William Ilbery gold watch
The gold watch by William Ilbery that is to be sold at auction in Hamburg by Cortrie.

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Ilbery is often considered as the father of Chinese watches. An outstanding example of his craftsmanship is coming up for sale at Cortrie in Hamburg on March 25.

It is a 4.5 x 2.5in (11.5 x 6.5cm) octagonal watch in a gold, enamel and moss agate case set with pearls. The movement with Duplex escapement and centre seconds is highly engraved, as were many of the watches made for Chinese customers.

As a rule, Ilbery had his cases made in Switzerland, employing the most capable enamellers and goldsmiths.

Pairs of Watches

Watches of this quality were often made in pairs, not only as a clever marketing ploy to sell more pieces, but also in accordance with the Chinese desire for symmetry. The only intact pair of similar octagonal Ilbery watches belongs to the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

The watch now being offered for €150,000 is numbered 5983. It was last on the market in May 2013, when it was offered by Sotheby’s in Geneva for SFr120,000-180,000.

In 1980 Antiquorum in Geneva sold its counterpart, number 5982, for an undisclosed price; its current whereabouts are unknown.