Watchmaking, ENAMELS & JEWELLERY
Five centuries of timekeeping
The timepieces held and studied by the Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie, which are showcased during the various temporary exhibitions, never fail to amaze by the richness of the decorations, the luxury of the ornamentation and the fascinating technical complexity of the mechanisms.
These clocks and watches are the expression of the accomplished know-how with which the craftsmen and watchmakers of Geneva created designs that were born of their imagination or were inspired by the fashions of their time.
- Jean Chais (1677-1726), Geneva, 1695-1700
Silver, cut out, pierced, engraved and chased
Height 6.85, diam. 5.9, thickness 3.55 cm
Origin: acquisition, 1977
Inv. AD 2738
Although the portable watch appeared at the end of the 15th century, the oldest Genevan watches conserved date from 1640. The goldsmiths of that era placed the watches in cases of embossed silver in the shapes of animals, hearts or flowers, or put the clockwork in cases carved from rock crystal. Painted enamel appeared then to embellish these ornaments, which were cherished more as jewels than as timekeeping devices. During the 18th century, watches were given a minute hand: the more complex mechanisms were placed in large round cases, known as turnips. Although the round shape became standardised, the ornamentations remained rich and varied. The decorating methods and materials were numerous: repoussé, engraving, coloured gold, pearls and precious stones, enamel and painted enamel. Spangles and guilloché motifs adorned enamelled miniature paintings and cases set with pearls. Marine chronometry, under the impetus of J. Harrison, J. Arnold, Th. Mudge, P. Leroy, Ferdinand Berthoud and A.-L. Breguet conferred precision and reliability to watch mechanisms.
In the 19th century, acclaimed watchmakers gave a decisive impulsion to the art of chronometry: Abraham Louis Breguet, Jean Antoine Lépine, Jacques Frédéric Houriet, Abraham Louis Perrelet… Timepieces were given extra-thin or complicated movements; dials and cases were of refined, pure and unfailingly attractive shapes. This stylistic and technical rigour developed simultaneously with the rebirth of “fantasy watches” in fanciful shapes. The advent of the wristwatch at the beginning of the 20th century opened a new chapter in the history of the portable watch. The masterpieces of technical achievement that are produced today are the guarantors of the long watchmaking tradition of which they are the heirs and the continuation.
The origin of timekeeping is to be found around 4000 BC in Egypt: as a result of observing the regular flooding of the Nile, erudite Egyptians created a system of 12 months and 30 days which they called the “agricultural calendar”. From 1500 BC it was again the Egyptians who divided into twelve equal parts the path on the ground made by the shadow of a gnomon, a system replaced soon afterwards by the water clock for the purpose of counting night hours. Called "clepsydras" by the Greeks, these water clocks subsequently spread to the rest of the civilised world. They represented the first step towards the use of mechanised instruments to follow the passage of hours on a regular basis.
- Nourry ( - ), Lyons, 1675
Pocket sundial of octagonal shape, with compass
Silver, engraved and polished, black champlevé varnish on silver, engraved and pierced brass
Length 4.9, width 4, thickness 1 cm
Between the 11th and the 13th centuries, improvements in mechanics progressively enabled innovators to tackle the problem of counting longer amounts of time, until then commonly measured with hourglasses, graduated candles or fire clocks.
The term clockmaking refers specifically to pendulum clocks of middle and large sizes, the study of which recounts the transfer of timekeeping from the public to the private and portable sphere by way of domestic spaces, where weight-driven clocks were introduced already from the 15th century. The discovery of the cycloidal pendulum by Christiaan Huygens (1650) sparked the rapid development of the production of clocks for use in the home. Placed on a mantelpiece, a column-shaped pedestal or a small console table, clocks became essential items of a room’s furnishings with which they were closely integrated by their cabinet decorations, executed by skilled cabinetmakers and bronzeworkers.
