Geneva, May 12, 2024

LOT 388


CHF 220,000 - 420,000

HKD 1,910,000 - 3,640,000 / USD 244,000 - 466,000 / EUR 226,000 - 428,000

Sold: CHF 425,000

An extremely fine, rare and important varicoloured gold, enamel, pearl-set, manual wind enamel, pearl-set automaton pocket watch depicting ''Moses'' hitting the rock, with a quarter repeating “cherubs striking a bell” watch with special escapement. The so-called Moses Automaton is equipped with one of the most complex automata ever made for a timepiece of its size, this watch reenacts a biblical scene in which a mechanical Moses striking a rock with his staff, releasing a rush of water , simulated by two twisting glass rods. The thirsty figures around him reach out to catch the water. In the smaller oval frame, two cherubs strike the hours and quarters (text of the Patek Philippe Museum Katalog Volume 1 S.64 Ins. S-195 2022). An oval aperture below framed by graduated split pearls revealing two cherubs striking a bell in unison with the repeating automaton, and special escapement, manual wind 18K pink gold empire style three part case, profiled bezel, flat bow with pendant to enact the automaton in the oval frame, a slide in the band at two o'clock to activating repeating and automaton, when set to repeating mode the hours and quarters are struck in unison by the two putti, when set to automaton Moses is striking the rock.

Grading System
Case: 2

Very good

Movement: 2

Very good

Dial: 2-01

Very good

HANDS Original

Brand Charles Ducommun, Switzerland / Geneva

Model The prophet Moses

Year Circa 1820

Case No. 5399

Diameter 64 mm.

Caliber full plate gilt-finish movement with rare and unusual virgule escapement, on the backplate plain three-arm balance, two-scroll bridge, repeating on two gongs , visible repeating mechanism with highly finished and mirror polished steel levers, the dial plate releases the ultra-complex automaton mechanism with the same high grade mirror polished finish with the chain and the rack and the multi disc to guide the Moses automaton as well as the two rock crystal rods for the waterfall.

Signature case CH. DUCOMMUN DIT BOUDRIT; Case stamped with case maker's initials FTD and numbered 5399, cuvette signed, pendant numbered 99 and stamped with French import and assay marks.

Accessories custom made exotic wood box


The "Moses" automaton has always been considered one of the most important Swiss automaton watches. The complexity of the movement required to operate the automaton in a series of delayed actions is a triumph of the watchmaker's skills. Moses audibly strikes the rock twice with his staff, which opens to let the water (simulated by two twisted glass rods) flow. Moses raises his hand as the people of Israel gaze on the miracle with asto-nishment and admiration; two people below drink from goblets. Then Moses strikes the rock again, it closes and Moses lowers his hand.

The intricately designed automata in this current timepiece authentically replicate a captivating scene in three distinct sequences: Moses striking the rock twice with his staff, the rock unfolding to unveil a cascading waterfall, flanked by two kneeling Israelites sipping water from their goblets. A concealed compartment beneath this tableau reveals a second automaton featuring two cherubic figures striking a bell, seemingly synchronized with the repeating mechanism.

The scenes crafted in varicolored gold exhibit the highest level of quality, leaving a lasting impression with their opulence and finely carved details. Moreover, the realistically flowing water is simulated with precision using a rotating glass rod, adding an extra layer of artistry to the overall craftsmanship.

The exceptional quality of the painted enamel background portraying the Children of Israel beneath the Eye of God exemplifies the renowned artistry of enamel miniatures that originated from Geneva in the early 19th century.

According to research, the current timepiece stands as one of only five known "Moses" automaton watches that have managed to survive. Each of them exhibits slight variations in form, size, finish, and enameling. These horological masterpieces have found their place in some of the world's most esteemed collections, including the renowned :

1) Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva ( Antiquorum lot 499 October 1992),
2) The Maurice Sandoz Collection,
3) The Clock and Watch Museum Beyer in Zürich,
4) An Important Private Collection,
5) And the present watch originally sold at Sotheby's on May 1995 lot 123 stating that the present watch was allegedly given as a gift by Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III to field Marshal Lintorn Simmons, consigned by a distinguished collector.

Charles Ducommun dit Boudrit or Boudry

Charles Ducommun, also known as Boudrit or Boudry, was a highly skilled watchmaker originally from Neuchâtel. Prior to establishing himself in Geneva, he plied his craft in Madrid. In Geneva, he gained widespread recognition for his expertise in crafting intricate timepieces. Ducommun specialized in creating complicated watches that incorporated features such as the equation of time, calendars, jump hours, and more.

The "Moses" automaton of the Sandoz Collection is illustrated in Les Automates by Alfred Chapuis, Edmond Droz, p. 190, and in La Montre des origines au XIXe siècle by Claudia Cardinale, p. 202, pl. 168. Interestingly, the movement construction as well as the casemaker's initials of the latter and the present watch are identical. Another example of such "Moses" automaton is described and illustrated in Taschenuhren by Reinhard Meis, pp. 164 & 165. The“Moses“ automaton from the Patek Philippe Collection S-195 is illustrated in Patek Philippe Museum catalogue volume one p.64 Peter Friess 2022

Important Watches, Wristwatches and Clocks, Sotheby's, Geneva, 16 May 1995, lot 123, stating that the present watch was allegedly given as a gift by Empress Eugénie of France, wife of Napoleon III, to Field Marshal Lintorn Simmons GCB GCMG and was handed down through the latter's family.

Doña Maria Eugenia Ignada Augustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, 16th Countess of Teba and 15th Marquise of Ardales (5 May 1826 - 11 July 1920), known as Eugénie de Montijo, held the esteemed position of the last Empress consort of the French from 1853 to 1871 as the wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French.

Born to a Spanish noble who fought alongside the French during Napoleon I's Peninsular War in Spain, Eugénie relocated to Paris when Louis-Napoléon assumed the presidency of the Second Republic in December 1848. Their union in January 1853 marked the beginning of her role as the Empress of France.

Field Marshal Lintorn Simmons (1821-1903)

Field Marshal Lintorn Simmons and his wife shared a close personal connection with the exiled Emperor and Empress. Beyond their personal ties, Sir Lintorn Simmons served as the Governor of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in south-east London, overseeing the military education of the Prince Imperial. Following the Emperor's demise in 1873 and the subsequent loss of their son, the Prince Imperial, six years later, Sir Lintorn Simmons played a pivotal role in assisting the Empress in locating Farnborough Hill in Hampshire as her new residence, after she moved from Chislehurst in Kent.

Notably, Lady Simmons is documented as the first person to visit Empress Eugénie during her period of mourning upon learning of the Prince Imperial's tragic fate in the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa in 1879.