Known as 'Model A' - a name reminiscent of Henry Ford's 'Model T' car of the same period - the present is an exceptionally rare and early example of the first type of mystery clock created by Louis Cartier and master clockmaker Maurice Coüet (1885-1963). Preserved in excellent overall condition and sold with a Cartier Certificate, it represents the rare opportunity of acquiring one of the house’s most iconic timepieces.
The legendary relationship between the two completed Cartier's reign as the leading firm for jewelled objects. Inspired by popular 19th century French magician and illusionist Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, Coüet blended exquisite craftsmanship, elegant design and the most technologically advanced mechanisms, resulting in works that continue to entertain and fascinate the observer with their illusion and beauty.
Best-known for his 'pendules mystérieuses' or ‘mystery clocks’, the young clockmaker astonished the industry by exploiting the use of illusion. First seen with the ‘Model A’ in 1913, and manufactured exclusively by the Paris branch, the mechanism of mystery clocks is hidden in the frame; the hands seem to float in space without any connection to the movement. In reality, rather than moving by conventional clock making techniques, the hands are set into two rotating transparent crystal discs with toothed metal rims that are driven by gears which are ingeniously hidden in the clock case. Since every part of the clock was painstakingly hand-made, according to Hans Nadelhoffer in Cartier, Jewelers Extraordinary, page 251, each one took from three to twelve months to make; employing not only the watchmaker but also the designer, the 'orfèvre-boitier', the enameler, the lapidary, the setter, the engraver and the polisher.
Cartier perpetuated the illusion by fiercely guarding the secret behind these masterpieces, even at the expense of their own sales staff. As Hans Nadelhoffer states in his book Cartier: Jewelers Extraordinary, "It was not simply a matter of the name; the 'mystery clock' contained a secret that was supposed to never be revealed. Over-inquisitive salesmen at the Rue de la Paix, who tried to force explanations from the craftsmen, were rebuffed. The wonder clocks guarded their secret like the Sphinx, and Cartier's protected them from the eyes of prying admirers."
These elegant clocks with their clean, sleek surfaces and bejeweled hands have been the gifts of choice to notables including Queen Mary, who received one in 1924, and Joseph Stalin, who was presented with one by General Charles de Gaulle in 1945. Mystery clocks are considered by many to be one of the House of Cartier’s greatest achievements.