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Pair-case Watch

On view

Pair-case Watch

Artist: William Ilbery (London, England; active 1800 - 1840)

Date: c. 1805
Medium: Gold, enamel, steel
Dimensions:
82.6 x 58.7 x 22.2 mm
Markings: Movement: "Ilbery, London, No. 6247" Inner case: cm incuse "WM", London HM 1805, "18" (with crown above) Outer case: [?] "18"
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Frederick T. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 211
Label Text
William Ilbery specialized in creating watches for the Chinese market. His work is best known for the exquisitely enameled still lifes on the cases.


Text Entries

The English watchmakers William Anthony (d. 1844) and William Ilberry (1780-1851) specialized in creating watches for the Chinese market. They are best known for the exquisitely enameled foliage and interlacings on their cases.(1) Whether this watch was made for the eastern trade is not known, but there is no doubt that special attention was paid to the enameling. A floral arrangement motif is characteristic of enameled cases from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The composition of fruits and flowers is reminiscent of Netherlandish prototypes  or of the work of French artist Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1799), who depicted the humblest of objects of food and drink with the greatest degree of vividness.(2)

The painting-on-enamel scene on this watchcase depicts an arrangement of multicolored flowers in a flowerpot. Grapes, peaches, melons, raspberries, and other fruit are arranged in an orderly fashion in front of the pot. The viewer’s eye is led to this beautiful still life by a bird, perched on a branch near the flowerpot, turning its head toward the fruit, while a lizard, standing on the right side, also eyes the fruit. This painting could be an allegory of nature or a bountiful harvest, or it may simply be a beautifully executed still life. It has been suggested that this scene is a memento mori, a reminder of death, with its half-eaten fruit, wilted flowers, and dark background; the lizard in the foreground gives the painting an eerie quality.(3)

This is a duplex escapement watch, the favored escapement for better-made English watches of its time. This escapement separates the locking and impulse functions by using two sets of teeth, sometimes mounted on two separate wheels, to approach the precision and reliability of chronometers.

 

1. Catherine Cardinal, The Watch from Its Origins to the XIXth Century. Translated by Jacques Pages (Avon, Eng.: Artline Editions, 1989), p. 64.

2. For an illustration of still-life paintings by Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin, see Julius S. Held and Donald Posner, 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, n.d.), p. 47. V

3. I would like to thank Michael Friedman, Vice-President, Head of Watches at Christie’s New York for sharing his thoughts on this watch with me.