Bovet Frères, Fleurier: A Carriage Clock with Unusual Double Strike
A arge carriage clock with an unusual double strike by Bovet frères.
The eight-day duration movement most unusually strikes the hours on both a bell and a gong, the gong set within the base and sounding simultaneously via a chain connecting the two hammers, with a push repeat button to the top sounding the last hour. The movement was made for Bovet by Japy frères, one of the finest carriage clock movement makers of the period, and is stamped to the backplate with their mark, a circle inscribed Japy Frères, Medaille d’Or, Annees 1823, 27, 34, 39, 44, 49, being the years of Exposition gold medal awards. It is also engraved Bovet Frères a Fleurier, along with the serial number 4562. The cylinder platform escapement has wonderful scroll decoration within a matted ground and is typical of those seen on other Bovet clocks (stock number D432) and also those produced by Japy Frères (see stock number D446).
The white enamel dial is signed Bovet Frères à Fleurier and has black Roman hour numerals, and blued steel trefoil hands being a style used by other makers such as Henri Jacot at this time, a subsidiary alarm dial and a sweep seconds hand, another feature that is somewhat unusual but is seen on clocks by both Bovet Frères and Japy Frères and which requires both different wheelwork and a different movement layout to the norm.
The giant engraved pillared case is again of a form seen in clocks by Bovet, and has a cast silvered handle and corner finials, with enamelled oval panels set to the front and rear of the base, as well as a smaller example within the solid, engraved rear door. The Japy frères trademark is most interesting for dating as it shows the last award as 1849, with the next known registered trademark for Japy Frères & Cie showing the award of a Medaille d’Honneur in 1855 therefore giving a date of manufacture of this clock as between these two.
Height: 7½ inches (19 cms) Handle down: 8 inches (20cms) Handle up
The three Bovet brothers, Bovet Frères, Frederick (born 1786), Alphonse (born 1788) and Edouard (born 1797) had worked alongside their father, the watchmaker Jean-Frédéric Bovet in Fleurier, Switzerland, where they were contemporaries of their cousin, the well-known horologist George-Alfred Vaucher.
In 1812 they left the area and moved to London where they worked with Ilbery & Magniac, both of whom saw the potential in the emerging Chinese market and so in 1818 sent Edouard to Canton to establish a business selling watches there.
In 1822, Edouard himself having sold a number of his own watches for good money in Canton, returned to London to set up business alongside his brothers with the sole intention of making the most of this Chinese love of Western horological pieces. Edouard concentrated on the Canton side of the business, whilst the two brothers remained in London arranging the shipments outward. A fourth brother, Gustave, was charged with running the manufacturing side of the business back in their home-town of Fleurier.
They set up workshops in Canton in 1830 but this operation proved too large and expensive, especially with the troubles brought by the Opium Wars which were raging at this time, and a smaller operation was set up in Macau.
By 1855 the watch market in China effectively crashed overnight with the Opium Wars still causing problems for the various companies trying to trade in the country. This, allied with competition from the American and German watch companies who were able to produce and sell cheaper watches and the death of the three brothers, meant that in 1864 the company, now possibly being run by their nephew Louis Bovet, sold their interest to another Fleurier business run by Jules Jequier and Ernest Bobillier, who were soon joined by Ami Leuba. Although this effectively ended the family’s connection, the name continued in various ways until the 1960s, being run for a short period in the mid-20th century by descendants of the Bovet family.
Although a number of fine clocks are known by Bovet Frères, their main production was in watches of superb quality, which were often sold in pairs as was the custom in China at that time; the Chinese liked to have symmetry, especially when hanging the watches on a wall, with the desire to show both front and back. According to Eugène Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis, writing in the Technique and History of the Swiss Watch published in 1953, many of the watches sold by Bovet Frères were very English in their design and execution; indeed Chapuis, writing in The Montre Chinoise goes as far as to suggest that many signed as made in Fleurier were in fact made in England.