Cartier’s Le Ciel mystery clock set to star in jewel sale

A circa 1928 art deco Cartier Le Ciel mystery clock will star in Sotheby’s April 4 Magnificent Jewels and Jadeite auction in Hong Kong.

It’s estimated to reach $1.3m-1.8m.

Mystery clocks were invented by magician and master engineer Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin in the 1830s.

Mystery clock Cartier

The design looks to have been inspired by the 1927 Pons-Winnecke comet

He came up with a method of hiding the movement, giving the impression the hands are moving on their own.

In reality, the business part of the clock is concealed within the frame while the hands are attached to a pair of transparent crystal disks.  

This example was one of a number created for Cartier by Maurice Couet, who was a passionate student of Robert-Houdin’s work.

They proved particularly popular during the 1920 and 1930s.

Hugely complex objects, they would take up to a year to construct.

This example is one of a series produced by Cartier for the Chinese market between 1922 and 1931, of which only 13 are still known to exist.

It incorporates two jade carps (symbols of power and plenty in China) and is highlighted with diamonds, coral and mother of pearl.

Sotheby’s suggests the design may have been inspired by the passing of the Pons-Winnecke comet in the summer of 1927.

It comments that the piece represents “the epitome of Art Deco's most creative period and the quintessence of Cartier's clockmaking”.

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