Once upon on a comet: The Cartier Le Ciel Mystery Clock
Even though the mystery has long been solved, the enchantment created by a Cartier Mystery Clock when it rarely emerges for a sale still lives on. All the more so with Le Ciel, the Art Deco Cartier Mystery Clock due to be sold at Sotheby's on 4 April in Hong Kong. Created in 1928, Le Ciel was probably inspired by the appearance of the Pons-Winnecke comet in June 1927 and is saturated with symbolisms. The celestial dial embellished with bejeweled stars and planets depicts the majesty of the sky in the night, within which the diamond-set comet hands float telling the time. Contoured by a sequence of moonstone and coral squares, the dial is supported by a pair of two carved jade carps adorned with diamonds, corals and moonstones resting on a fountain symbolic of eternity.
"The carps have a special place in Chinese culture. Their sound 'yu' is the same as 'prosperity', hence the fish has become a symbol of abundance and is omnipresent in the Lunar New Year celebrations," explains Mr Chin Yeow Quek, deputy chairman of Sotheby's Asia and chairman of international jewellery, Asia.
In 1913 when the first mystery clock was unveiled, the hands floating on the dial seemingly detached to the clock's body intrigued observers. The timepiece's mechanism conceived by Maurice Couet exclusively for the Maison is concealed in the supporting pillars and connected with transparent discs on which the hands move. Louis Cartier however, kept this trick secret so that questioned by curious customers, the sales representative innocently admitted that they did not know how the timepiece could function. This way, the legend of the 'Mystery Clock' was born. Famed collectors of the ingenious invention included American financier J.P. Morgan, Queen of Spain Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, Queen Mary of England, and the Maharajah of Nawanagar. Since we cannot see time but only clocks, it seems only fitting that we pay deference to the collector's choice of materialising time in these elegant architectures that keep its magic alive.
The Cartier Le Ciel Mystery Clock goes on auction at Sotheby's on 4 April.
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