Important Watches, Collector's Wristw...

Hotel Richemond, Geneva, Oct 13, 2001

LOT 778

Attributable to John Rich and Decombaz, circa 1805, casemaker's mark "JGR & Cie" (Jean Georges Reymond & Cie), made for the Chinese market.Magnificent and extremely rare, 18K gold and enamel, pearl-set musical center-seconds scent flask fitted with a watch, with carillon and exceptional automaton scene.

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Sold: CHF 1,488,500

C. Entirely painted on enamel, the front housing the watch movement, the back the musical automaton, the former entirely decorated with red, green and imperial blue translucent champlevé enamel over Barleycorn flinqué, aperture for the watch movement with half-pearl frame, above, an enameled medallion of a young lady in a half pearl frame within an applied gold flower and leaf wreath, below the dial, applied gold flower garlands and garlands made of half-pearls, the stopper with pearl-set base,opped by a gold acorn decorated with blue champlevé enamel, oval fluted base with eight lobed sectors above, each decorated with a red palm motif on an azure enamel ground. The automaton side with a double painted on enamel panel in the center, illustrating a biblical emblem represented by the greenness of the palm tree which symbolizes the deeds of the just that will grow and evolve like the palm tree in the desert, pearl-set frame, above, an enameled portrait of a lady, all set on translucentmperial blue enamel over Barleycorn flinqué, the sides pierced, enameled and engraved with a repeated foliate pattern. Below the panels to the right, a knob which, when pressed, opens the panels and animates the scene as the music plays. The scene, in painted enamel and multicolored gold, represents a lady playing the dulcimer with a pair of hammers and nodding her head in rhythm, a gentleman beating time to the music with his arm, and a lady listening to the music, who applauds when the concertis over. When she has stopped clapping the panels automatically close. D. White enamel, radial Roman numerals, outer minute/seconds and half-minute/ seconds divisions, outer fifteen minute/seconds Arabicmarkers. Very fine blued steel and gilt "olive-shaped" hands.M. 41,2 mm, gilt full plate, cylindrical pillars, cylinder escapement, plain three-arm brass balance with under-sprung blued steel balance spring, unusual horn-shaped cock with the top symmetrically pierced and engraved with a foliate pattern, ruby endstone.Musical mechanism: Gilt, skeletonized and partially engraved, pinned barrel carillon with five hammers and five bells, each hammer adjustable to regulate the strength of the blow, fusee and chain assuring the constant tempo of the music, fly regulator. The movement is fixed to the case with three suspension levers, to eliminate dampening of the music by the case. The automaton scene is animated by a complex mechanism, placed underneath it, comprising 25 levers, 12 gears and 8 springs, driven byhe musical train.The number "144" painted under the dial and stamped on the movement, the flask stopper stamped "JGR" (Jean-Georges Reymond).Dim. Height 21cm, base width 9,5 cm.

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Grading System
Case: 3 - 21
Movement: 3*


Overhaul recommended, at buyer's expense

Dial: 3 - 03


The scene represented on this watch was described with the kind assistance of Dr. Hans Boeckh.Gold and enamel objets de vertu fitted with a watch, and with music and automata scenes are extremely rare, especially such a large one as this. This piece can almost certainly be attributed toJohn Rich. There exists only one other similar scent bottle, in the famous Sandoz collection, with a very similar movement fortunately signed by John Rich. It is illustrated and described by Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz in Les Automates, Neuchatel, 1950, plate IV and p.191, as well as in other publications - after all, up to now, it was the only one known.John Richis an enigmatic figure. There are samples of his work that are so magnificent that one would think that there would be an abundance of material with information about him, yet this is not the case. Some of the most complicated automata, such as The Magician Box, or the Sandoz Scent Bottle, are signed by him. Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, the two foremost authorities on automata, described the Magician as "the most remarkable snuffbox known to the authors". It is signed "Made by John Rich", buonly on the barrel. Unless one is a watchmaker, one would not have known who was responsible for such a magnificent piece. Other boxes that we have examined or restored are signed "John Rich, London" or "John Rich, London & Geneve", while yet others, mechanically identical, are not signed at all. The same is true of his watches; if they are signed, it is very often in such a hidden place that again, only a watchmaker who has taken the piece apart would see them. Granted, the great automata makes, be it Leschot, Piguet and Meylan, or the Maillardets, did not as a rule visibly sign their pieces, but they were very well-known during their time and even after, and there is plenty of information about them. But not about John Rich. There is a tempting idea that Rich came from England and opened a shop in Geneva. Furthermore, since Rich's work shows some characteristics of the work of Jaquet-Droz, and in other details of the work by Leschot, we believe that they were made by a master craftsan (or craftsmen) associated with one of them. Rich's work can be dated no earlier than 1780 and no later than the first few years of the nineteenth century, spanning probably about 1780 to 1805 or slightly afterwards; a quarter of a century of magnificent mechanical achievements, without leaving any other information for posterity but the work itself.The magnificence of his work and the mystery surrounding him, fascinate us to the point that we decided to do research to try and solve this puzzle. Although it is still in progress, we found some leads which in the future will hopefully give us the entire picture of the man and his work. In terms of hard evidence, we were lucky enough to find two previously unknown documents, one dated 7 Germinal An 7 (28 March 1801) recording the establishment of a partnership between a certain Decombaz and Jon Rich in Geneva, and another dated 22 vendémiaire An 14 (14 October 1805) recording the dissolution of that partnership. It is very probable that this Decombaz was the famous one who was active from 1780 to after 1820. We know that Decombaz specialized in perpétuelle and Grande Sonnerie watches, and that he supplied Leschot (and probably Jaquet-Droz before him) and Breguet with finished movements.