An Exceptional Desk Regulator with “remontoir d’égalité” “Royal Model”, Louis XVI period
Call +33 1 45 61 44 55
Robert Robin (1741-1799)
Joseph Coteau (1740-1812)
Case attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire
Probably made under the Supervision of Dominique Daguerre
An Exceptional Desk Regulator with “remontoir d’égalité”
Paris, Louis XVI period, circa 1783
Height 38.2 cm; width 21.7 cm; depth 17.1 cm
This exceptional desk, or mantel regulator, is one of the most luxurious Parisian clocks of the latter part of the reign of Louis XVI. Its complex movement with complications has a Graham escapement and a constant force remontoir d’égalité, with a bimetallic gridiron pendulum and two weights, with instructions for winding indicated on the back of the front door: “Remonté à gauche” (Wind to the left). The magnificent neoclassical architectural case is made of finely chased gilt bronze with matte finishing. All four sides, as well as the top, are glazed so that the complex movement may be admired. The case, which is raised on four quadrangular feet, is elaborately adorned with molding on the chapter and the base, with a toothed frieze decorating the slightly protruding cornice, a bead frieze adorning the bezel, acanthus and laurel leaf spandrels, recessed molded matte frames, and a magnificent chased drapery with fringe and a leafy garland under the dial.
The dial, signed “Robin Hger du Roi”, is a true masterpiece; it also bears the signature of the most renowned enameller of the day, Joseph Coteau (the counter-enamel bears the name “Coteau” and the date “1783”. It indicates the Roman numeral hours, the Arabic five-minute intervals, the seconds, the date, the months, and the equation of time, which shows the difference between true time and mean time. Along its outermost border it features the twelve polychrome signs of the zodiac within oval medallions surrounded by delicate interlacing foliage embellished with flowers and cabochons within arabesque frames. The indications are given by five hands, two of which are made of pierced and gilt bronze. Three others, including the equation of time hand, are made of blued steel.
The present clock may be considered an example of the quintessence of Parisian luxury horology during the reign of Louis XVI. Such clocks were made for a handful of important connoisseurs, often people who were close to the royal family. Certain contemporary documents afford information about the collectors who owned such masterpieces. One such clock was mentioned in the probate inventory of Denis-Pierre-Jean Papillon de la Ferté, the director of the Menus Plaisirs du Roi; it was sold in February 1797: “305. A square clock, with glazed panels, a half-second movement, with equation, remontoire and striking, made by Robin”. A second clock was described several years previously, shortly before the Revolution, in the inventory of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s horological collection, which was maintained by Robin. In it one finds a model that appears to be nearly identical to the present clock: “28. A square clock with architectural case and glazed panels, in gilt and matte bronze, with a compensation pendulum, hours, minutes, seconds, striking, with date, day of the week, and the figures of the zodiac painted in miniature on the dial, with the name of Robin” (see P. Verlet, Les bronzes dorés français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1999, p. 466).
Only a few similar regulators are known to exist today; most bear the signatures of the clockmaker Robin and the enameller Coteau, who both collaborated on the clock, probably at the request of one of the great marchands-merciers of the time, such as Simon-Philippe Poirier and his associate Dominique Daguerre, the two most famous purveyors of Parisian luxury items. Among the rare models known today, one example now in a private collection is pictured in D. Roberts, Precision Pendulum Clocks, 2004, p. 32. Two regulators made by Robin, formerly in the Winthrop Kellogg Edey collection, are now in the Frick Collection in New York; their cases are attributed to the renowned bronzier Pierre-Philippe Thomire (Inv. 1999.5.150 and 1999.5.151) (illustrated respectively in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie : Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1975, and in C. Vignon, The Frick Collection Decorative Arts Handbook, New York, Scala, 2015).
