An exclusive up close look at a Cartier Mystery Clock

Dec 11, 2011,07:08 AM

The enormous, 185 piece Cartier exhibition opens in Singapore next week. Some of the highlights of the show will be Cartier's fabulous Mystery clocks. These are incredible objects that marry art, mechanics and history.




The reason for the name is clear, almost the entire clock is transparent and thus mysterious. The mechanism is a simple idea and probably obvious to the discerning reader: the hands are mounted on sapphire discs with teeth on the rim that are driven by gears hidden in the frame and base.




1913 was the year the first Mystery clock was unveiled, thanks to the work of clockmaker Maurice Couet who was inspired by the work of Robert Houdin. Since they have been part of Cartier's offerings. Cartier still makes Mystery clocks today as special orders.


But they are extremely scarce, only several dozen have been made over the decades. Consequently Mystery clocks are valuable - they typically sell for the price of a modest flat or more.


Being able to examine a Mystery clock up close is a rare event but I was fortunate. Pictured here is a Model A Mystery clock – the first Mystery clock made was a Model A that was sold to banker J. Pierpont Morgan. This particular specimen date from 1921 and is made of rock crystal, platinum and gold, with an onyx base. It is also set with diamonds and decorated with white enamel.


In fact this is one of the simpler Mystery clocks, there exist Model A clocks with gold bases as well as the extraordinary portico Mystery clocks that have the clock hanging from a doorway.


Just look at the fine detailing; how precisely the rock crystal has been machined -  and remember this was made nearly a century ago 









The precious materials used mean it is far heavier than it looks. It is only about the size of a passport, about 13.5 cm high, but weighs just under a kilo I reckon.



Here is a 360 degree view of the clock







Because Cartier Mystery clocks were so rare and expensive in their day, most of them have stories to tell. Sir Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, was the original owner of this clock. The Maharaja was the sort of royalty that no longer exists today; he served in the British army, married several times and played world class cricket. And he was of course a repeat customer of Cartier with one of his most famous purchases being a lavish diamond necklace that was less a necklace than a vest of diamonds.



The Cartier Time Art exhibition next week at Marina Bay Sands Art Science Museum in Singapore will have the largest collection of Mystery clocks ever displayed in public. It is well worth a look.



This message has been edited by SJX on 2011-12-11 07:15:25

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2011 SIHH

 By: Tick Talk : December 11th, 2011-08:15
Wonderful piece of art and timekeeping! Is this the same Cartier exhibition on display at last year's SIHH?

Much bigger exhibition

 By: SJX : December 11th, 2011-18:45
The exhibition is larger than the SIHH and Zurich shows. - SJX


 By: foversta : December 13th, 2011-14:47
Thanks a lot SJX for this great post about this fantastic clock. And your pics are a true tribute to its beauty. Fx