The Wallace Collection

A Swiss Musical Clock-Watch, made for the Turkish Market, early-19th century.
Treasure of the Month - March 2011

A Swiss Musical Clock-Watch, made for the Turkish Market, early-19th century.

This exceptionally large clock-watch made of coloured gold, gilt metal, enamel and steel, was intended, while protected by its turtleshell case, to be hung on the inside of a carriage when travelling.

This watch was most likely acquired by Sir Richard Wallace (1818-90). At the Bethnal Green Exhibition of Wallace’s collection (1872-75) the clock-watch is first described as having been intended as a present for the Grand Seignior or Sultan of Turkey. This provenance cannot be proven but the dial of Turkish numerals and the military trophy of Ottoman emblems on the back do indeed suggest it was created for a Turkish market. The trophy, on a green and red gold ground, includes a canon barrel and balls, a shield, flags and standards surrounding a central obelisk hung with a crescent. During the 19th century a star and crescent represented the Ottoman Empire, appearing on the flag from 1793.

Referred to as a carillon clock-watch, inside are a series of five bells which once played music at specific times. At five o’clock on the band, a lever is inscribed S and Non S for strike and silent and at eleven o’clock a lever is marked 1 and 2 to select the different tunes. The bezel and band are decorated with swags of flowers and a ribbon which are pierced to allow the sound of the bells to resonate. A bell would also have sounded on the hour and half-hour. Unfortunately all these sounds, due to age, are now too soft to be heard clearly.

The dial and movement are signed by Jh. Costa an Amateur d’Horlogerie a Marseille (Fig.2) however the watch was almost certainly made in Geneva. This suggests that M. de Costa was probably a retailer with connections to the Turkish market as the Ottoman ports would only admit timepieces from favoured makers and dealers. The coloured gold decoration, particularly the white gold application, is typical of Swiss manufacture, being coarser than that by 18th-century French goldsmiths (see the snuff boxes on Shelf 5 of Case J in this cabinet) and comparable to other Swiss objects with trophies, such as box G86 in case L.

Exactly who made this watch is a mystery. A post revolutionary maker’s mark, JR in the case is probably for an as yet unidentified Swiss goldsmith. Even more intriguing is the name Roquerbe scratched on the main bell (Fig.3). It is likely this was to mark one of the component parts to be put together for a particular workshop or even sent to a dealer for assembly. The Swiss dominance over the market from the 19th century was in part due to their division of labour which allowed the specialist manufacture of individual components on grand scale, providing stock to retailers across the world. There is a record of a retailer called M. Roquerbe & Cie. in Marseilles in the mid-19th century who traded across the Ottoman Empire and it is possible that at some stage the company also sold this clock-watch.

By the 1870s watches of this type were no longer the fashion in Turkey with many traded back into Europe to wealthy collectors. In Sir Richard Wallace’s lifetime the clock-watch was kept in Lady Wallace’s private Boudoir at Hertford House, the room next to this new Cabinet, amongst many of the other fine objects of virtu on display here.

Gallery Talks

There will be a free gallery talk on the 7 and 22 March at 1pm.

Further Reading                              

  • Kurz, Otto, European clocks and watches in the Near East, London, Warburg Institute, 1975.
  • Thompson, David, British Museum Watches, British Museum Press, London, 2007.
  • This clock-watch will also appear in the forthcoming Wallace Collection Catalogue of Gold Boxes and Objects of Virtu, by Charles Truman.

© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2011. Text by Rebecca Wallis.

Object number XXA52.