- Leroy et Fils & Cie, Paris, 1889
Astronomical perpetual calendar clock, made for the Universal Exhibition in Paris
Hour and half-hour strike. Detent escapement, missed stroke. Indicates real time, mean time, perpetual calendar, day, month,
year, phase of the moon and lunar day
Height 55.5, width 33, depth 30 cm
Origin: collection of the museum
Around a kernel of a dozen spectacular pieces carrying the signatures of Breguet, Leroy, Jaquet Droz, Simon, Baridon, Billon, Japy and others, the clock collection of the Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie showcases the most important Western European clockmakers from the 16th to the 20th century.
Automaton and musical clocks
The collection of the Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie is relatively modest in the field of automaton and musical clocks that associate animated objects and music with timepieces.
- Rochat Frères (active 1810-1835), Geneva, around 1814
Birdcage with songbirds
Gold, guilloché, engraved, chased and pierced, painted enamel, champlevé and flinqué enamel, diamonds, three articulated birds with polychrome plumage
Height 29.2, width 10, depth 10 cm
Origin: acquisition, 2003
Inv. H 2003-136
Nevertheless, with seven important pieces in the collection, this magical and mysterious part of clockmaking presents an interesting and harmonious group. It bears witness in particular to the affinity of the Middle Eastern clientele for these jewels that were created and sumptuously decorated in Geneva. The challenge of contriving models of songbirds, whose singing had inspired craftsmen since the Renaissance to try to reproduce, provided Genevan artisans with a distinctive creative opening: watchmakers, goldsmiths, silversmiths and enamellers brought a special dimension to the bird automatons and singing birdcages they produced.
Watches from yesterday to today
Watch manufacture is an old tradition. Originating at the end of the 15th century, it attained aesthetic and technical perfection towards the end of the 1800s. First created as objects of desire for the entertainment of the rich and powerful, with the development of industrialisation, new means of transport and ever-increasing social networks, watches became essential instruments for regulating the daily activities of the populations of Europe, the Orient and the Americas.
Chronometry became a competitive industry of leading importance towards the end of the 19th century, attracting top scientists and artists to the field who further enhanced these timepieces with a great number of technical and aesthetic innovations.
The increased importance given to chronometrical functions did not deter watchmakers from emphasizing aesthetic elegance to encourage sales.
- Marchand, Geneva, around 1700
Alarm pocket watch
First case in engraved silver, second case in pierced silver
Height 7.65, diam. 6.1, thickness 3.55 cm
Origin: acquisition, 2003
Inv. H 2003-141
Genevan enamelled watches
Invented in France, the art of painting on enamel was introduced to Geneva in the 17th century; from then on, its delicate patterns and rich colours were diligently applied to portraits and scenes decorating watches, snuff boxes and jewels. Along with the closely associated crafts of watchmaking and gold- and silverwork, the technique of painting on enamel ensured the reputation of the miniaturists of Geneva, where it was perfected. Thanks to the invention known as “enamel under flux” or “Geneva enamel”, the special quality of watches and jewels made in Geneva after 1760 was as highly prized by timepiece merchants, particularly in Paris and London, as it was by Middle Eastern customers.
- Jacques Coulin & Amy Bry (Geneva, 1782-1799), Geneva, around 1790
Repeater pocket watch, “Souvenir d’ami”
Gold, painted enamel, spangled enamel, pearls, second case of gilded brass, glass
Origin: acquisition, 2003
Inv. H 2003-140
The fashion of shaped watches or fantasy watches, in vogue from the last third of the 16th century to the middle of the 17th century, reappeared around 1775 and lasted through the 19th century. These unusual watches, with cases crafted into a great variety of shapes (flowers, animals, skulls), were worn around the neck, the waist, or clasped to a brooch in the 19th century.
Opera glasses and snuff boxes were also provided with concealed clocks. Ring watches, on the other hand, offered an alternative to traditional jewellery.
