Watch-Rings: Time to Investigate
This week's blog is all about the wonderful watchmaking marvels that are 'Watch-Rings', or 'Ring-Watches'. The skill required to make a working watch with all the relevant mechanisms and parts, small enough to fit on the bezel of a ring, is utterly astonishing. In fact, so masterful was the art of making watch-rings that very few watchmakers were actually successful - those who were often sprung to fame as a result, suddenly finding their watchmaking skills requested by rulers and royalty across Europe.
A collection of Georgian watch-rings - Antique Animal Jewelry
The History of Ring Watches
By the 16th century, clockmakers were already competing with each other to produce smaller and smaller clocks, small enough to be carried or even embedded in other objects - such as the two watches set in daggers that French king François I was supposed to have spent a fortune on in 1518, or the watch ring with an inbuilt 'alarm' that Elizabeth I was reputed to wear in the late 1500s, which would scratch her finger at set times to remind her of important political meetings.
Despite these early examples owned by royals, it was incredibly hard to make accurate, working clocks on such a miniature scale, and very few would be successfully produced until 200 years or so later. Over this time, innovative leaps and bounds were being made in the art of watchmaking - with new mechanisms and miniature-specific parts being invented all the time. England and Geneva soon became known as the watchmaking capitals of Europe, with many skilled French watchmakers emigrating to these places to perfect their art.
Gold and enamel watch-ring with a split-pearl border, made by Lepine, c.1769-1783
Georgian watch-rings set with pearls, the one on the right with separate hours, minutes, and seconds dials
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Gold and diamond-set watch-ring with a white enamel dial and gold beetle and poker hands, c.1780-1790
Antique watch-ring by Pierre Morand, late 18th century, gold with a gold dial and a rose-cut diamond bezel and shoulders, key-wound and key-set. Via Skinner
Gold ring with a circular bezel enclosing a watch by W. Hughes with a ruby border, Swiss, c.1800
Watch-ring with an oval, enameled blue face set with a seconds dial above and a minutes and hours dial below. There is a central diamond-set visible balance and the case has a split-pearl surround, c.1800.
Georgian watch-ring with an oval, enameled blue face set with pearls and with a visible balance
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Gold, enamel, and diamond-set watch-ring with engraved foliate decoration and a hexahedron case. The watch ring is French with Swiss movement, but has a Turkish dial so was made for a Turkish client, c.1800
A Swiss yellow-gold, enamel, and pearl-set watch-ring with a visible paste-set balance, c.1810
Georgian watch-ring with blue ground and a visible balance
A Swiss gold and pearl watch-ring with a visible paste-set balance, made for the Chinese market, c.1810
A navette-shaped paste-set watch-ring with a visible diamond-set balance, 18k rose gold, c.1820. This watch-ring was created by watchmaker Du Pont in Geneva.
A Swiss, oval-shaped, skeletonized watch-ring with visible balance and a border of half pearls, c.1820
Swiss gold and diamond-set watch-ring with visible balance and an engraved gold plate, c.1820
A Swiss pink-gold watch-ring set with pearls and with an exposed balance. The underside is engraved with instructions for winding and setting, c.1830
Gold, pearl-set watch-ring in a marquis-shaped mount decorated with gold scrolls on blue champlevé with depictions of a dove in white enamel and a lit torch in blue, white, and red enamel, c.1830.
A navette shaped half pearl-set watch-ring, 18k rose gold with engraved floral gold decor, c.1850
Famous Makers and their Royal Buyers
Having a talent for 'precision mechanics', and skill enough to mix the arts of watchmaking and jewelry in the form of 'watch-rings', was a sure way of getting yourself noticed by the most wealthy and highly-ranked members of society imaginable. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a Parisian watchmaker whose skill secured him an official position as 'Clockmaker to Louis XV of France' from 1720 to 1760. In the 1750s, Caron invented a new escapement (the part of the clock that measures beats and controls speed) for miniature watches, which he used in the watch-ring he made for Madame de Pompadour - an exciting piece that could be wound by rotating the bezel and set using a special key. He also made several watch-rings for Louis XV using the same mechanism. These pieces gained him quite a reputation as a horologist, and the Madame de Pompadour ring is often credited as being the first watch-ring to reliably tell the time.
