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Watchmaking in Geneva: Treasures of gold and enamel at the Musée d'art et d'histoire
A pocket watch movement with a single wheel, 1797, realized by Parisinan master-watchmaker Pierre-Francois Gautrin is displayed during the exhibition 'Watchmaking in Geneva, the magic of craftsmanship, treasures of Gold and enamel' at the Musee Rath in Geneva, Switzerland, 14 December 2011. The exhibition runs until 29 April 2012. EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI.

GENEVA.- Sharing the richness and beauty of the watchmaking, enamelware and jewellery collections of the Musée d'art et d'histoire is the objective of the exhibition Watchmaking in Geneva. The Magic of Craftsmanship, Treasures of Gold and Enamel. On view until April 29th 2012, this exhibition puts on display more than a thousand objects and masterpieces from the 16th century to today. It also presents some pieces that can be admired by the public for the first time.

To enter the world of the watchmaking, enamelware and jewellery collections of the Musée d'art et d'histoire is to step into a realm of luxury where treasures of perfection are waiting to be discovered: watches, clocks and jewels in addition to enamels and miniatures. Monumental pieces and minuscule specimens of only a few millimetres are revealed as genuine masterpieces where beauty blends with high precision and technical prowess, compelling the viewer’s admiration in the face of such knowhow.

As the Geneva public collections are so intimately linked to Geneva’s industrial and artistic activities, the exhibition also underlines the relationship between these works and the artistic craft trades. It evokes the role of the workshops as birthplaces of creation and highlights the modern relevance of a watchmaking tradition in Geneva that has been uninterrupted for over five centuries. For this reason, a number of prestigious private firms will be occasionally present at the exhibition with their own historic collections. Demonstrations in the fields of watchmaking, enamelware and jewellery will also be provided through the cultural mediation of the Musées d’art et d’histoire.

Watchmaking in Geneva. The Magic of Craftsmanship, Treasures of Gold and Enamel can therefore be termed an exhibition-event for several reasons. It puts on display an extremely rich and diversified heritage that has not been exhibited in public since the 2002 closure of the Museum of Watchmaking and Enamelware, but that will find the place it deserves in the Musée d'art et d'histoire’s future renovation and enlargement project. Finally, it showcases some never-seen-before pieces acquired over the last ten years.

Three examples of rare pieces
The Cage with Singing Birds is one of the exceptional pieces that will be unveiled to the public. Acquired by the museum in 2003, it was made in Geneva around 1814, probably in the Frères Rochat workshop. This precious object, covered in gold and enamel and set with diamonds, features a “petite sonnerie” striking mechanism where the birds sing on the hour or upon request. Only two automaton birdcages of this kind are known to exist today.

Another rare object owned by the museum is an astronomical table clock. Made in Germany around 1583, this clock possesses an extremely complex mechanism. It indicates the hour and minute, the relative lengths of the day and night, the date, the day of the week and the month of the year, the equation of time, the age, phase and eclipses of the moon, and, for a given city, the zodiac and night sky for the year. It was offered to Christine of France, Duchess of Savoy, in 1645.

Finally, a watch made by the watchmaker Zacharie Fonnereau will also be displayed. Circumventing the ban on crosses decreed by the goldsmiths’ guild in 1566, he created, like other Genevan masterwatchmakers, this cross-shaped timepiece. Dating from 1620 and worn around the neck at the time, the watch is more a piece of jewellery than a precision instrument. The valuable case is carved from rock crystal.

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January 1, 2012

Watchmaking in Geneva: Treasures of gold and enamel at the Musée d'art et d'histoire

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