At this year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, Cartier presents an exceptional set of 19 mystery clocks for the first time.
Conceived by Louis Cartier and the Maison’s clockmaker Maurice Coüet, and inspired by the work of illusionist Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the first model of the mystery clock was brought to life in 1912.
As the name suggests, the hands of a mystery clock seem to float within the crystal, unconnected to any mechanism. Mystery clocks take months of diligence to complete before the jeweller decorates them, hence described as “marvels of horology” by the Gazette du Bon Ton in 1925.
When the Maison acquired one of the clocks from the art market in 1973, this move marked the beginning of the Cartier Collection. Today, the Collection comprises more than 1,600 pieces of jewellery, watches, clocks, and precious objects.
As a technical and aesthetic tour de force in the history of the Maison and decorative arts, these mystery clocks remain as the most expensive decorative objects ever produced by Cartier. Their technical and stylistic excellence secures their place among the world’s most important works of art.
Here are some key highlights:
Large Portique Mystery Clock (Cartier Paris, 1923)
This clock was the first in a series of six in the form of a Shinto “shrine gate” (portique), all different and all made by Cartier between 1923 and 1925.
CM09A23 – Gold, platinum – Rock crystal – Rose-cut diamonds – Coral cabochons – Onyx – Black enamel – Square, 8-day double-barrel movement, gold-plated, 13 jewels, Swiss lever escapement, bimetallic balance, Breguet balance spring – Transmission axle in rock-crystal crossbar masked by coral cabochon – Billiken figure removable to provide access to the movement – Hand-setting and winding mechanism – 35 x 23 x 13 cm
“Sold to Mrs. H.F. McCormick (Ganna Walska). Of Polish origin, the opera singer Ganna Walska (1887-1984) was married to Alexander Smith Cochran (dubbed “the richest bachelor in the world”) and later Harold Fowler McCormick, heir to the McCormick farm machinery fortune. Like Daisy Fellowes and Mona Bismarck, Walska was one of the select group of fashion icons of her day. With unerring taste, she assembled a remarkable collection of jewelry, showing a marked preference for Cartier.”
“Model A” Mystery Clock (Cartier Paris, 1914)
CM19A14 – Platinum, gold – White agate (base) – Rock crystal – Four sapphire cabochons – Rose-cut diamonds – White enamel — Rectangular 8-day movement, gold-plated, 13 jewels, Swiss lever escapement, bimetallic balance, Breguet balance spring Hand-setting and winding mechanism underneath the base – Height: 13 cm – Cartier Collection
“Sold to Count Greffulhe, husband of the famous Countess Greffulhe, ‘the most beautiful woman in Europe’ according to Marcel Proust, who partly modelled his character of the Duchess de Guermantes on her.”
Mystery Clock with Single Axe (Cartier Paris, 1921)
CM 30 A21 – Gold, platinum – Citrine – Onyx (base and column) – Rose-cut diamonds – White and black enamel – Rectangular 8-day movement, gold-plated, 15 jewels, Swiss lever escapement, bimetallic balance, Breguet balance spring – Hand-setting and winding mechanism underneath the base – Height: 12.9 cm
Provenance: Purchased by Luz Bringas, a Mexican philanthropist, and then offered to José Yves Limantour (Mexican Finance Minister from 1893-1911, and member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques), thence by descent (see sale Mallié-Arcellin, Paris, 19th November 2016, lot 9).
Elephant Mystery Clock (Cartier Paris, 1928)
CM 20 A28 – Platinum, gold – Carved jade (elephant) – Onyx (base and roof of pagoda) – Rose-cut diamonds, pearls, coral, mother-of-pearl, crystal – Black enamel – Rectangular 8-day movement, gold- plated, 13 jewels, Swiss lever escapement, bimetallic balance, Breguet balance spring, set in a gilded metal case attached to the base of the pagoda and seated within the elephant’s back – Hand-setting and winding mechanism accessed by lifting the pagoda to reach the movement – 20 x 15.5 x 9.2 cm
“The jade elephant, of Chinese origin, dates from the eighteenth century. This mystery clock was the ninth in a series of 12 that featured animals or figurines, made between 1922 and 1931, partly inspired by Louis XV and Louis XVI clocks in which the clock was set on the back of an animal. Hans Nadelhoffer wrote of these clocks that, like the shrine-gate (Portique) series, ‘although they lacked the symbolism of dynastic commissions associated with Fabergé’s Easter eggs, these figurative ‘mystery clocks’ enjoyed comparable prestige in Cartier’s production and are today considered the most valuable of all collectors’ items with the Cartier signature.’ Today the Collection boasts four of these wonders including the Carp clock, the Chimera clock, this one and the Deity clock, the last in the series.”
Provenance: The Maharaja of Nawanagar
Screen Mystery Clock (Cartier New York, 1926)
CM12A26 – Platinum, gold – Moonstone – Crystal – Rose-cut diamonds – White and black enamel – Onyx for the base and semi-circular rings – Rectangular 8-day movement, gold-plated, 13 rubies, Swiss lever escapement, bimetallic balance, Breguet balance spring – Hand-setting and winding mechanism underneath the base – The transmission axle is masked by the onyx bead beneath the screen – Height: 14 cm