Piguet & Meylan, Geneva, No. 7 083, circa 1820.

Magnicent and extremely rare 18K gold and enamel pearl- set quarter-repeating musical automaton watch, in the form of a Neapolitan mandolin, playing every hour or at will, made for the Chinese market.

C. Two-body, covered with translucent red scarlet enamel over inqué; rose-cut diamonds sound-hole tted with the watch
dial and automaton scene (originally this bezel was probably pearl-set); the back formed of six ribs in en suite red scarlet enamel over a geometrical pattern; the front of the neck decorated with light blue enamel frets; gold knurled pegs; the front set with nely graduated split pearls on an applied gold frame; the edge decorated with graduated half-turquoises; gold twisted-rope strings; push-button at the edge of the soundboard to activate the quarter-repeating; once the lid is opened,


we discovered a light blue gold and enamel hinging cuvette (back-dome) decorated with a champlevé column and foliages with translucent multicoloured owers; on its side, the Music / Silence lever; the gold fausse-plaques (plates) surrounding the cuvette (back-dome), with inside the movement, engraved with ribbon owers enamelled in royal blue champlevé.

D. Painted on enamel over a background with a park, roses in the foreground, a varicoloured gold Cupid and butter y, symbol of fragility of Love, on an animated seesaw, over a radial Roman chapter set eccentrically at the lower part with outer minute and second rings. Blued steel ‘‘spade’’ hands; blued steel equilibrated central hand.
M. 43 mm. ,frosted gilt brass, two-train, with free standing barrel for the going train, cylinder escapement, plain three-
arm balance, blued-steel at balance spring, polished steel endplate, index regulator ; repeating on two gongs activated by depressing the pendant. “Sur plateau” musical movement with 19 individual tuned blued steel vibrating blades acting on both sides of the pinned disc; the Music / Silence lever at the edge of the cuvette (back-dome), beneath the cover of the object.

Movement punched « P M » inside a horizontal lozenge on the dial plate and numbered on several places. DIM. 127 x 50 mm.

CHF 1,200,00 – 2,200,000
HKD 9,600,000 – 17,600,000
USD 1,200,000 – 2,200,000

The second watch of this pair made for the Chinese market is kept in the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation Collection, Montres Rolex S.A., Geneva (Inv. No. 45). Alfred Chapuis (1880-1958) mentions in the book of this collection (1944, p. 116) that the music is a popular German song “Ach! du lieber Augustin…” and reproduces the score (p. 118).

The magni cent watch of fantasy illustrated here is one of only four known, created circa 1820 by Piguet & Meylan of Geneva, two other are kept in private collections (Patek Philippe Museum and Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, Montres Rolex S.A.; both in Geneva), … the last one also available in this sale!

They are unusually large, and apart from the watch, they also feature automatons and play music. A fundamental di erence between these four pieces and most fantasy watches is that these do not conceal the timepiece, but feature it as its most important function, just as a classic watch. The rare size permits even more luxurious decorations, this piece having polychrome champlevé enamel and translucent enamel on guilloché, natural pearls, gold paillons, re ned and delicate engraving, and such details, making this object extremely rare and desirable. The automaton, which represents two children on a see-saw, delicately beats time to the music. The placement and combination of the colours used for these exquisite enamels leads us to believe that this mandolin was specially made for the Chinese Emperor and his court, where most of Piguet & Meylan’s nest timepieces and objects were destined.

The Neapolitan mandolin comes from the lute family, from which it inherited its characteristic gourd-shape. Its history is quite long, its form, as we know it today, dating back to Florence around 1600. Its sweet notes and particular quality made
it a huge success in Italy, and especially in the region around Naples. In England, since the sound was very similar to that of the virginal, the mandolin soon became the basis of all young women’s musical education. Many have unjustly labelled the mandolin an instrument of Italian folklore, when instead it has been featured as the solo instrument of choice of Vivaldi, in some of the works of Beethoven, Pergolesi, Verdi, Mahler, Stravinsky, and even in Mozart’s Don Giovanni opera. This instrument was a perfect re ection of the time – a time when Jean-Jacques Rousseau (originally of Geneva) in France and Sturm und Drang in Germany created a philosophical movement of romanticism as a reaction or denial of the classicism of the 16th century. In Geneva the goldsmiths and watchmakers were inspired by what the mandolin symbolised, and thanks to its gracious form, they miniaturised it, creating tiny masterpieces in precious metals, lavish with multicoloured enamels and oriental pearls, and such, transforming this instrument into jewels of fantasy, messengers of love, which discreetly adorned the breasts of their beloved. Watchmakers, such as Piguet & Capt, the Achards, the Esquivillons, the Bordiers, and Rémond, who were goldsmiths as well, were specialized in reproducing exotic shapes, such as musical instruments, fruits, owers, good luck animals, asks and objects of everyday life, into precious jewels destined to the most re ned customers of Europe or foreign markets. The bulging shape of the mandolin lent it perfectly to hidden treasures- a vinaigrette, a concealed watch, or even a minute musical mechanism, whose pins strum the vibrating steel blades, imitating not only the shape of the mandolin but its sweet sound as well.


Chapuis, Alfred, Montres et émaux de Genève – Collection H. Wilsdorf, Genève, Editions Rolex, 1944, pp. 115-118, pl. 20.

Maingot, Eliane, Les automates, Editions Hachette, Paris, 1959, p. 64 (mandolin from the ex-Blum Collection; this lot).

Friess, Peter, Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, Geneva, Patek Philippe Museum Editions, 2015, vol. III, p. 509.

Similar objects (only four Neapolitan mandolin are known to exist)

Hans Wilsdorf Foundation, Montres Rolex S.A., Geneva (Inv. No. 45) (Provenance: Gustave Loup (1876-1961), a Swiss watchmaker born in China who became antiquarian specialising in Chinese art; Farouk Ist (1920-1965), King of Egypt (1936-1952) Collection, Cairo (Egypt); Sotheby’s Cairo, Koubbeh Palace, auction, March 13, 1954 (third day’s sale).

Patek Philippe Museum, Genève (Inv. S-626; Dim. 133 x 51 mm.) (Provenance: Antiquorum, Geneva, auction, October 11, 2003, lot 27, for the amount of CHF 993 500.- (including buyer’s premium).

This one (Provenance: Mr. et Mrs. Harry H. Blum Collection, United States of America; S. J. Phillips Ltd, London, Great Britain; this private collection).

The lot 223 of this sale (provenance: S. J. Phillips Ltd, London, Great Britain; this private collection).

Alfred Chapuis (1880-1958) mentions (1944, p. 116) that Neapolitan mandolins were in the Bernard Franck collections in Paris, Adolf Iklé in St. Gallen and Carl Marfels in Berlin. Without more information, it is impossible to know who owned what at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century.

Bernard Franck (1824-1924) in Paris was an industrialist at the head of a family factory of military equipment and a great collector especially of historical memories. His success in business allowed him to become an inveterate collector since 1875. He published a book in 1902 regarding its collection of carnets de bal (Paris, 1902, 62 pp., 64 pl.). His collections were sold in more of fteen public sales, mostly anonymous, some under its name, notably in 1931 (Etude Fernand Lair Dubreuil &

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