Rare Gilt Bronze Desk Regulator with Equation of Time and Remontoir d’Egalité with Matte Finishing
Dial signed “Lepaute à Paris/Horloger de l’Empereur” for Clockmaker Jean-Joseph Lepaute
Case attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire
Paris, Empire period, circa 1810
The back plate signed: “Lepaute et Fils à Paris/Invenit n°6”
Family tradition has it that this regulator has remained, until the present day, in the hands of the descendants of Jean-Joseph Lepaute.
The round white enamel dial, signed “Lepaute à Paris Hr de l’Empereur”, indicates the Roman numeral hours and the minutes graduations by means of two pierces brass hands. It also features a blued steel center seconds hand and indicates the equation of time, which shows the difference between true solar time and mean or terrestrial time, by means of a hand decorated with a sun. The movement, whose plate is signed “Lepaute et fils à Paris/Invenit n°6”, features knife-edge suspension, a pin pallet escapement and a remontoir d’égalité; it also has a bimetallic compensation pendulum with a bob allowing advance/retard adjustment. It is housed in a rectangular neoclassical case with glazed sides that is made entirely of finely chased gilt bronze with matte finishing. The bezel is adorned with knurling; the upper portion of the dial plate is decorated with acanthus spandrels and olive branches; the lower portion has a fringed drapery that is adorned with a frieze of leaves and berries. The gilt bronze frame features bands with matted reserves. The quadrangular molded base is supported on four slightly protruding rectangular feet.
This type of clock, known as a “desk regulator”, may be considered one of the most successful models in French luxury horology produced during the final years of the 18th century and the early years of the following century. Its sober design was due to the clockmaker’s desire to showcase the beauty and simplicity of the dial and the mechanism. The exceptional quality of the chasing and gilding of the architectural case supports our attribution to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, the most important Parisian bronze caster of his time. Among the rare known comparable models, which sometimes feature variations in the treatment of the cornice and the general decorative scheme, one example was delivered in 1810 by Lepaute, uncle and nephew, to the Palace of Fontainebleau, and is still there (see J-P. Samoyault, Musée national du château de Fontainebleau, Catalogue des collections de mobilier, 1-Pendules et bronzes d’ameublement entrés sous le Premier Empire, RMN, Paris, 1989, p. 67, catalogue n° 29). A second example is now in the apartments of Napoleon I in the Grand Trianon (illustrated in Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie: Du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1974, p. 325). One further clock of this type, which the Lepautes delivered in 1808 to the Château de Saint-Cloud, is now in the Mobilier national in Paris (shown in M-F. Dupuy-Baylet, Pendules du Mobilier national 1800-1870, Editions Faton, Dijon, 2006, p. 93, catalogue n° 37).
Jean-Joseph Lepaute (1768 - ?)
Born in Bièvres in the Ardennes in 1768, Jean-Joseph Lepaute, known as “Collignon“, was a member of one of the most important Parisian clockmaking dynasties of the 18th century and the early 19th century. The nephew of Pierre-Basile Lepaute, called “Sully-Lepaute“, he went into partnership with his uncle, founding the “Lepaute Oncle & Neveu” company, active from 1798 to 1811. During this period they won several awards, including a silver medal at the 1806 Exhibition of the Products of Industry. After 1811, Jean-Joseph established his own firm, “Lepaute neveu à Paris”, opened a workshop in the Place du Palais Royal and was given the honorary title of “Horloger du Roi de Rome” (“Roi de Rome” was the title given to Napoleon’s son). In 1813, he made a clock for Fontainebleau Palace, and delivered pieces to the Saint-Cloud and Compiègne castles. After the fall of Napoleon he continued to receive important public commissions. He is cited in the rue de Richelieu in 1820, then in the rue Saint-Honoré the following year. After his son’s premature death he sold his business to his cousin Augustin-Joseph-Henry Lepaute.
Pierre-Philippe Thomire (1757 - 1843)
Pierre-Philippe Thomire was the most important Parisian bronzier of the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decades of the following century. Early on in his career he worked for Pierre Gouthière, ciseleur-fondeur du roi, and toward the mid-1770’s began working with Louis Prieur. He later became one of the bronziers attached to the Manufacture Royale de Sèvres, creating the bronze mounts for most of the important creations of the day. After the Revolution, he purchased the stock of Martin-Eloi Lignereux, thus becoming the most important suppliers of furniture bronzes for châteaux and Imperial Palaces. In addition, he worked for a wealthy private clientele, both French and foreign, including several of Napoleon’s Marshals. Thomire retired in 1823.