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Rare jeweled Chinese tribute clock to star at Bonhams
The clock, gilt-mounted and set with jewels, is estimated at $80,000-120,000. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Fine Furniture, Decorative Arts & Clocks sale on 4 March at Bonhams New York features an extraordinary 18th century tortoise shell and silver Chinese Tribute Clock. The clock, gilt-mounted and set with jewels, is estimated at $80,000-120,000.

The Chinese Court first encountered European clocks in 1601, and developed a fascination for their beauty and mechanical complexity. Chinese artisans began to make clocks that set the most recent mechanical techniques from Europe within ornate cases which blended decorative elements from China and Europe. By the early 18th century, the Kangxi emperor (1662-1722) had founded a workshop which employed Jesuit missionaries trained as clock-makers alongside their Chinese counterparts.

The present clock is a perfect illustration of these hybrid designs. Many of its decorative elements echo the work of the English maker, James Cox, but Chinese symbolism remains dominant: setting the dial in the lower half of a double gourd is a Chinese symbol of longevity, and Chinese characters which translate as ‘Great Auspiciousness’ are set in jewels above it. But the most intriguing element of the design is the caricature of four European figures who are depicted kneeling beneath the clock and bearing it as a tribute.

The clock’s finely chased scroll feet rest on a fluted hardwood turntable base, and the silver frieze champlevé is enameled with leafy flowering vines which conceal a drawer containing the engraved winding key. The double gourd is draped with paste-set garlands tied with ribbons, and the dial is set with roman chapters and gilt hands. It stands 19” (49.5cm) high.

“In the 18th century, clocks were articles of wealth and prestige. In addition to possessing these attributes, this clock presents a remarkable synthesis of European and Chinese design. The broad cross cultural appeal of clocks made for the Chinese market has created a worldwide demand for these unusual works of art,” says Jonathan Snellenburg, director of the Watches and Clocks department at Bonhams New York.

The clock will be on display during the auction preview from 28 February to 3 March.

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