The pre-Christmas horological sales were lower key than those traditionally seen in the London rooms at this time of year. With the continuing problem of sourcing enough good material, few top names were on offer to tempt the serious collector, and the general mixed sales which resulted provided some good-value purchases for buyers further down the scale.
French carriage clocks continued their popularity, as did the better-looking English longcases at around the £1000-2000 mark. Generally, there were no particular trends amongst the casualties, with buyers being selective across the board. As ever, it was the rare or unusual examples in good condition which found a ready market.
Having decided against holding a Fine Clocks sale in their King Street rooms in order to concentrate on their single-owner collection coming up in the spring, horological activity at Christie’s focused on their South Kensington (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) rooms, with two sessions on December 17: one in the morning devoted to watches, the other in the afternoon given over to clocks and barometers.
The 223-lot morning watch session, which netted £388,320, with 70 per cent selling rates by lot and value, produced the star of the day’s proceedings, a pocket watch by Daniel de St Leu, dated c.1765-1770. The gilt movement had a chain fusee and verge escapement with diamond endstone, and repeated the hours and quarters on a bell. The white enamel dial had diamond-set half-hour markers and hands, while the pierced and engraved inner case had a diamond-set pendant and bow. Its agate outer case was also set with diamonds in an elaborate floral design, as was the pierced bezel with agate panels and the pierced and decorative winding key. It was signed Daniel de St Leu, Servt to Her Majesty, London, no. 907.
This eye-catching piece carried a cautious estimate of £6000-8000, because although specialist Roger Lister was pretty confident that the diamonds were not later replacements, he said one could never be 100 per cent certain in a watch of this age. Bidders obviously felt no misgivings, however, and interest from a European museum helped drive the price up to £31,000, secured by a private buyer.
It was a wristwatch that provided the next best price, an 18ct gold chronograph by Patek Philippe dated to the 1950s, ref.130, no.867829, which came in at a mid-estimate £18,000.
Elsewhere, a silver-gilt chronometer pocket watch signed Brockbanks & Atkins no. 800 London sold above expectations. It had been given a low estimate of £500-700, due in part to its rather shabby appearance, with tarnished case and missing seconds hand, but mainly because of its broken balance staff. Despite these defects, its overall quality took it to £4200.
Best of the clocks and barometers section in the afternoon was £10,000 paid for a Georgian longcase by Ellicott, London. Its well-coloured mahogany case was of typical London style, with pagoda-top hood, brass stop fluted columns, moulded break-arch trunk door and stepped panelled plinth with wavy apron. The 12in (30.5cm) brass dial with strike/silent in the arch had foliate spandrels and silvered chapter ring, matted centre and date aperture. It had a five-pillar movement with anchor escapement.
In total, the 233 lots in this section were 92 per cent sold by value and 81 per cent by lot, raising £275,120.
Watches accounted for the lion’s share of the proceedings at Sotheby’s Olympia (20/12% buyer’s premium) sale of Fine Clocks, Watches, Barometers and Mechanical Music on December 16, both in terms of money and lots.
While some of the best names did not find buyers at the lower end, Patek Philippe and Rolex dominated the higher price bracket.
Leading the field at £20,000 was a gold perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch by Patek Philippe, ref. 3970, no. 3045153, c.1998. This highly complex piece had a silvered dial with three subsidiary dials indicating constant seconds/24 hours, minute register/year indicator and date/moon phase, and day/month apertures beneath 12. The circular case had a gold scooped bezel. It was sold to a private buyer.
Next up was a Rolex chronograph wristwatch Cosmograph, Daytona ref. 6238 c.1965. The circular stainless steel Oyster case had a calibrated bezel and signed silvered dial with three black subsidiary dials calibrated in white indicating constant seconds and 30 minute and 12-hour recording. The dial was unusual for this reference, but had been authenticated by Rolex, and the watch went to the UK trade for £13,000.
Several immediate after-sales helped raise the overall total to £554,516, and the selling rates to 73 per cent by value and 69 per cent by lot. Included in these was an important collection of James Ferguson Cole papers. Cole was an inventive Victorian maker who rose to the top of the London trade, and whose small output included a series of hump-back carriage clocks with various complications. He is chiefly known for his watches, which demonstrate a distinct Breguet influence. These papers had been given by Cole’s son to a Major Paul Chamberlain in 1924 and were presumed lost. They comprised several manuscripts and illustrations relating to the theories behind the designs of his inventions and improvements, and included the only known portrait of this maker. They were sold for a low-estimate £12,000.