- Pierre Simon Gounouhilou (1776-1847), attributed to, Geneva, around 1820
Ring watch with visible balance
Gold, pearls, diamonds, champlevé enamel, enamel dial
Origin: acquisition 2004
Inv. H 2004-10
Watches with complications
Above and beyond their aesthetic attractions, the timepieces conserved at the museum bear witness to the scientific and technical advances of watchmaking. In Geneva, where the Société des Arts and the Observatoire had encouraged a spirit of emulation amongst local watchmakers since the 18th century, a number of celebrated inventions created a decisive impact, particularly concerning improvements in chronometric precision. These inventions were made in the context of similar efforts pursued in Paris and London, notably those with a focus on marine chronometry.
Here, a single-wheel movement, a timepiece boasting a 365-day autonomy and a mechanism laden with multiple complications summarise the diversity of research and accomplishments inspired by the art of measuring time.
- Pierre-François Gautrin (1737 - around 1799), Paris, 1796-1797
Pocket watch movement with a single wheel.
Signed: “Gautrin à Paris /
Pr[emiè]re Montre à une Roue Inv[en].té & Exe.té 8/96.”
“INVENTE PAR GAUTRIN N° 1 9/97. 5e A PARIS RECU A L'INSTITUT NATIONAL DES SCces ET ARTS”
Origin: donation, Édouard Sordet, Geneva, 1883
Inv. AD 2561
At the turn of the 19th century, watchmaking reached new summits of precision at the same time as new markets were developing, especially in Turkey and Asia. The moment was opportune for offering even more ingenious curiosities and entertainments. The introduction of automatons and jacks in watches was a natural evolution in this sense, as watchmakers applied the experience gained with automaton clocks since the 14th century already.
The automatons generally represented human figures (carpenters, blacksmiths, spinners, musicians, knights and tightrope walkers) in elaborate detail, performing simulated gestures or simple animations and activated by a push button on the pendant.
The most common routine involved one or two characters striking bells on the hour. The actual sound was produced by a repeating mechanism that controlled hidden hammers hitting concealed gongs placed under the dome or in the caseband. Automaton watches achieved their greatest popularity in Switzerland and France where they were produced in large numbers between 1800 and 1840.
- Piguet & Meylan (1811-1828), Geneva, around 1815
Repeater pocket watch with automatons
After Le Chien aboyant contre le Cygne (The dog barking at the swan) by Charles Oudry (Paris, 1686-1755)
Gold, guilloché, engraved and chased coloured golds and silver, champlevé enamel
Origin: acquisition 2003
Established by members of the Huaud family of French Protestant refugees who came to Geneva in 1630, the Geneva school of painted enamel developed within the Fabrique as decorations for watches, jewels, trinkets and objects of vertu.
These miniature portraits were distinguishable from industrially produced genre scenes and landscapes by the recognisable signatures of their authors, who were trained in Geneva or in other leading European workshops. Since the beginning of the 17th century, the presence of Genevan artists in the service of a great number of foreign aristocracies bears witness to the expertise and talent held by the city’s painters and colour chemists.
- Jean I Petitot (Geneva, 1607 - Vevey, 1691)
Portrait of Catherine Howard d’Aubigny, after Anton Van Dyck
Enamel painted on gold, signed and dated on the counter-enamel: “J. Petitot. Ge. / 1643”
Height 10.6, width 8.8
Origin: acquisition, 1979
Inv. AD 3708
Jean I Petitot (Geneva, 1607 - Vevey, 1691)
Apprenticed with his uncle, the goldsmith Jean Royaume. Worked at the court of France for Louis XIV and the court of England for Charles I. Inspired by French and English miniaturists, met Van Dyck (1599-1641) who gave him guidance, and Turquet de Mayerne (doctor and chemist, originally from Geneva) whose counsel allowed him to perfect enamelling technology. Helped to establish the miniature as an art form in its own right.
With more than three hundred pieces restored between 1980 and 1995, the collection of the Musée de l’Horlogerie et de l’Émaillerie comprehensively illustrates the Geneva school of miniature portraits on vellum, ivory, cardboard and paper.
The Geneva school is one of the most famous of this style in all of Europe. Often trained in Parisian workshops, the painters it produced travelled extensively to portray the aristocracies of the courts of France, England, Germany and Russia, among others. The Genevan miniaturists showed great psychological sensitivity with regard to their models and unparalleled skill in their pictorial execution: the portraits are fragile, precious and intimate all at once. They constitute a valuable asset to the museum’s collections.
