The inside of the case is stamped with the so-called “prestige” hallmarks, based on those used in Great Britain at the beginning of the century, in particular the crown and the letter “G” of Sheffield (South Yorkshire) for the year 1804, while this same letter was used in London in 1802.
An Extraordinary Discovery
This watch is the “sister” of a piece we sold in this same auction room in Hong Kong on April 28, 2019 (lot 607).
The enamelled scene of the two watches is mirrored; the image being reversed like the reflection of each other in a mirror. This is one of the specificities of the Genevan production for the Chinese market, which often passed through the London trade before being exported to the Middle Kingdom.
It is also worth noting that both of these timepieces are equipped with extraordinary movements built in solid gold. We are thus dealing here with one of the summits of the history of watchmaking at the beginning of the 19th century.
The watch we are offering today is accompanied by a box with two places, expressly made to keep the two pieces together. On the back of this box is an antique label with a handwritten inscription: “Numa Jacot / Fleurier”. This may be the name of a former owner of this pair of watches, now separated from each other but hopefully reunited one day. It is difficult to say whether this box dates from the time of the production of the watches or rather from the middle of the 19th century; probably the time of their return to Europe following the vicissitudes of the Celestial Empire in the 19th century.
Some enlightened amateurs will tell us that the numbers of the movements are not consecutive, that they cannot be pieces born together, like two twins. The studies we have been conducting on so-called “Chinese” watches for decades lead us to reply that if this seems illogical, it is not impossible. This is all the more true since we are dealing here with extremely rare movements whose production must have taken much longer than that of classic “Chinese” movements. Several pairs of watches preserved in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva demonstrate this because the numbers of their movements are not consecutive.
Note also that this pair of watches is the only one known to date with gold movements. In fact, we have listed only seven of these movements, four of which are signed by “Ilbery London”. Despite this signature, we know today that this production is entirely from Geneva.
For more information, we refer our readers to our 2010 exhibition catalogue: Tellier, Arnaud, & Didier, Mélanie, The Mirror of Seduction, Prestigious pairs of “Chinese” Watches, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2010.
Ilbery’s “solid red gold” movements
Only very few Ilberys watches with “solid red gold” movements are known to-date. This is the fourth movement known duly signed by Ilbery, London. The others are unsigned. All cased with painting on enamel attributable to Jean-Louis Richter, Geneva .
· Ilbery, London, unnumbered (the enamel showing characters).
Chapuis, Alfred (with coll. of Loup, Gustave), La montre chinoise. Relations de l’Horlogerie suisse avec la Chine, Neuchâtel, Editions Attinger Frères, 1919, pl. following p. 182 (ill. movement only; former Gustave Loup Collection).
· Ilbery, London, No. 6 082 (the enamel showing children playing with hoop).
Antiquorum, Hong Kong, auction, April 28, 2019, lot 607.
This watch is the counterpart to the present lot.
· Ilbery, London, No. 6 083 (the enamel showing a maritime landscape after Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1714-1789).
Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, Inv. S-113.
· Unsigned and unnumbered (the enamel showing an officer “home from the war”).
Antiquorum, Hong Kong, auction, June 17, 1994, lot 377.
· Unsigned and unnumbered (the enamel showing two riding gentlemen with a tree and further split-pearl inlaid ornaments on the foreground).
Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, October 12, 1996, lot 628.
· Unsigned, No. 1 140 (can be done by another workshop); the movement with engraved “solid gold” main-plate and blued steel bridges (the enamel showing a lady and her two daughters sitting behind a house).
Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, April 24-25, 2004, lot 264.
Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva, Inv. S-650.
Tellier, Arnaud, & Didier, Mélanie, Le Miroir de la séduction, Prestigieuses paires de montres « chinoises » – The Mirror of Seduction, Prestigious pairs of “Chinese” Watches, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2010, pp. 152, ill. 2.
William Ilbery (c.1760-1839)
Active in London from 1780 in Goswell Street, he moved to Duncan Terrace towards the end of the 18th century. Following James Cox in London and Jaquet Droz in Switzerland, he also specialised in the production of luxury watches for the Chinese Market. His early production was very much in the English style, featuring a full plate movement and an English type single wheel duplex escapement. However, for his highest quality watches, he incorporated a spring detent escapement. Later, the watch movements he produced were much inspired by the Lépine calibre with free-standing barrel, as were Jaquet Droz’s Swiss production signed in London and that of William Anthony, who worked in London.
The cases of his watches were sumptuously decorated by the best Genevan enamelers, such as Jean-Francois-Victor Dupont (1785-1863), who usually signed his work, and Jean-Louis Richter (1766-1841), who signed rarely. He organized the production in Switzerland, mainly in Fleurier (Val-de-Travers), of profusely engraved movements for the Asian market. He was followed in this by makers such as Bovet and Juvet who also worked in Fleurier. Ilbery can therefore be considered one of the most representative makers of ‘‘Chinese’’ watches. He seems to have maintained close contacts with the continental trade since a watch signed ‘‘Ilbery Paris’’ is known and Ilbery & Son are recorded in London and Fleurier, as well as in Canton. His son, William Ilbery (c.1780-c.1851), works with him.
Children playing with a hoop
The charming painted enamel scene decorating the present watch derives from English genre paintings by artists from the Royal Academy, such as Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), William Hamilton (1751-1801), William Redmore Bigg (1755-1828), George Morland (1763-1804), etc., who specialised in images of romanticised English rural life in the last quarter of the 18th century.
Their paintings were engraved by Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815), Thomas Burke (1749-1815), John Raphael Smith (1752-1812), Peltro William Tomkins (1760-1840), Henry Gillbank (fl. late-18th and early-19th c.), Thomas Gaugain (1756-c.1810), etc., and sold as prints which were published by John Boydell (1719-1804) and Josiah Boydell (1752-1817), engravers and print-sellers, James Daniell (fl.1771-1814), John Brydon (fl.1783-1806) and others.
These genre prints were enormously popular and were used as models for Genevan enamelers, including Jean-Louis Richter (1766-1841).
Ilbery’s “Consular”-type cases with scalloped edges
The case of our watch is made in the same spirit as that of the watch signed Ilbery, London, No. 5 995, whose movement (gilded brass, full plate, with fusee and chain) is fitted with a spring detent Peto cross escapement. The enamel painting, also attributable to Jean-Louis Richter, represents a scene with children “Feeding the Chicks”. This case is also of “Consular”-type with scalloped edges (see: Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, April 13, 2002, lot 61, sold for the amount of CHF 245 500.-). Ilbery seems to have used this type of case only for its more luxurious watches; those with “chronometer” movements or “solid red gold” movements.
Richter, Jean-Louis (1766-1841)
Learned his art in Geneva under David-Etienne Roux and Philippe-Samuel-Théodore Roux, becoming a most renowned enamel painter. His speciality was the painting of landscapes and particularly lake-side scenes and marine-scapes, often representing ships in a harbour or battles with fighting Men-of-War, but, on occasion, also portraits and hunting scenes. He did not often sign his work, but it is clearly recognised as being in his hand from the style and quality of the painting. He applied his art principally to watch cases and snuff-boxes and these were largely destined for the Chinese, Turkish, British and Italian markets. In 1828, he was in partnership with Aimé-Julien Troll (1781-1852) and one can find work signed Richter et Troll. Richter, like other great enamel painters of the time, often found inspiration for his work from paintings or engravings by the artists then in fashion particularly Claude Verne or the romanticised English and Irish rural life.