The present watch and its lavishly decorated case is a wonderful example of a timepiece made for a Chinese dignitary.
The movement was made by William Ilbery (or Ilbury), a renowned London watchmaker, living from 1780 to circa 1851. He was a great artist and technician and his watches showed exquisite enamelling work, mostly from Geneva, together with a high technical accuracy in the movement.
In 1836 Ilbery went to live in Fleurier, after that he travelled to Macao in 1839 and then to Canton. There Ilbery was known to have become friendly with Bovet and they met regularly, even though they were rivals not only in business but also in their private lives. Both were courting Anna Vaucher, daughter of Charles-Henry Vaucher (Fleurier) who was a competitor of Bovet in Canton.
Ilbery was in fact engaged to Anna Vaucher and even though he was constantly on travels Anna remained faithful to Ilbery and resisted the proposals of Bovet who hoped one day to win her over. Sadly no marriage ever took place since Anna became ill and died in 1845.
William Anthony (1764 - 1844), another expert watchmaker of his day, was sixteen years senior to Ilbery. He influenced greatly Ilbery's work and contributed substantially to the development of Chinese Watches, however it is still William Ilbery (Ilbury) who is known as the creator of the Chinese watches.
The superb quality of the enamel decoration illustrates the celebrated art of enamel miniatures originating from Geneva in the late 18th/early 19th century. At the time it was not unusual that an artist would not sign his work. The enamel on the present watch however can be attributed to the celebrated Jean-Louis Richter, made after English genre works painted by artists specializing in romantic English rural life, such as William Hamilton, Francis Wheatley and William Redmore Bigg. These paintings enjoyed enormous popularity at the time and were often used by Geneva enamellers to embellish their masterpieces.
Jean-Louis Richter (1766-1841)
Jean-Louis Richter was born in Geneva in 1766 and learned his art from the celebrated David-Etienne and Philippe-Samuel-Théodore Roux.
Throughout Richter's lifetime he was known for is characteristic heads which were upon closer inspection of interesting proportion and doll like features. Contrary to what is usually thought, painted enamel subjects are seldom through one's own imagination, and Richter himself was inspired by, may it in some cases loosely, known paintings and prints of the period. There are some differences between Richter's interpretations and the originals but this can be mostly attributed to the constricted techniques of enamelling. These changes though are most harmonious and it is sometimes suggested that this was the will of Richter himself. Although his signature can be found on some of his works, the majority of his paintings remained unsigned but are easily recognisable as being his from their quality and style.
Richter's landscapes and figures are among the most accomplished works of the period and can be admired in Geneva's Musée de l'Horlogerie et de l'Emaillerie and in the prestigious Patek Philippe Museum.