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Artist: Jean-Antoine Lepine (1720-1814; active Paris, France 1744-1810)

Date: 1800-1825
Medium: Gold, niello, silver, steel
57.2 x 41.3 x 7.9 mm
Markings: Cuvette: "No. 8436, Lépine A Paris" Case: "17926, cameo lozenge J [?] M"
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Thomas R. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 299
Label Text
This watch is called a "jump hour" watch because the digital reading in the top aperture of the watch moves only once per hour. The dial has minute and second hands.The invention of the Lepine caliber in 1765 led to a less bulky watch movement, which prompted a thinner watch form. At the same time the appearance of the watch was modernized; cases with applied decoration gave way to cases that were smooth. Nielloing was one avenue available to casemakers for displaying their skill within a simplified aesthetic.

Text Entries

At the end of the eighteenth century several technical developments radically changed the size of the watch. Jean-Antoine Lépine’s invention of the Lépine caliber, refined by Abraham-Louis Breguet, enabled the watch to become dramatically thinner and flatter by the first quarter of the nineteenth century. (This watch is only about eight millimeters thick.) At the same time, the look of watches was modernized by eliminating applied ornamentation. Cases became smooth to the touch, and watchcase decoration was restricted to engraving or inlaying. Niello was one avenue for the casemaker to display his skill within this simplified aesthetic.

 On this watchcase, niello is inlaid in the gold surface in a pattern of flowers and acanthus leaves, a decoration also displayed on watchcases with champlevé enameling during this period.(1) In both instances the background was cut out and filled with either niello or black enamel, While the leaves and flowers are in gold. The movement was made by Lépine in Paris. It is called a “jump hour” watch because the hour display moves once each hour. The aperture for the dial has minute and second hands. A smaller aperture on the top provides a digital reading of the hours.

1. For an illustration of a watchcase with champlevé enamel, see Catherine Cardinal, The Watch from Its Origins to the XIXth Century. Translated by Jacques Pages (Avon, Eng.: Artline Editions, 1989), p. 203, pl. 171.