- Louis-Ami Arlaud, known as Arlaud-Jurine (Geneva, 1751-1829)
Portrait of Fanny Arlaud (1802-1871), niece of the painter
Watercolour and gouache on ivory, set in a gilt wooden frame
Signed and dated on bottom left: “Ls Arlaud 1816”
Height 15.6, width 13 cm
Origin: acquisition, 1833
Inv. I 116
Louis Ami Arlaud, known as Arlaud-Jurine (Geneva, 1751-1829)
Pupil of Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789). Worked in Paris under the direction of Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809). Spent one year in Rome, then moved to London where painted the portraits of many aristocrats. Exposed in Geneva, at the Royal Academy of London, and at the Paris Salon. Finished career in Geneva. The Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie holds thirty-nine of his portraits in its collection.
Born in the 17th century, developed and elaborated during the 18th century, popularised during the 19th and 20th centuries, snuff boxes for both men and women were produced by the thousands: from 1680 onwards, snuff indeed became one of the most commonly consumed forms of tobacco.
The opulent snuff boxes and bonbonnieres from Geneva, Neuchâtel and France dating from the last quarter of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries were the recipients of all the techniques available for artistically working on precious metals. Watchmakers, jewellers, jewel-setters, engravers, enamellers and enamel painters all worked together to create intricate marvels often endowed with musical mechanisms and automatons while presenting ornamental designs of infinite variety, delicacy and elegance.
Between 1815 and 1830, pocket snuff boxes were most often made of burr wood in a round shape. They were decorated with portraits or realistic scenes in the popular pastel shades of the Romantic era.
- Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), Geneva, 1722
Snuff box plate, depicting Selene and Endymion
Enamel painted on copper, speckled counter-enamel signed and dated “Jean Etienne Liotard pinxit / 1722”
Height 5.10, width 7.15 cm
Origin: bequest, [Mme] Philippe Plantamour, Geneva, 1899
Inv. E 137
Objects of vertu
Snuff boxes, produced by the Geneva Fabrique and linked to the work of goldsmiths, are often associated with objects of vertu such as dance card holders, perfume bottles, and souvenir cases.
The term “objects of vertu” designates quite a vast category of small and medium-sized artworks also known as “objets de haute curiosité” (“curious objects”) or “bibelots”. Even now, contemporary jewellers sometimes work in this particular creative domain.
- Henri-Daniel Robineau (?-1793), Paris, 1756-1762
Souvenir case with flaps, decorated with birds and trees on green terraces
Case of pink and yellow golds, chased and engraved, painted enamel, brilliant-cut diamond-set push-piece
Height 9, width 5.9 (max.), width 5.3 (min.), thickness 0.6 cm
Origin: donation, Xavier Givaudan, Geneva, 1966
Inv. AD 1931
Enamel and shaped pieces
Related to the techniques and know-how that were developed by the Fabrique, the delicate art of applying enamel to shaped pieces has provided the Museum with numerous objects signed by illustrious names, in particular from the European and Genevan Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods: Camille Fauré, E. Feuillâtre, Jean-Henri Demôle, Franck-Édouard Lossier and Berthe Schmidt-Allard illustrate the art of modern and contemporary enamelling, while Jean Dunand represents that of copperware. The Japanese techniques of cloisonné enamel are also to be found in the collection, usually acquired at the source thanks to exhibition purchases from their creators.
- Eugène Feuillâtre (1870-1916), Paris, around 1900
Silver, chased, vermeil, translucent, with stones, brilliant and cloisonné enamel
Height 6.5, diam. 9 cm; detail: base: diam. 6.9 cm
Origin: acquisition from the artist, Paris, undated
Inv. E 150
The highlights of the collection are exemplified by 19th century specimens of Geneva’s jewellery production, in particular brooches and bracelets illustrated with Swiss landscape miniatures made between 1840 and 1880 for the international clientele discovering the Alps while taking the Grand Tour. In addition, the museum’s group of remarkable Art Nouveau jewels acquired directly from their Parisian creators, especially at large-scale decorative and industrial art exhibitions, are often the object of loan requests from other institutions.
