Cartier's "Mystery Clock"

On 14 May 2021, by Claire Papon

This monumental Art Deco timepiece in rock crystal, onyx and marble, with hands that seem to float as if by magic, was made by Cartier.

Cartier, Paris. Mystery Clock in rock crystal, onyx, marble, rhodonite and silver, master goldsmith Maurice Couët, c. 1930, 17.7 x 15 x 9.7 cm/6.7 x 5.9 x 3.5 in.
Estimate: €400,000/600,000

Its estimate reflects its dimensions, its rarity and the standing of one of its owners, Maurice Rheims (1910-2003). While this prominent Paris auctioneer, art historian and member of the Académie Française needs no introduction, the clockmaker Maurice Couët is less well known. In 1912, aged just 28, he followed in the footsteps of the illusionist Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and developed what became Cartier's legendary product: the "Mystery Clock". The hands are attached to a rock crystal disc with a serrated metal edge driven by a rack and pinion system hidden in the surround. As the disk rotates, the hands create the illusion that they are not connected to any movement, as this is hidden in the base.

About 90 clocks were made up to the 1930s, a few after the war, and a larger number in the 1970s—relatively speaking, of course. This one is the only known example of an object by Cartier in rhodonite (black-veined manganese basilicate). The production of these clocks required up to seven specialists, including a goldsmith, enameler, lapidary, engraver and polisher, and could take a year. This one makes clear reference to the Empire State Building, the famous New York skyscraper inaugurated in 1931, listed as one of the "seven wonders of the modern world", whose silhouette is repeated in the hands.

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