'Chinese' watch

'Chinese' watch, William Ilbery
About 1800-1810
Enamelled gold; 9.4 x 5.8 cm

In the 18th century, China developed an interest in Western watch-making. Enthusiasm was so great that some European watchmakers specialized in producing enamelled watches especially for the Chinese market. In comparison with European watches, their decoration was generally characterized by light and vivid colours, and they often had elaborate mechanisms to which carillons and automata were added. Curiously, the Chinese offered clocks in pairs, according to an ancestral tradition that required gifts to a superior to ba made in twos. This custom gave rise to the creation of pairs of watches with identifical decoration, but in reverse. This example is the mate of another that is now at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

Discover this masterpiece in the museum, on the online museum catalogue Carmentis and in the book Masterpieces of the Cinquantenaire Museum.