- Henri Vever (Paris, 1854–1942), Paris, around 1900
Gold, molten and chased, opalescent and enamels
Origin: acquisition from the artist, Paris, undated
Inv. BJ 82
Since the end of the 1970s, an acquisition policy towards contemporary Swiss and European jewels has considerably expanded the existing collection of jewellery and goldsmithing (see “Jewellery” section). Today, with some three hundred predominantly unique objects, the contemporary section of the jewellery collection at the Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie constitutes one of the most significant public collections in Switzerland.
The contemporary artistic jewel is a true modern art object, using conceptual and plastic creativity in relation to the human body in a concrete or abstract manner. The last decade of the 20th century saw many remarkable pieces added to the collection from artists trained in the Geneva school. These avant-garde specimens testify to the importance of the local movement with regard to this art.
- Anne Baezner (Geneva, 1970), Geneva, 1995
Silver, silver-gilt mail
Height 2,4, diam. 2,8 cm
Origin: acquisition from the artist, 1996
Inv: H 96-20
Besides furniture items (workbenches and chests), the Museum holds some fine examples of hand tools decorated with horn and ivory insets on the handles that testify to the care brought by watchmakers to the construction of their own tools.
The traditional tools – bench vises and hand clamps, pliers, tweezers, precision saws, dies, and other items – were adapted to suit the new working methods imposed by the arrival of industrialisation. The selection was expanded with the blank-machining lathe and the range of specialised tools for dividing wheels, cutting out flat wheels and fusees, topping, centring, and refitting. The wheels were then passed on to the blank-maker, the wheel cutter, the finisher, the toothing-worker and the polisher. To turn the lathe, the blank-maker first used the bow and then the foot-operated treadle-wheel. “Toolmaking” became recognized as an important craft.
- Jacob Privot (active in Geneva, mid-18th century), Geneva, around 1750
Brass and steel
Inv. AD 4957
The Cottier cabinet
Louis Cottier (Carouge, 1894-1966)
Trained in Geneva at the École d’Horlogerie in the class of Henri Hess, Louis Cottier received several prizes at a very young age already. He became specialised in complicated universal watches and invented models of remarkably pure design for the most prestigious Geneva watchmaking brands.
The term “cabinotier” is a Geneva word designating a craftsman in one of the watchmaking trades or associated branches (the professions that collectively comprised the “Fabrique”). The origin of the word comes from the name given to the artisans’ workshops, known as “cabinets” due to their small dimensions and often located in the attics of houses in the Saint-Gervais neighbourhood where the Fabrique metiers were concentrated.Le mot « cabinotier » est un terme genevois qui désigne l’artisan travaillant dans l’un des métiers de l’horlogerie et des branches annexes (ensemble désigné lui-même sous le terme de « Fabrique »). L’origine du terme provient de l’exiguïté des ateliers – cabinets – souvent logés sous les toits des maisons du quartier de Saint-Gervais, où se concentrent les métiers de la Fabrique.
- The cabinet of Louis Cottier, "cabinotier" in Carouge
offered to the City of Geneva in 1972 by the watch manufacturers belonging to the “Association Montres et Bijoux” (“Watch and Jewel Association”) of Geneva.
The workshop of Louis Cottier, "cabinotier" in Carouge, was offered to the City of Geneva in 1972 by the watch manufacturers belonging to the “Association Montres et Bijoux” (“Watch and Jewel Association”) of Geneva.
The enameller’s workshop
The techniques for working with enamel, a material which appears recurrently in the collections of the Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Émaillerie, are explained and illustrated step by step in this exhibit.
A reconstructed enameller’s workshop tangibly displays the painstaking methods used to create these jewels and jewel-watches made of enamel, gold, silver, precious stones and glass beads.
- Workshop of Berthe Schmidt-Allard (17.5.1877-19.11.1953)
Tools, glass powders and palettes