An Important Mahogany and Mahogany-Veneered Regulator with Equation of Time and Four Hundred-Days Power Reserve
Dial signed by the clockmaker Jean-Simon Bourdier
Case Attributed to Ferdinand Schwerdfeger (1734-1818)
The Dial Enamelled by Muret
Paris, late Louis XVI period, circa 1785 – 1790
The round enamel dial, signed “Bourdier à Paris”, indicates the Roman numeral hours, the Arabic numeral five-minute intervals, the equation of time with simplified indication of the minutes of difference as compared to true solar time, and the annual calendar with the months and the date, by means of pierced gilt bronze hands. A central seconds hand indicates the seconds; the lower portion of the dial bears the signature of the enameller Muret. The movement is impulsed by a fine bimetallic compensation pendulum with a bob bearing the indications of the expansion of metals and the degrees of a circle. The movement is housed in a very fine rectangular Neoclassical mahogany and mahogany-veneered case; the protruding molded cornice is adorned with a denticulated frieze. The high, solid base stands on a rectangular plinth with concave molding.
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The present important regulator is housed in an elegant and extremely sober architectural case made of polished mahogany, which was meant to showcase the ingenious mechanism and beautiful dial. This esthetic choice was a result of the emperor’s desire to foster a sober and elegant style that was often highlighted by the beauty of mahogany. Toward the end of the 18th century, the cabinetmaker Jean-Ferdinand-Joseph Schwerdfeger (1734-1818), referred to as “Ferdinand” in many early 19th century sales catalogues, specialized in this type of case. After the death of his wife in 1803, his workshop was described as containing almost exclusively mahogany regulator and clock cases. It was Schwerdfeger who constructed the case of the geographic clock that Antide Janvier presented in 1791 to King Louis XVI, which is today in the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau (illustrated in M. Hayard, Antide Janvier 1751-1835, Horloger des étoiles, p. 1995, p. 79). It was clearly the same cabinetmaker, who also made luxurious pieces of furniture for Marie-Antoinette, who was called on to make the case of the present regulator. Among the comparable regulators with a denticulated frieze known today, one example, signed “Godon”, is in the Royal Spanish Collection (illustrated in J. Ramon Colon de Carvajal, Catalogo de relojes del Patrimonio nacional, Madrid, 1987, p. 108-109, catalogue n° 89). A second clock is now in the Schloss Wilhelmshöhe in Cassel (pictured in R. Mühe and Horand M. Vogel, Horloges anciennes, Manuel des horloges de table, des horloges murales et des pendules de parquet européennes, Fribourg, 1978, p. 287, fig. 579). One further clock, formerly in the Gélis collection, is on display in the Musée Paul Dupuy in Toulouse (see Tardy, La pendule française, 2ème Partie : du Louis XVI à nos jours, Paris, 1974, p. 334).
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).