Pendant watch

WB.189     about 1825–75 • Enamelled gold and rock crystal • watch watch-case watch-key

An accomplished 19th-century fake, made in the style current around 1620. The large rock crystal on the cover has been set over red foil to look like a ruby. The spectacular enamelling of the watch case, both inside and out, is closely based on printed designs of the 1620s, like the one below.

Curator's Description

Oval watch in gold case, pierced and enamelled; dial-plate engraved on white ground with birds and scrolls filled with enamels; landscape in coloured enamels in centre; chapter-ring divided I-XII and 13-24; single steel hand; gold back-plate engraved with formal flowers filled with enamels; pierced scroll cock, blued steel balance; gold barrel for mainspring engraved with flowers and filled with enamels; hinged cover in open-work, set with large crystal surrounded by eight smaller ones, all over ruby foil; other side of cover with enamelled plates behind the stones, engraved and enamelled with birds on white ground and insects on blue; emerald glass back with broad gold mount with scrolls and birds on outside and scrolls on inside; scroll pendant; handle of key pierced scroll enamelled.

This object was collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

How big is it?

5.2 cm wide, 11.3 cm high, 3.9 cm deep, and it weighs 168g

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1986:-

Origin: Uncertain; probably made in the middle of the 19th century, perhaps in Paris.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: The Renaissance taste for setting the movement of a watch within a large emerald, to be worn both as a jewel and a highly prized curiosity of time-keeping, is well attested from the inventories and lists - indeed, one splendid example was found in 1912 in England amidst the Cheapside Hoard of jewellery (see Tait in ‘Princely Magnificence, Court Jewels of the Renaissance, 1500-1630’, ed. A. Somers Cocks, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum (Debrett’s Peerage Ltd), London, 1980, pp. 87-9, for a discussion of the dating of this Hoard to c. 1635-4 and for a description of the large hexagonal-shaped emerald that forms the case of the watch with its gold dial enamelled in green and its gold suspension loop set with small emeralds and white enamel).

In the most significant publication of the Waddesdon watch as a piece of jewellery Joan Evans stated that “its back [was] formed of a large sapphire and its lid set with another surrounded by eight smaller stones . . .” whilst the caption to the two illustrations reads: “Watch of enamelled gold set with cabochon sapphires; French, c.1620” (Evans 1953 (rev. edn 1970), p. 129, pl. 109 a-b). It is not known how the stones came to be thus identified as 'sapphires'; both in Read 1902 and in Dalton 1927 the watch is said to be “French, about 1620”, but there is no mention of sapphires - indeed, the case is clearly described: “the back being of emerald glass” and the cover being set with one large and eight smaller “crystals over ruby foil”. As recently as 1978 the Read/Dalton attribution, dating and detailed description were still being repeated in Good 1978, p. 193, col. pl. 5, though in 1964 the watch was published as “French, ca. 1580-1600” and described as having a “gold case, an emerald forming the back. Eight square rubies set in the cover” (see von Bassermann-Jordan 1964, p. 135, fig. 108 a-c).

The present detailed study has now established that the material used both on the cover and on the back of the watch-case was rock-crystal - neither 'emerald glass' nor any precious gemstones ('emerald', 'rubies' or 'sapphires') have been used. Furthermore, when the gold mount was removed, the rock-crystal back was found to be made of two 'skins', one fitting inside the other with an application of coloured paint between the two layers to create a most successful illusion. The uneven greenish tints were so transmitted that the effect of a large cabochon emerald was created. This use of rock-crystal is unparalleled in the Renaissance; indeed, all known attempts to shape two layers of rock-crystal (or glass) so that they fit together closely and to inject a colour between them in order to create this kind of optical effect in imitation of a gemstone seem to date from the nineteenth century (see G. F. Herbert Smith, ‘Gemstones’, 13th edition rev. and reprinted with corrections by F. C. Phillips, London, 1962, pp. 212-13) where both the doublet and the triplet method of creating imitation gemstones is discussed: “colouring matter is introduced with the cement which is used to re-unite the two portions of the stone. In the so-called ‘emeraude’ soude (soldered emerald) a crown and base of rock-crystal are united by a green transparent cement to simulate a real emerald”.

The massive gold mounts on the back were deliberately fashioned in an uneven, undulating wavy line to suggest that a phenomenally large natural emerald with an understandably imperfect form has been used. Such a gemmological rarity would have been highly prized in Renaissance Europe and would not have been trimmed and given a neat straight edge but would be left in its natural form and the gold mounts made to accommodate its irregular outline. In fact, the double-walled dome of rock-crystal was specially cut along the edges to simulate such an irregular cabochon gem. On a smaller scale a similar irregular outline and uneven cabochon form was given to the nine pieces of rock-crystal on the cover, but because they were not intended to be looked through, they were backed with coloured foil and thus given a gemstone quality as the tinted light reflects back from the foil through the single layer of rock-crystal. Furthermore, the illusion of precious gemstones was deliberately enhanced by artificially creating on the outer surface of rock-crystal one or two shallow polished grooves, in imitation of the flaws that are sometimes to be found on cabochon gem-stones; this feature is especially noticeable on the large central stone (on the cover) and on the exterior dome of the back of the case.

