Robert-Houdin began developing his mystery clocks in the early 1830s and produced five distinct types between 1831 and 1844. The example at Chiswick is the second type and is estimated at £10,000-15,000.
The face of the French patinated and gilt bronze clock has a single gilt hand but it was the transparent glass dial that mystified contemporary viewers. When one of the models was exhibited in London in 1838, many speculated that since the hand was not powered by clockwork that it was running under magnetic force; in fact, the clockwork is concealed in the ornate base.
Examples rarely come up at auction, though a similar example, also signed to the dial took $20,000 (£16,223) at Bonhams’ The Art of Time sale in New York in July this year.
Robert-Houdin trained as a watchmaker in Paris under his father. In 1830 he married the daughter of horologist Jacques Houdin and was so taken with his new father-in-law’s skill that he took the family name.
He started producing automata in the 1840’s along with the mystery clocks. Through his commissions from various showmen, he was eventually able to launch his own career in the world of magic and conjuring.
The clock is part of Chiswick Auctions December 13 European Works of Art and Clocks sale.