has two folding blades, the first one made of steel is used to cut fruits or flowers, the second one made of gold is used to peel fruits so as not to oxidize them.

Oblong movement, more or less rectangular, full plates, gilded brass, going barrel, cylinder escapement (steel wheel), three-arm monometallic balance (gilded brass or gold), blued steel flat hairspring, polished steel index-regulator; in continuity, pin-barrel (“piqué”) musical mechanism with gearing and set of four vibrating blades superimposed, playing one melody, released at will by a catch located on the case.

Grading System
Case: 2

Very good

Movement: 2

Very good

Dial: 2-01

Very good

HANDS Original

Brand Attributable to Piguet & Capt or Piguet & Meylan, Geneva

Model made for the Chinese market

Year circa 1805-1815

Material 18K yellow gold, enamel, pearls

Caliber cylinder escapement


Only a small group of Geneva-made gold and enamel pocket-knives with folding blades from the early 19th century is known. Some are built with or without a watch and additional complications, such as music and / or automata. The simplest type contains only a musical train wound by a slide; only one example is known with an automaton scene.

The example proposed here is remarkably compact for its complexity, incorporating a watch and a musical mechanism. This object is the second known of its kind. It is paired with the pocket-knife in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva (Inv. S-316).

Western trade with China gradually opened up after the arrival of the Jesuits in the 16th century. Father Mateo Ricci was allowed to enter the Forbidden City in Beijing with chiming clocks as a gift for the Emperor in 1600. The Portuguese commercial port of Macao (founded in 1514) and the warehouses (hongs) later established by European merchant companies in Hong Kong provided a strong platform for trade with the Chinese market through the city of Guangzhou. Throughout these periods, the Chinese emperors and their courts were fascinated by European mechanical innovations, while the Europeans were fascinated by Chinese works of art.

At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, in addition to watches and snuff-boxes sold in pairs, luxury miniature novelties, such as rings, pendants, pocket-knives with folding blades, etc., were very attractive to this wealthy clientele. These objects are often equipped with musical mechanisms and / or automata.

In 1796, Antoine Favre-Salomon (1734-1824) of Geneva invented a new device for mechanical music on tuned vibrating blades (or tuned tooth comb) driven by a pinned cylinder (pin-barrel); this invention made it possible to manufacture these miniature objects.

Piguet & Capt (active between 1802 and 1811)

Specialised in the production of complicated watches, musical and / or automaton scenes incorporated into watches, snuff-boxes or objects. Among the first in Geneva to use the musical mechanism with pinned cylinder and tuned tooth comb. From Ventôse 16, An X (March 7, 1802), to 1811, Henry-Daniel Capt (1773-1841) formed a partnership with Isaac-Daniel Piguet (1775-1841), who was from the same village – Le Chenit – as he in the Vallée de Joux. Their signature was Piguet & Capt. In 1811, when Piguet broke off to join Philippe-Samuel Meylan (1772-1845) in a new partnership, Henry-Daniel Capt continued to work on his own until, in 1830, he went into partnership with Aubert and Son, Place Bel-Air. Their signature was Aubert & Capt. They were among the first Genevan makers to produce watches with chronograph. In 1844, the workshop was at 108, rue Neuve in Geneva. It was then managed by Capt’s son, Henry Capt Jr. After a short time it moved to 85, rue de la Fusterie, and in 1851, to 177, rue du Rhône. In 1880, the firm was bought by Gallopin and its name became H. Capt Horloger, Maison Gallopin Successeurs, a trademark registered on November 1, 1880, under the No. 44. This signature was only used for watches retailed in their own store, the watches supplied to other retailers being merely signed Henry Capt Henry-Daniel Capt, along with Isaac-Daniel Piguet and Philippe-Samuel Meylan, was the foremost maker of small musical automata in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of his work is not signed, although he sometimes scratched his name on his movements.


Piguet & Meylan (active between 1811 and 1828)

Both originally from the village of Le Chenit in the Vallée de Joux, Isaac-Daniel Piguet (1775-1841) and Philippe-Samuel Meylan (1772-1845) came to Geneva as young men, and formed a partnership, which lasted from 1811 to 1828. The company specialised in elaborate and beautifully decorated musical watches, including skeleton and automaton watches, and mechanical animals. The firm was established rue Jean Jacques Rousseau 45 in Geneva. After their association came to an end, both Piguet and Meylan continued for some time to work with their sons.


Isaac-Daniel Piguet (1775-1841)

Born in 1775 in Le Chenit in the Vallée de Joux. Isaac-Daniel Piguet was the son of Pierre-Moïse Piguet and Elisabeth Nicole. He married Jeanne-Françoise Capt around 1795, and around 1800 settled in Geneva with his family. Isaac-Daniel Piguet went into business with Henry-Daniel Capt (1773-1841), his brother-in-law, on February 10, 1802. The association between Piguet & Meylan came to an end in 1828. Piguet and his son David-Auguste Piguet established a new company, Piguet Père & Fils, located rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau 69. Isaac-Daniel Piguet died in Geneva, on January 20, 1841, at the age of 66.


Philippe-Samuel Meylan (1772-1845)

Born on February 15, 1772, in Bas-du-Chenit in the Vallée de Joux. At 20 years of age, Philippe-Samuel Meylan came to Geneva where he was a master worker for the Godemar brothers. He met another watchmaker from his native region, Isaac-Daniel Piguet (1775-1841), and they entered into partnership, founding the Piguet & Meylan firm, which was to last from 1811 to 1828. It specialized in minute cadratures, musical watches, skeleton and automaton watches. Meylan is also credited with the invention of the Bagnolet calibre. After Piguet & Meylan was dissolved, he continued to work with his sons François and Auguste. Philippe-Samuel Meylan died in Geneva in 1845.


Similar watch-object

Pocket-knife with two blades, with a watch and music (the painted enamel is slightly different)
  • Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2015, vol. IV, p. 395.
  • Moore, Simon, Pocket Fruit Knives, A Synopsis of Their History from the United Kingdom, France, Northern Europe and USA, Editions Antique Knives Ltd., 2008, p. 113, pl. 5.25.

Other similar watch-objects (with or without a watch, with or without music, with or without automata)

Pocket-knife with two blades, with a watch
  • Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2015, vol. IV, p. 396.

Pocket-knife with two blades, with music
  • White, Ian, The Majesty of the Chinese Market Watch, London, The Antique Horological Society, 2018

This object forms a pair with the next one.

Pocket-knife with two blades, with music
  • Former collection of Gustave Loup (1876-1961).
  • Jerusalem, L. A. Mayer Memorial Institute for Islamic Art (Inv. BO 19-70).
  • Chapuis Alfred (with coll. of Loup, Gustave), La montre chinoise. Relations de l’Horlogerie suisse avec la Chine, Neuchâtel, Editions Attinger Frères, 1919, p. 64, fig. 42 a.
  • Daniels, George, & Markarian, Ohannes, Watches & Clocks in the Sir David Salomons Collection, including scientific instruments, boxes and automata, Tel Aviv – London, Sotheby Publications, Jerusalem, L. A. Mayer Memorial Institute for Islamic Art, 1980, p. 282, ill. 168.
  • The Art of Time, The Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks, Jerusalem, L. A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, 2009, p. 63 (now lacking musical movement).

Pocket-knife with only one blade, with a watch, music and a magnifying glass into its handle
  • Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva (Inv. S-469)
  • Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2015, vol. IV, p. 397.