Joseph Coteau (1740-1801)
Along with Joseph Gobin, known as “Dubuisson”, he was one of the most extraordinary enamellers of plaques and dials of his time. Originally from Geneva, he became a Master enameller of the Academy de Saint Luc in 1766. Coteau mostly worked in Paris, where he became a master in 1778. From 1780 to 1784, he was employed by the Royal Sèvres Manufactory. Throughout his career he supplied dials to the finest Parisian clockmakers, including Robert Robin and Ferdinand Berthoud, both clockmakers to King Louis XVI. His most exceptional dials were finely detailed and extremely delicate.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757-1853)
Having been made a master bronze caster on May 18, 1772, he was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th and the early years of the 19th centuries. He began his career by working for Pierre Gouthière, chaser-caster to the king. By the mid 1770’s he had begun working with Louis Prieur. He then became one of the bronziers working at the Royal Sèvres Factory, being responsible for the bronze mounts of most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he bought the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, becoming the most important supplier of bronze furnishings for imperial palaces and luxurious mansions. He also had a wealthy private clientele in France and abroad, including several Napoleonic Marshals. He retired in 1823.
Was the most important marchand-mercier, i.e., dealer in luxury objects, of the last quarter of the 18th century. Little is known about the early years of his career, but he is thought to have begun his activity around 1772, the year he went into partnership with Philippe-Simon Poirier (1720-1785), another well-known marchand-mercier who invented furniture adorned with porcelain plaques from the Royal Sèvres Manufactory. When Poirier retired, around 1777-1778, Daguerre began running the shop in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, keeping the name “La Couronne d’Or”. He also conserved his predecessor’s clientele, while considerably extending the business’s activity in just a few years, and playing an important role in the renewal of the Parisian decorative arts. He worked with the finest cabinetmakers of the time, including Adam Weisweiler, Martin Carlin and Claude-Charles Saunier, the chaser-gilders Pierre-Philippe Thomire and François Rémond, and the clockmakers Renacle-Nicolas Sotiau and Robert Robin. Having long been a standard-bearer for French luxury goods, Daguerre settled in England in the early 1780s, going into partnership with Martin-Eloi Lignereux, who remained in charge of the Paris shop. A visionary and an extraordinary businessman, in London Daguerre enjoyed the patronage of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, and actively took part in the decoration and furnishing of Carlton House and the Brighton Pavilion, calling on his network of Parisian artisans and importing most of the furniture, seating, mantelpieces, bronze furnishings and objets d’art. For just the year 1787, his invoices amounted to 14500£ worth of furnishings. Several influential English aristocrats, impressed by his talent, also called on him. They included Count Spencer, for Althorp, where Daguerre collaborated with the architect Henry Holland (1745-1806). In Paris he continued to work for influential collectors, through the intermediary of his associate Lignereux; he delivered magnificent pieces of furniture to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. Probably upset by the events of the Revolution and the loss of several of his most important clients, he retired in 1793.
Robert Robin (1741-1799) is one of the most important Parisian clockmakers of the late 18th century. Having received the titles of Valet de Chambre-Horloger Ordinaire du Roi et de la Reine in 1783 and 1786, he had an extraordinary career, distinguished himself by his exceptional contribution to the progress of time measurement during his lifetime.
In 1778 the French Académie des Sciences approved two of his inventions, one of which led to the construction of an astronomic clock representing a meridian drawn on a pyramid, which was acquired that year by the Menus Plaisirs on behalf of Louis XVI. Robin published a “Description historique et mécanique” of the clock. He constructed astronomic mantel regulators with compensation balance, which the Marquis de Courtanvaux, one of the period’s most important connoisseurs of precision horology, was among the first to acquire. During the Terreur he made decimal watches and clocks. He is recorded successively at the Grande rue du faubourg Saint-Honoré (1772), rue des Fossés-Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois (1775), rue Saint-Honoré à l'Hôtel d'Aligre (1778) and in the Galeries du Louvre in 1786.
Robin housed his mantel regulators in sober, elegant cases that were remarkably modern in style. He worked with excellent artisans such as Robert and Jean Baptiste Osmond, Pierre Philippe Thomire, E. Roy, J.L. Beaucour, P. Delacroix, François Rémond, Claude Galle, Balthazar Lieutaud, E. Levasseur, J.H. Riesener, Jean-Ferdinand Schwerdfeger and Adam Weisweiler for his cases; Barbezat, Edmé-Portail Barbichon, Dubuisson, Cave, Merlet and Coteau for his dials, and the Richards and the Montginots for his springs.
Robin’s sons, Nicolas Robert (1775-1812) and Jean-Joseph (1781-1856), were both fine clockmakers who continued their father’s business.
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