AUCTION – PIASA – Sale of a mysterious Art Deco clock by Cartier. Estimate : 400 000 / 600 000 €


As part of the Jewelry and Watches sale on May 19, 2021, PIASA presents a mysterious Art Deco clock made by Cartier in the early 1930s.

For the first time at auction, this clock whose hands seem to float magically in the dial is a true rediscovery. This mysterious clock had not appeared on the market since its creation by the Cartier Paris workshops. This exceptional piece comes from the private collection of auctioneer and Academician Maurice Rheims.

clock made by Cartier in the early 1930s

In 1912, when he was only 28 years old, the watchmaker Maurice Couët followed in
the footsteps of the famous illusionist Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin and developed
the system of mysterious clocks that were to become the mythical object of the House
of Cartier.

It is a true miracle of watchmaking: the hands are attached to a rock crystal
disc with a serrated metal edge that is operated by a rack and pinion system hidden in
the frame of the case.

While the disc is in motion, the hands give the illusion that they are not connected to any movement, which is hidden in the plinth. Until the 1930s, about 90 mystery clocks were produced. The production started again discreetly after the war, then again in the 1970s.

Initially, Charles Jacqueau and George Remy designed most of these clocks. The one
presented here is a clear reference to the Empire State Building, “the 7th wonder of
the modern world”, whose silhouette is repeated on the hands, while the plinth is
made of rhodonite (manganese basilicate) and onyx. From the Greek rhodon (rose)
for its color, rhodonite is most often presented as here with black veins of manganese

Rhodonite is not commonly used at Cartier – it is the only known example –
and is certainly the most surprising element in the composition of the mystery clock.
The use of rhodonite in contrast to the onyx brings out the characteristics of this
mysterious clock and gives it its very unique appearance, featuring an architectural
motif in very sharp tones.

The manufacturing process required the intervention of six or seven specialists
from Cartier’s Parisian workshops: a goldsmith, an enameller, a lapidary, a setter, an
engraver and a polisher for a period of up to 12 months.

Maurice Couët first used a system with two lateral axes, then around 1920 he
developed another model with a single axis that allowed the use of any clock case.
Thereafter, both designs were used simultaneously. Our clock (pictured above) is a single-axis clock with a classic eight-days movement.

In addition to the presentation of this true jewel of watchmaking, the auction brings
together a hundred pieces, including beautiful Art Deco jewelry such as a Charms
bracelet on the theme of Charlie Chaplin (estimated price: € 10,000 / 15,000), a bracelet
in yellow gold and diamonds from Lacloche Frères (estimated price: €20,000 / 30,000)
or pieces signed René Boivin, Jean Desprès, Arnold Ostertag…

Also noteworthy is an articulated bangle bracelet in yellow gold (estimated price: € 5,000 / 7,000) made during the second half of the 20th century by the Brazilian jeweler Haroldo Burle Marx.