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Sotheby's London to auction a masterpiece of clockmaking: A mesmerising Swan clock
The clock was made for a Chinese Emperor in the 18th Century. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 9th July 2014, Sotheby’s London will present a mesmerising Swan clock which was made in London, circa 1790 for a Chinese Emperor and remained in the Imperial Palace at Jehol (Rehe) until the early 20th century. Testament to the extraordinary craftsmanship and imagination behind the ornamental timepieces produced for the Chinese market, this George III musical automaton tower clock, set with extremely fine guilloche Geneva enamel panels, will be offered in the Treasures sale, along with other rare masterpieces of Decorative Arts drawn from the most prestigious collections in Europe. Coming from the collection of a Swiss private collector, this masterpiece will appear for the first time at auction, with an estimate of £1-1.5 million (US$1,690,000-2,540,000).

At first an object of curiosity, luxury timepieces with musical and automaton functions became highly desired among the Chinese dignitaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. English merchants and some clockmakers capitalised on this fascination by making evermore elaborate and fanciful clocks and many of the finest examples were acquired by the Qing Emperors.

This magnificent clock, originally one of a pair, was initially owned by the Chinese emperors. It subsequently entered the collection of one of the sisters of the ‘Son of Heaven’1. Around 1913-1924, it was acquired in China by the great Swiss watch collector Gustave Loup (1876–1961) who was born in in Tientsin (Tianjin) and was a fluent mandarin speaker. In 1938-39, Gustave Loup sold the clock to Jacques-David LeCoultre (1875-1948), Director General of the watch company LeCoultre & Cie. Following Jacques-David’s death, the clock passed to his son, Roger LeCoultre, who sold it to the father of the present owner in 1953.

Sotheby’s fifth successive sale of Treasures on 9th July 2014, will be led by a group of 17 masterworks from the celebrated collections of the Dukes of Northumberland. From their historic homes at Alnwick Castle and Syon House, these treasures span over two millennia of Art History and 500 years of collecting: from a sublime marble statue of Aphrodite carved in the early decades of the Roman Empire (est. £4-6 million) to remarkable pietre dure inlaid Italian cabinets. The 60-lot sale, estimated to realise in excess of £13 million, will also include an outstanding selection of rare furniture and work of arts, many of which come to the market for the first time. Combining exceptional provenance with extraordinary craftsmanship, these masterpieces constitute the very pinnacle of their collecting category.

1 Alfred Chapuis and Edouard Gelis, Le Monde des Automates (Paris: Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1928).

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