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18th Century French Ormolu Clocks

For millennia, mankind has been measuring time in a variety of ways, some of the earliest examples have been the use of sundials or water clocks.  Then the use of candle clocks and hourglasses came into a wider use. The ancient Sumerians around 2,000 B.C. developed our modern day system of using a base-60 time system, that is a 60 minute and 60 second increment clock. The word “clock” comes from the French word “cloche” meaning bell, which came into use around the 14th century, around the time when clocks were becoming more wide spread.

We have for offer in our April 21st auction an exceptional array of French 18th century ormolu mantle clocks. One of the more exotic examples is lot 8, the Louis XV elephant clock. Elephants largely disappeared from Europe after the Roman Empire. They were considered rare and expensive animals, and were exchanged as presents between European rulers, who exhibited them as luxury pets beginning with Charlemagne in late 8th century. France in the 18th century emerged as a century of decadence, and the elephant clock played a leading role.

Animal formed clocks were as rare as the animals they depicted, another fine example is lot 86, a Louis XVI lion clock, not only are the eyes inlaid with rubies, but the drum dial is encrusted with faux diamonds. Both examples are finely executed in bronze and ormolu with the lion highlighted in “blued metal”.

King Louis XVI was fond of spending his days tinkering with clocks and locking mechanisms instead of ruling his country. The knowledge of his affinity for clocks elevated the clock industry to higher levels of quality both in the interior works and the outer ormolu shells. Both lot 83 and 34 are fine examples of the use of neoclassical cases executed in high quality chased ormolu with large enamel dials. The strict regulations of the guild system in France ensured the high quality of producing exceptional works not only for the king, but for his court, and wealthy merchants. Both of these clock cases show the high level of workmanship in the neoclassical taste. Craftsman have been using the mercury gilt-bronze technique since the 3rd century B.C. in China, but never has it been executed in such a rich, opulent and skillful manner as the French in the 18th century.

Time & Location

Fine European Furniture, Decorations and Fine Art on Thursday, April 21 at 11am

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