Art Deco lovers, take note: this month prestigious auction house Christie’s will be hammering down on its exceptional ‘101 Cartier Clocks’ sale – the largest collection of its kind to ever come to market – with the dazzling pieces sure to attract fierce bidding. Amassed by a single owner over three decades, the collection spans 80 years, from Belle Epoque to Art Deco to the 1950s, and many were previously owned by some of the 20th century’s leading society figures, including the Duchess of Westminster and Lady Abdy (pictured above), a renowned art dealer and society hostess captured by Cecil Beaton and Man Ray.
Art Deco Desk Clock, Cartier
Formerly property of Huguette M. Clark
Burgauté lacquer dial, mother-of-pearl, cabochon coral, old-cut diamonds, black and red enamel, rock crystal, silver and gold (French marks), 1925, mechanical movement, 9.0x9.0x2.0 cm, signed Cartier, no. 1867 3355, red Cartier original fitted case
“It’s 80 years of the best craftsmanship in the world of clocks,” says Marie-Cécile Cisamolo, Christie’s associate specialist, of the online-only sale. And the clock she expects to drum up the most excitement? “That’s hard to say, we have some pieces with great provenance,” she says. “But it will definitely be an Art Deco one.”
Art Deco Onyx, Enamel & Ruby 'Mignonette' Clock, Cartier
Rectangular dial with Roman numerals, blued steel hands, onyx, blue enamel, cabochon rubies, gold (French marks), circa 1928, mechanical movement, 5.0x2.7x1.7 cm, signed Cartier Made in France, nos. 28873 1217, red Cartier original fitted case
That’s not mere speculation. In April, Sotheby’s made auction history when an Art Deco Cartier bracelet in its signature multicoloured Tutti Frutti design was bought for $1.34m, becoming the most expensive jewel ever sold in an online-only auction.
Art Deco Rutilated Quartz, Coral & Diamond Desk Clock, Cartier
Rutilated quartz, cabochon coral, rose-cut diamonds, black enamel, gold, circa 1928, mechanical movement, 7.5x7.5x1.5 cm, signed Cartier France, European Watch and Clock Co. Inc France, nos. 2449 1127, red Cartier fitted case
The craze for Art Deco pieces is nothing new – it’s always been that way, says Cisamolo, who likens pieces from the period to the Little Black Dress. “It’s elegant and goes with everything. Many collectors say the first thing they want in their collection is an Art Deco bracelet. It’s just so classic and will stand the test of time.” Plus, who isn’t seduced by the decadence of the Roaring Twenties? “It’s the first time where women were free,” says Cisamolo. “They could go out in the street and go dancing in jazz clubs. Gone are the corsets, replaced by a new flapper dress. With this comes a new style of jewellery that’s a bit more bold and also, for the first time, belongs more to women.”
Art Deco Jade & Rock Crystal Clock, Cartier
Rock crystal, nephrite jade, rose-cut diamonds, black enamel, 1928, mechanical movement, 9.8x9.8x2.0 cm, signed Cartier Made in France, no. 1726 0728, maroon Cartier original fitted case
Where before convention dictated that women wear inherited, appropriate pieces – the family tiara in the presence of the Queen, for example – it was during this time that women first began to wear jewellery purely for themselves. “They decided that with their dress they needed to wear diamond bracelets. And so they did, because it looked good,” says Cisamolo.
Christie’s Associate Specialist
Art Deco Onyx, Enamel, Ruby & Diamond Clock, Cartier
Engine-turned dial, Roman numerals, blue enamel, cabochon rubies, rose-cut diamonds, gold, circa 1920, mechanical movement, 7.4x7.4x1.5 cm, signed Cartier France Made in France, nos. 940 0901 2756, red Cartier fitted case
Loelia Ponsonby, the second Duchess of Westminster, was one such woman, a prominent member of the Bright Young Things set of fashionable, Jazz Age aristocrats. One of her c1920 Cartier clocks is up for grabs and, in stark black onyx, is signature Art Deco. Punctuated with turquoise enamel and red rubies, the colours also match those of the Westminster crest. “Add to that the Duke of Westminster’s diamond-set crown at the clock’s top and it’s likely the piece was commissioned as a wedding present,” says Cisamolo.
Early 20th Century 'Comet' Semi-Mystery Clock, Cartier
Circular dial with Roman numerals, light orangey-pink guilloché enamel, white enamel, rock crystal, rose-cut diamonds, circa 1920, mechanical movement, 9.0x1.5 cm, signed Cartier, no. 4111
Several of the pieces in the ‘101 Cartier Clocks’ sale come with clever horological features, like the circular ‘Comet’ onyx clock, in which classic hands are replaced by a diamond-stud comet star and a marquise-cut diamond. The movement powering the clock is referred to as a ‘semi-mystery’, because the dial is not see-through as in the mesmerising ‘mystery’ clocks, in which the hands are seemingly suspended in air. The striking clock was owned by legendary art dealer and socialite Lady Abdy, who was often spotted in Parisian society with Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau.
Art Deco Pink Quartz Clock, Cartier
Mother-of-pearl dial, carved jade center, pink quartz case, onyx handle, black enamel, gold (French mark), circa 1925, mechanical movement, 8.0x6.4x3.0 cm, signed Cartier France, maker's mark (Maurice Coüet), no. 17730, red fitted case
Another piece with interesting provenance is a 1925 rock crystal treasure owned by the wealthy heiress Huguette M Clark. The daughter of the American mining baron William A Clark – aka the Copper King and a contemporary of John D Rockefeller – Huguette was a notable collector of Asian antiquities, European paintings and fine musical instruments, a penchant that echoes in her clock’s wonderful chinoiserie scene, fashioned from burgauté lacquer and red and black enamel.
Art Deco Desk Clock, Cartier
Circular burgauté lacquer dial inset with cabochon moonstones, mother-of-pearl, enamel, cabochon turquoises, rose-cut diamonds, gold (French mark), 1926, mechanical movement, 9.4x2.1 cm, unsigned, maker's mark (Maurice Coüet), no. 1438, red Cartier fitted case
Indeed exoticism is one of Art Deco’s crowning features: “As soon as you mix cultures, it’s a win,” says Cisamolo. A divine dome-shaped rock crystal piece has a jade and enamel dial surrounded with a burst of electric blue kingfisher feathers, Cartier’s play on an ancient Chinese craft. Lot 45, meanwhile, is a jazzy mash-up of eastern motifs: scrolling Arabic numerals set on Egyptian-style mother-of-pearl panels, a Chinese scene unfolding in burgauté lacquer, which Cartier was known to have imported from China; with everything further trimmed in a gold-and-black Persian-style motif of cabochon turquoises and rose-cut diamonds.
“This clock is crazy,” says Cisamolo. “Cartier must have been thinking: ‘What’s fancy at the moment? What’s fun? Persia, boom. Egypt, boom. Asia, boom. Let’s put it together and come up with something that’s completely out of this world.’”
The clock is estimated to fetch CHF120,000-150,000 but the sale offers a range of price points. Coming in at CHF25,000-35,000 is a striking 1928 design in funky rutilated quartz set with cabochon corals at each corner, while an ultra-understated piece in pink quartz and diamonds doubles up as a paperweight and desk clock – and a treasure that’s certain to give working from home a whole new dash of glamour and pizzazz.
‘101 Cartier Clocks’ online until 21 July