The enamelled decoration is executed in the style associated with the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The use of a conspicuous background of white enamel combined with a restrained use of bright translucent enamels can be paralleled on very few surviving jewels, although to a limited extent it is to be found on the reverse of the Lyte Jewel of 1610 (WB.167). However, the style of the enamelled decoration on the watch is copied from designs of a slightly later date, perhaps c.1620, when many of the ingredients - the insects, the floral motifs ending in a curving line of diminishing dots, and the obtrusive birds - begin to make their repeated appearances in the sets of ornamental engravings, for example, the elegant designs of 1616 by Daniel Mignot, a Huguenot who worked in Augsburg (see Evans 1970, fig. 18); or the lively designs by P. Symony, produced in Strasbourg in 1621 (see Evans 1970, fig. 22); or the more closely related Antwerp engraving of birds by Marcus Gerard depicting the emblematic figure of 'Air' surrounded by a wide variety of birds (see Yvonne Hackenbroch, ‘Renaissance Jewellery’, Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications, London, New York and Munich, 1979, fig. 669); or, earlier, the set of 'The Five Senses' engraved by Hinrich Renbage (recorded c. 1580) after Crispin van der Passe, which are in the British Museum Print Room (1867,0413.577-582). Indeed, the symmetrically arranged design on the enamelled gold back-plate of the movement corresponds with a dated engraved design of 1619 by Pierre Nolin, which is in the British Museum Print Room (1976,0925.6) and helps to confirm the impression that the intention was to create a watch of c.1620.

The overall effect of the watch, however, is unconvincing and suggests a mid-nineteenth-century origin. One of the least convincing aspects is the interior of the cover, which (when opened) presents the viewer reading the dial with eight of the nine enamelled plaques in an upside-down position, whilst the large central plaque is turned on its side. Indeed, the bird of the large central enamelled plaque is curiously not depicted standing on the branch; instead, the branch beneath the bird's tail is abruptly interrupted by the bird's two legs and then the branch resumes on the right, curling up under the bird's breast and head. The Renaissance goldsmith designer Corvinianus Saur solved a similar problem in a far more convincing fashion, when in a design for a pendant he included an eagle with its head swooping vertically although its feet are on a foliate branch that curves round and opens in a flower on the other side. The engraved design (British Museum Print Room 1905,0902.15) is also by Corvinianus Saur, c. 1610; the border encircling the IHS pendant jewel could be the source for the enfeebled version surrounding the dial, while the two rectangular panels with exotic birds can be related to those on the inside of the cover.

In the light of these observations it is clear that the watch must be viewed with extreme caution, and although the basic mechanism of the movement may be of early seventeenth-century date, the remainder of the object is clearly all of one fabrication - either entirely genuine or entirely bogus. The following are the suspect features:

(i) The use of a double-walled rock-crystal back with a 'sandwich-filling' to give the effect of an emerald.

(ii) The trimming of the edges of the double-walled rock-crystal back in order to simulate a phenomenally large but incomplete emerald carbuncle.

(iii) The filling of the interior trough of the gold mount with resin-type adhesive, instead of cutting and polishing the edge of the pseudo-emerald so that it would have a lip or pronounced moulding, around which the gold mount could be 'wrapped' in the customary way, thereby facilitating a secure grip.

(iv) The use of gold for the making of the barrel of the movement.

(v) The decoration of the barrel of the movement with enamelling en basse taille - a technique that creates a fragile ornament, especially vulnerable on a working part of the mechanism.

vi) The addition of an extra or second back-plate of gold that has no mechanical function and is not even affixed in a mechanical way.

(vii) The making of this second back-plate in gold and then decorating it with an enamelled design that is symmetrical and ignores the watchmaker's need to cut away a large proportion.

(viii) The use of rock-crystals over coloured foil to simulate nine cabochon gems in gold settings on the cover; but, in particular, the flimsy, crude gold setting in which the central large cabochon rock-crystal is contained and the extraordinary method of attaching it to the cover with strands of thin wire passed through a tiny hole at the top, sides and bottom of the oval recess in the centre.

(ix) The fashioning in a deliberately bent and curved manner of the pendant loop so that the watch is able to hang vertically, rather than tilting backward when placed on the hook of a display stand.

