11 May 2023 sees a fabulous collection of watches and clocks go under the hammer at Bonhams in London, representing the collection of one man, T P Camerer Cuss. I am not interested in the many 19th and 20th century watches offered for sale, all in superb condition, but there are a few amazing watches from the 18th century which really caught my attention.
There is even a Thomas Tompion watch, made in around 1709 for Lady Mary Montagu. The description is a bit too technical for me (“Movement: Gilt full plate fusee verge, pierced and engraved balance cock, diamond end stone, silver regulation, two polished hammers striking a bell secured to the inner back by 1 screw, round baluster pillars, No.350
Dial: Champlevé signed Tompion within a central cherub and garland cartouche, black Roman numerals, black outer minute track with 5 minute markers, blued beetle and poker hand”) but it does represent one of the very earliest surviving watches with pierced jewelled bearings and diamond end stones for the balance. Lady Mary was a lucky lady – it may well have been that the watch was presented to her as a twenty-first birthday present. She was married to John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu and was the youngest daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.
There is also a fabulous watch possibly intended for the then Prince of Wales, made in London in 1778-80 by Justin Vulliamy:
But the one which particularly caught my attention was something altogether more humble – a fake watch, or “faux montre” made of gilt metal some time between 1760 and 1770. It is described as a ‘toy’ and has no working watch mechanism, so was just intended for show. The catalogue description is “Dial: White, black Roman numerals, black outer minute track with Arabic 5 minute markers, gilt beetle and poker hands
Case: Gilt hinged with Bilston enamel panels, painted scene to reverse depicts two gentleman walking in an Arcadian setting by a lake, further painted decoration of flora to bezel, stirrup bow, wax seal and cypher to inside case holding the hands in place.”
I love the idea of such fine enameling being used. The art of enameling on copper had become popular in the 1700’s, especially with manufacturers in London’s Battersea area and at Bilston near Wolverhampton. Bilston is believed to have been chosen by a number of French craftsmen who fled to the West Midlands in the 1750s due to religious persecution, so this ‘toy’ may well have been one of theirs.
The footnote to the Lot entry says that “it is very rare to come across a toy watch in such exemplary condition and the current example features a wax seal with cypher, most likely a monogram, behind the dial to hold the hands in place. The two initials appear to be a J followed by a C. Tom Cope records two ‘toy makers’ with these initials, James Compson and John Castey and a third maker who, although not listed as a toy maker specifically, is also a candidate, John Cooper.”
As such the guide price of £700 to £900 does not seem unreasonable – a bit closer to my pocket than the £20,000-30,000 quoted for the Tompion and £12,000-15,000 for the Prince of Wales piece of bling.
All in all a fascinating catalogue which can be found here. My thanks to Bonhams for the use of their images, all of which are their copyright.