Exceptional Regulator with Complications
Case Attributed to Ferdinand Schwerdfeger
Paris, late Louis XVI period, circa 1785-1790
The main dial indicates the hours in Roman numerals, the minutes in Arabic numerals, the date, the months, and the signs of the zodiac; it indicates the seconds by a central seconds hand. It surmounts four subsidiary dials which surround an enamel cartouche on which are inscribed the gilt initials of the clockmaker, JSB, on a blue ground; the upper dial indicates the diurnal and nocturnal hours in numerous European capitals and places around the world; the two lateral dials symbolising the Orient and the Occident – one bearing an enamel scene of a busy port, the other depicting a landscape with waterfalls – indicate respectively the times of sunrise and sunset and the phases and age of the moon. The lower dial indicates the date and the four-year leap year cycle. The hands are of pierced gilt brass and blued steel; the movement, with gridiron compensation pendulum, strikes the hours, half hours and quarters on three bells. The magnificent mahogany case has fluted sides and a stepped and dentilled cornice.
In addition to its rare movement with complications and its very beautiful enamel dials, this regulator has a fine case that may be attributed to the cabinetmaker Ferdinand Schwerdfeger, who regularly collaborated with Bourdier, and therefore, with Coteau. This cabinetmaker appears to have made a speciality of architectural clock cases whose sober design required no decorative bronze mounts; he furnished them to the best Parisian clockmakers, including Robert Robin, Antide Janvier and Jean-Simon Bourdier. The present regulator, of exceptional quality and benefiting from the combined talents of Bourdier, Coteau, and Schwerdfeger, may be considered a masterpiece. It is superior in every way to the regulator Bourdier made for the King of Spain, which also indicates the time in several world capitals, and is today in the Royal Spanish Collection (see J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de Relojes del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1987, p. 136, catalogue n° 116). The treatment of the upper portion of the case, in the form of an antique obelisk, is further proof of this regulator’s rarity and perhaps even uniqueness.
Jean-Simon Bourdier (? - 1839)
Jean-Simon Bourdier is one of the most important Parisian horologists of the late 18th century and first quarter of the 19th century. He became a master on September 22, 1787 and immediately became known for the perfection of his movements. In the early 19th century, he worked with the clockmaker Godon, the designer Dugourc and the sculptor Pierre Julien, producing several remarkable pieces destined for the Spanish king Charles IV. In parallel, he worked with the most influential merchants of the time, and particularly Daguerre and Julliot, carefully choosing the artisans who collaborated with him in the production of fine clocks. Among them, one should mention the chaser Rémond, the cabinetmaker Schwerdfeger and the enamellers Dubuisson and Coteau.
Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734 - 1818)
Ferdinand Schwerdfeger is one of the most important Parisian cabinetmakers of the late 18th century. After becoming a master in May 1786, he opened a workshop in Paris and quickly gained a following. His work, however, remains little known due to his becoming a master shortly before the Revolution, and to the fact that he rarely stamped his work. Among the pieces that may be attributed to him with certitude, one should mention an ensemble delivered to Marie-Antoinette, as well as several regulator and clock cases for some of the finest horologists of the day, including Antide Janvier, Jean-Simon Bourdier and Robert Robin (see M-A Paulin, Schwerdfeger, ébéniste de Marie-Antoinette, in L’Estampille/L’Objet d’art, October 2003).
Joseph Coteau (1740 - 1801)
The most renowned enameller of his time, he worked with most of the best contemporary Parisian clockmakers. He was born in Geneva, where he was named master painter-enameler of the Académie de Saint Luc in 1766. Several years later he settled in Paris, and from 1772 to the end of his life, he was recorded in the rue Poupée. Coteau is known for a technique of relief enamel painting, which he perfected along with Parpette and which was used for certain Sèvres porcelain pieces, as well as for the dials of very fine clocks. Among the pieces that feature this distinctive décor are a covered bowl and tray in the Sèvres Musée national de la Céramique (Inv. SCC2011-4-2); a pair of “cannelés à guirlandes” vases in the Louvre Museum in Paris (see the exhibition catalogue Un défi au goût, 50 ans de création à la manufacture royale de Sèvres (1740-1793), Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1997, p. 108, catalogue n° 61); and a ewer and the “Comtesse du Nord” tray and bowl in the Pavlovsk Palace in Saint Petersburg (see M. Brunet and T. Préaud, Sèvres, Des origines à nos jours, Office du Livre, Fribourg, 1978, p. 207, fig. 250). A blue Sèvres porcelain lyre clock by Courieult, whose dial is signed “Coteau” and is dated “1785”, is in the Musée national du château in Versailles; it appears to be identical to the example mentioned in the 1787 inventory of Louis XVI’s apartments in Versailles (see Y. Gay and A. Lemaire, “Les pendules lyre”, in Bulletin de l’Association nationale des collectionneurs et amateurs d’Horlogerie ancienne, autumn 1993, n° 68, p. 32C).