Irrefutable evidence of the lengths to which copyists of Renaissance watches (as jewellery) went in the nineteenth century is rarely available, but it became immediately apparent during the author's recent examination of a watch set in a gold enamelled finger-ring, which had formerly been in the Pierpont Morgan Collection (see G.C. Williamson, ‘Catalogue of the Collection of Watches, the Property of J. Pierpont Morgan’, London, 1912, pp. 91-4, pl. XLI a-d), but now belongs to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA. It transpired that this watch was closely based on one of the best documented, rarest and finest of Renaissance finger-ring watches - the Munich Schatzkammer's gold enamelled hour-striking example signed I.W (see E. Steingräber, ‘Alter Schmuck’, Munich, 1956; English trans. ‘ Antique Jewellery’, London, 1957, pp. 128-9, figs 220-3; ‘Schatzkammer der Residenz’ 1970, p. 271, no. 649; Klaus Maurice, ‘Die Deutsche Räderuhr’, Munich, 1976, no. 448). Whereas the Munich finger-ring is listed as early as 1635 and was definitely made in Augsburg (punched with the town's mark), probably c. 1580-90 by Jacob Weiss, the version in America is probably about 100 years old, although the old and rather incomplete watch mechanism was clearly used to give a spurious authenticity to the object - even to having the same intitals, I.W, on the back-plate. However, the Pierpont Morgan mechanism is a typical little oval movement and, unlike the Munich circular movement, was never intended to strike the hours. It was quite a tour de force in the late sixteenth century to make so small a watch movement that also had a striking train and yet be able to fit it into the bezel of a finger-ring. Simple oval mechanisms with a going-train of German origin c. 1600 were not so difficult to find and so could be inserted into the faked finger-ring copied from the Munich prototype.

When the Munich and Indianapolis rings are compared in detail, the copyist's lack of understanding becomes apparent, quite apart from the poor workmanship in, for example, the bad fit of the movement and dial within the elongated octagonal bezel and, secondly, the feeble enamelling and drawing of the Crucifixion group, although it was a slavish copy of the centre of the triptych on the Munich prototype. However, the tiny hinged cross at the top of the Munich triptych has a crucial function, whereas the copyist has treated it as purely decorative: it is brought down after the two wings of the triptych have been closed and effectively locks them in the closed position, because although the arms of the tiny cross are accommodated in the two little cut-outs on the two wings, the little piece above each of the two cut-outs becomes secured under the tiny cross when it is brought down from its extended position. The copyist, not realising its role, designed the tiny cross to be hinged in the same way, but by cutting back the tops of the two wings it does not lock the wings when they are closed; they can still fall open when the cross is folded down. Furthermore, in that position with the two wings closed, the copyist made another very dubious deviation from the Munich prototype, creating in his design two little crosses, one immediately above the other. This curious feature does not occur in combination with the sacred monogram IHS, and it is not to be found on the Munich prototype. However, it is easy to understand the copyist's change of design, because his octagonal bezel had to be elongated to accommodate the standard oval watch movement and so his surface areas for decoration were slightly different. Nevertheless, he revealed for a second time a lack of real understanding. Of course, his ability to copy the hoop and shoulders -even the arabesque pattern in the exterior of the bezel -is impressive because the level of expertise, both in enamelling and goldsmiths' work, in the workshops of the second half of the nineteenth century, especially among craftsmen like Reinhold Vasters in Aachen, was undoubtedly high.

The maker of the Waddesdon watch is likewise at his most accomplished in the field of enamelling, although some parts of the goldsmith's work are also skilful, but neither in the design area nor in the pseudo emerald back is the copyist sufficiently ingenious to avoid tell-tale pitfalls. In its daring, massive scale the Waddesdon watch is an important document of the ambitious targets set by these copyists and fakers. It is quite a spectacular achievement, but by taking the mount off and revealing the true nature of the 'emerald glass', the nineteenth-century techniques of its manufacture have now become irrefutably identified.


  • Charles Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 189, fig. 26
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 189
  • Ernst von Bassermann-Jordan, ‘The Book of Old Clocks and Watches’ (4th edn, rev. Hans von Bertele, and trans, from ‘Uhren’, 1961, by H. Alan Lloyd, London, 1964), p. 135, figs 108a, b, c
  • Joan Evans, ‘A History of Jewellery, 110-1870’, London, 1953 (rev. edn 1970), p. 129, pl. 109
  • Richard Good, ‘Watches’, Poole, 1978, p. 193, col. pl. 5.
  • References

    1. Read 1902: Read, Charles Hercules, The Waddesdon Bequest. Catalogue of the Works of Art Bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898, London, BMP, 1902
    2. Dalton 1927: Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, The Waddesdon Bequest : jewels, plate, and other works of art bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild., London, BMP, 1927
    3. Tait 1986: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; I The Jewels, London, BMP, 1986

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