In 1764, the young watchmaker John Arnold presented King George III of England with an extraordinary half-quarter repeater watch-ring, which was less than two centimeters in diameter and had 120 parts. Hearing of this amazing new watch-ring, Czar Paul I of Russia offered Arnold double what George III had paid - already a small fortune of £500 - but Arnold refused. The watch-ring brought great fame to Arnold, and he went on to make further great technological advances in 'precision timekeepers'.
A tiny repeating watch set within a finger ring, made by John Arnold and presented to George III. Interestingly, the basic movement is Swiss in origin but finished in London, and the watch-ring was later fitted with one of the first jeweled ruby cylinders.
Johann Heinrich Seyffert, former director of the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physics and celebrated historical German watchmaker, was also known for making watch-rings and other intricate timepieces in the late 18th-century; many of which were purchased by royalty.
This watch-ring was one of the personal effects left by King Anton of Saxony. and was created by Johann Heinrich Seyffert, c.1780. Photo: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Grünes Gewölbe, Peter Müller
By the early 1800s, three other makers were also known to produce particularly beautiful watch-rings: Piguet et Capt, Antoine Rojard, and Pierre Simon Gounouilhou.
Piguet et Capt
Piguet et Capt was a partnership between Swiss watchmakers Henry Capt and Isaac-Daniel Piguet, who were brothers-in-law. Piguet et Capt were the first watchmakers to make objects that combined music and automata (automatically functioning mechanical creations). Around 1800, they produced several fine watch-rings, many of which had fascinating musical functions.
An 18k pink-gold, diamond-set, rectangular-shaped watch ring attributed to Piguet et Capt. The polychrome enamel surround depicts a château in an idyllic rural landscape, surmounted by two putti, their pink-gold and enamel automaton arms alternately striking the hours and quarters on two small stylized bells, using a key-wound quarter repeating mechanism, c.1810.
Swiss watchmaker Antoine Rojard's claim to fame was his creation of a watch-ring worn by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France. Rojard was known for his automata and unusual watches, claiming to have invented a mechanism that enabled whole sequences of uninterrupted mechanical actions. Rojard and another Swiss watchmaker called Humbert were said to be the main competitors to the famous Swiss Jaquet-Droz family business - who feared losing talented workers to Rojard or Humbert. There are many watch-rings that, although they aren't signed by Rojard, have enough technical similarities to Napoleon's watch-ring that they are attributed to Rojard.
An 18k yellow-gold and pearl-set watch-ring with visible balance, c.1820. This piece is unusual for having an early form of lateral lever escapement - only one other watch-ring from this period is known to have this form of escapement. Attributed to Antoine Rojard.
A navette-shaped watch-ring in 18k rose gold, the bezel is set with half pearls and has a florally engraved rim. The back has engraved instructions for winding, setting, and regulating the watch and the front has a lower clockface showing minutes and hours and an upper clockface for seconds, c.1800. Attributed to Antoine Rojard for its technical similarities to his Napoleon watch-ring.
Pierre Simon Gounouilhou
Pierre Simon Gounouilhou was a Swiss watchmaker who went to Geneva in 1799 and worked in partnership with another watchmaker known as François (Gounouilhou & François) - they were known for their clocks and watches 'with complications'. Gounouilhou in particular was a maker of automata and musical objects and watches, as well as watch-rings with virgule escapement and quarter-repeating mechanisms, and cases that used unusual decorative techniques such as granulation.
Watch-ring attributed to Pierre Simon Gounouilhou, c.1820. 18k gold and enamel, octagonal-shaped bezel decorated with gold scrolls and blue champlevé enamel, with a visible, rose-cut diamond-set balance.
An 18k gold quarter-hour repeating watch-ring with a special escapement and visible diamond-set balance, attributed to Pierre Simon Gounouilhou, c.1820. The Bezel is chiseled and engraved with a laurel-leaf wreath motif. The band is lightly engraved with a repeated pattern.
Though watch-rings were usually created for the beauty of the skill involved and the novelty of such a useful miniature gadget, the symbolism of the clock was an important one in sentimental jewelry of the time. The clock represented the thought, 'I count the hours until I see you again', and many pieces of sentimental jewelry depicting clocks were inscribed with this message or other complimentary sentimental ones.
German ring inscribed ‘Ich Zähle die stunden des Weidersehens’ - I count the hours until I see you again
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A French ring of the same period as the one above, inscribed ‘Pense a moi’, think of me
From Rings: Alice and Louis Koch Collection, page 292
To wrap up, here are a few more photos of Antique Animal Jewelry's collection: