N.P.’s aunt, who was a fan of anything Viennese, has a beautiful clock made by the famous French clockmaking family Japy Freres.
N.P sent me a photo of the aunt’s lovely, delicate mantle clock.
Founded in 1806 by father Frederic and later joined by his three sons, Japy Freres was an early model of diversification of talents. Pierre handled the finances, Fritz handled the technical end, and Louis handled the watchmaking machinery.
Father Frederic was the brains and the boss.
Thus, what was once an industry of “made by hand” became, by the early 19th century, a Japy Freres factory production, based in one large building in Bessancourt, France. The business was a thriving concern for 124 years, closing after the family supplied clocks and watches to various national armies gearing up for World War II.
The founder, father Frederic, was an apprentice to his grandfather, a watchmaker.
After his apprenticeship in 1766 at age 17, Frederic began to reform the clock-making industry.
Prior to Frederic’s innovations, different villagers made different watch parts, which were joined by an “assembler,” and forwarded to a “dresser” who made the case. Frederic standardized the industry.
He purchased and remade machinery, and assembled a factory where all workmen toiled under one roof, in sequence, on site.
When we talk about the Enlightenment period in Europe, there could be no better metaphor for Newton’s dictum that the universe is a clockwork mechanism, and that all human beings are parts of that machine, than a mechanized clock factory where all laborers had a distinct and sequential job.
N.P. is grateful to his friends James and Donna Stoudemire of Clockworks, in Huntington, Maine, for the identification and dating of this clock.
N.P.’s aunt’s clock, circa 1880, exhibits the fruits of founder Frederic’s innovations. I can see the screws are machine made (as opposed to hand-turned), and the treatment of the case and the enamel process of the dial was unique for this time. This process was invented by Frederic in the 18th century.
And to have a timepiece in the 18th century was a privilege for the wealthy. I find a further metaphor for the importance of timekeeping in the era in the fact that these clocks were designed for the central position in the home, above the hearth, which warmed the entire house. That is why they are called mantle clocks. People converged around the hearth, and a timepiece was a status-marking symbol of order and control in the 18th century.
Frederic focused on making thousands of high-end clocks, for the wealthy, and a Japy Freres mantel – or bracket clock (a tall clock designed to sit on a matching wall bracket) was desired all over Europe. Yet when his sons inherited the business in the early 19th century, they began to “diversify,” making office machines, hardware, enamel kitchenwar and coffee grinders.
You can guess the result. The factory was spread too thin, and those high-end clocks that were the cornerstone of the business suffered. Luckily for N.P., his aunt’s clock falls into the higher end of the refinement scale. Japy Freres continued to be a symbol of taste in timepieces until the third quarter of the 19th century.
In fact, Japy Freres set the standard for classy clocks being necessarily of French manufacture and French design, and available only to those of the most discriminating taste.
The clock is in the French Revival style of the late 19th century, specifically the Louis XV style, and the case is distinctive for its mottled orange to brown, which is called Boulle-work. This style is named after French cabinet maker Andre Charles Boulle (1642-1732), who veneered furniture and clocks with tortoiseshell. Japy’s clocks simulate this look with enamel. N.P. mentioned that his aunt loved the Viennese style.
This clock “fits” with her taste, as the wealthy of Vienna favored the Louis XV Revival style. The grace, proportion, and organic whiplash line of Louis XV Revival can be seen today in vintage Viennese architecture.
The workings of the clock are initialed “B&G,” which may refer to the porcelain manufacturer Bing and Grondahl, which would have made the clock more expensive when originally purchased. The clock is ornamented with doré-work (gold-gilded bronze) mounts that terminate in a flower cartouche upon which a bird has landed.
The clock’s workings were pulled, and changed to battery operation years ago, but N.P. writes that the clock is “noisy,” which indicates the metal workings are still intact.
I would put the value, once the original workings are restored, at $1,000.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.