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Pair of Watches

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Pair of Watches

Date: c. 1820
Medium: Gold, enamel, half-pearls, steel
76.2 x 54 x 19.1 mm
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Frederick T. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 197.1-2
Label Text
Most watches intended for sale to the Chinese middle class were made in workshops in Fleurier and throughout the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. A few Swiss watch manufacturers established business operations in Canton, China, and distributed watches throughout the country. Watches made for the Chinese market were sold in matching pairs.

Text Entries

This pair of watches, and others made for the Chinese market, differs from those produced for the Turkish trade. Sold in pairs, they were packed in specially made fitted boxes, along with accompanying keys.(1) The painted enamel decoration was based on antique paintings, sentimental subjects, or floral bouquets, and featured identical but symmetrically opposed images.

Most watches bound for China were beautifully made, usually in workshops in Fleurier and throughout the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland, and were intended for the Chinese middle class. A few manufacturers established houses in Canton and from there distributed watches throughout the country.

A six-lobed central panel composed of flowers, executed with meticulous realism, decorates each case of this pair of painted enamel watches. Roses, tulips, daffodils, and forget-me-nots are arranged in a tightly packed bouquet with green leaves, surrounded by a background of dark blue enamel. A border of light blue champlevé enamel with engraved gold vines and orange enamel flowers encircled by a string of half-pearls completes the design. Half-pearls also decorate the stem and pendant, as in many watches for this market.

These watches have a duplex escapement, a characteristic trait of watches made for export to China; these relatively precise timepieces were so much in demand among the Chinese that they became known as the Chinese duplex. The center-second hands appear to be dead beat and then move every second. The movements have elaborately engraved bridges, which are visible through the inside glass cover.

1. Pairs of “Chinese watches” are very rare, and it is uncommon to find a pair still together and in its original fitted box. A majority of them have been sold individually to European and American collectors.