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  • Harry Fane

A Rush to Judgement

The problem today with all the travel restrictions is that one is left reliant upon a few photographs published by the auction houses to decide if one buys something or not. A poor photo or even an enhanced photograph cannot be a reliable bet when compared to seeing and holding a particular item in one’s hands. I presume online catalogues are a bit like online dating where one swipes left or right based entirely upon the impression a photograph makes. An instant rush to judgement may well prove totally misjudged. This extraordinary Cartier, Paris 1950s* stylised clock is a good example of a rush to judgement which, in my case, was totally wrong. Two clever colleagues of mine (who had actually seen it prior to the auction in Geneva last week bought it (US $ 153,000). When I finally set eyes upon it, I was mesmerised and then shocked that I had been so dismissive when I saw it in the catalogue. I had completely misread the piece. Whilst, as we all know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I still would not describe this piece as beautiful in the traditional sense. However, my initial reaction that this was something peculiarly ugly, was, definitely, wide of the mark.

Cartier’s history as a maker of jewelled clocks is well known but their creativity waned a little as the 20th Century progressed. This is undoubtedly due to a decrease in demand for such bibelots. But this clock has all the originality of the 1920s and 30s designs where Cartier forged their reputation: ‘The clock as a jewel and the jewel as a clock’. The overall impression is one of elegance. Tall, beautifully proportioned and full of joie de vivre and wit. It’s a flower for Alice in Wonderland and it makes one smile

The base itself is like a jewelled box. A beautifully scalloped gold edge encases the base which is covered with a mosaic of iridescent blue lapis lazuli. This anchors the flower which rises majestically upwards culminating in the tulip-like clock. The plain gold dial is enhanced with little diamond-set hands. It is sort of mad but the big pierced gold leaves deliver balance and style. The lapis and diamond set beads connect the flower head to the base. To wind the clock, one has to press down on one of the leaves and a small gold panel flips open to reveal the winding mechanism. So clever and beautifully executed.

The clock is tall. It measures 28 cms. It retains the original fitted red leather case and key and overall let this whimsical design serve as a warning not to swipe too fast.

* Catalogued by Christie's as circa 1965 but it could, possibly, have been made mid-1950s.

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