Published - Auction Houses Benefit From Renewed Chinese Passion for Pocket Watches

Swiss watchmakers who are increasingly designing their timepieces to cater to the tastes of a Chinese clientele are following a marketing strategy that has been successfully traced before. This time the result is a return to the classic aesthetic of slim and elegant wristwatches. But back in the late 18th and 19th centuries, Swiss watchmakers were making enameled pocket watches, some with lavish musical mechanisms, especially for the Chinese market. Many of those beautiful timepieces are now highly sought after in the auction rooms. Commenting on the rapid rise in auction values, Aurel Bacs, the international head of watches at Christie’s, said: “Depending on the type of pocket watches, some have clearly increased 100 percent in the last couple of years.”

According to Vanessa Herrera, head of watches at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, watches made for the Chinese market had several typical characteristics. “They were often set with seed pearls on the bezel,” she said. “There are also jump or center seconds hands because the Chinese had a preference for having the seconds hand at the center rather than at 6 o’clock; and the enameled decorations on the back are very colorful and lively.”

Ms. Herrera said the current growth of interest in these watches partly reflected the search for alternative investments following the rise in the price of gold, and partly a renewed interest from Chinese collectors in the art of enameling.

Some of the most sought-after pocket watches are those that have a connection to the Qianlong Emperor, who was an avid collector of western-style clocks, as well as automata and pocket watches. In 2008, Christie’s raised $375,000 from the sale of “The Imperial Pomegranates,” a rare pair of gold, enamel and pearl-set pocket watches, circa 1820, that were made by Piguet & Meylan. The watch set was reputedly given to Qianlong by the British Royal Family. Collectors will have an opportunity to bid for some exquisite pocket watches over the coming months. Sotheby’s spring sales in Hong Kong on April 7 will include 40 to 50 pocket watches dating to the early 18th to the early 20th centuries. Many, like a Bovet Fleurier open face watch, circa 1860, with enamel and pearl decoration and a center second, would originally have been manufactured for the Chinese market. Read the whole story in the
  IHT .