Marie-Cécile Cisamolo is no stranger to exquisite craftsmanship. “I love my job, even on a Saturday,” goes an Instagram post, as she tries out a Bulgari ruby ring, a Cartier panther bangle-watch and other glittering pieces from the current Christie’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels sale. But the auction house’s jewellery specialist is visibly excited when she presses a tiny moonstone button on an Art Deco table clock and it chimes. Cisamolo is on a webinar about an ongoing collection of Cartier clocks, where each of the 101 pieces on sale features the French house’s mastery in enamelling, engraving and gem setting. And as she pulls out an agate and purple enamel number with a little agate door to reveal a meticulously designed clock face, or exclaims over the feminine colours or quirks of some of the clocks, Francesca Cartier Brickell, her co-host, provides the inside story.
From the family album
Sharing details from a decade of research spent on her recent book, The Cartiers, Brickell talks about the journey from Belle Epoque to Art Deco, mystery to prism clocks. About how Louis Cartier was surrounded by great inventors, including Edmund Jaeger. How he loved to visit Chinese antique shops in Paris to buy lacquer panels. And the trend for all things Chinese in the 1920s, as seen in vanity cases, jewellery and art. Sitting in her grandfather Jean-Jacques Cartier’s library (he ran Cartier London till the business was sold to Swiss luxury conglomerate, Richemont), Brickell points to a design aesthetic that was also inspired by the splendour of Russia’s royal House of Romanov. She reminds us of clockmaker Maurice Couet’s contribution to Cartier and presents original drawings and letters from that time.
When Brickell refers to how Louis Cartier’s jewellery designs, in the Garland Style, inspired his clocks, Cisamolo picks up a 1904 creation in dark-blue opaline glass and white enamel from a shelf behind her. In the catalogue of clocks, all from a private European collector who had amassed them over three decades, the starting bid for this urn clock is CHF 40,000. The collection is estimated to sell above $5 million. Christie’s says the clocks, even if over a 100 years old, are in working condition.
The mystery continues
Art Deco ‘Mignonette’ clock
While the sale does not include a mystery clock — Cartier’s tour de force of illusion, where the hour and minute hands float free inside what appears to be a crystal ball, with no clockwork showing — they do have a few semi-mystery clocks. Cisamolo’s favourite, a day and night clock made in 1913, comes with the Latin inscription: “I do not count the hours if they are not brilliant.” Previously owned by aristocrats, heiresses and politicians, these horological creations are a reminder of beauty and opulence from another era. As Cisamolo puts it, now let’s hope they find the right homes.
The sale at christies.com closes on July 21, 2020.