From amongst the clocks, the top lot, as expected, was a rare skeleton clock signed James Condliff, Liverpool. This maker was in business in Liverpool from 1816 and was renowned for his distinctive skeleton clocks and high-quality regulators. The three-train clock here, standing 20in (51cm) high, was a fine example of the intricacy and artistry he achieved, with scroll pierced frame and six spoke wheels. It had a deadbeat escapement, chiming on eight bells and striking on a gong characteristically concealed in the moulded walnut base, with trip repeat. The silvered chapter ring had gothic Roman numerals and a strike/silent lever above 12.
Given that Christie’s had sold a Condliff skeleton clock last year at the Professor Hall Collection sale for £60,000 – that one with two trains and large balance lever escapement – Sotheby’s estimate of £30,000-40,000 for theirs seemed reasonable, but it only managed £26,000, knocked down to a UK private buyer.
The sale of Fine Clocks at Bonhams Bond Street (19.5/10% buyer’s premium) on December 9, which netted £398,772, met with an enthusiastic response from the trade, who took eight of the top ten lots. However, it was a private bidder who eventually won the highlight of the 108-lot event, a late 17th century walnut longcase clock signed John Wise, Londini Fecit. The square-topped case, 6ft 4in (1.94m) high, had panels of floral marquetry to the trunk door and plinth with exotic woods and green horn inlay, while the dial had silvered chapter and seconds rings and matted centre with date aperture. It was signed along the lower edge and on a further shield-shaped plaque to the dial centre. The substantial five-knopped pillar movement had bolt and shutter maintaining power and outside countwheel strike.
Bonhams had sold this clock in 1984 for £5000, since when its missing hood columns had been sympathetically replaced with ebonised spiral twists. This time around, head of clocks and watches James Stratton felt that a £12,000-18,000 estimate would reflect the current market, but there was plenty of interest in the rooms well past the upper figure and it finally sold for £31,000.
A further boost to the sales figures of 76 per cent by lot and 84.5 by value was given by a walnut bracket timepiece signed Henrycus Mowtlow, Londini fecit. This again was contested well beyond its £10,000-15,000 estimate, selling to a dealer for £28,000, a fact which James Stratton attributed to the shortage of good early bracket clocks. The caddy top case had good silk-backed brass mounts with traces of the original gilding, glazed side apertures and bun feet. The 6in (15cm) dial with silvered chapter ring had a matted centre with ringed winding hole and engraved aperture below the 12. The substantial movement with five knopped pillars had a verge escapement with a highly decorated apron and fully engraved signed backplate.
Importantly, the clock had retained its original repeat work, activated from each side of the case, sounding the hours and quarters on two bells.
It was, however, a mid-19th century piece which gave rise to the biggest surprise of the day. This entry, a rosewood travelling clock by Payne, 163 New Bond Street, was amongst a large consignment from a deceased estate and combined those sought-after factors of fresh-to-the-market appeal with untouched condition.
William Payne moved from South Molton Street to New Bond Street in 1825, and is a name associated with good quality travelling and carriage clocks and watches. This pretty example of his work had a brass reeded handle surmounting the rectangular case, with five bevelled glasses and an ogee moulded base. The gilt dial had a signed gilt chapter ring within an engine-turned mask. Remarkably, given its height of just 81/4in (21cm), this case contained a five-pillar triple-chain fusee movement with lever platform escapement and bi-metallic balance. While the hours were struck on a coiled gong, the third train provided quarter chiming, driving a pinned barrel which plucked an eight-tooth steel comb. The clock came complete with its original leather travelling case. It raced past its £2000-3000 estimate, selling for a hefty £21,000 to the non-horological trade.
Further down the scale, the fates of two longcases by the well-known late 17th/early 18th century maker, Joseph Windmills, make for an interesting comparison. One, in a walnut case, had been considerably restored with a later base, but was nevertheless an attractive-looking piece which sold at £5800. While both clocks shared some Windmills features, such as the double hip backcock and engraved hammer spring, the substantial movement of the second, in untouched condition and with six rather than five pillars, helped it to £6000, despite its later somewhat heavy and unsympathetic case.