Three mystery clocks and where to detect them11 February 2020 Designed to deceive and delight, mystery clocks have been around since the 19th century.
Clockmaker and illusionist Jean Robert-Houdin (1805-71), known as the father of modern magic, is generally credited with the invention of these timepieces, which featured hands that seemed to float on the dial and move without the assistance of a movement.
At Gardiner Houlgate’s auction of Fine Clocks on February 20, there are three examples on offer. Log on to thesaleroom.com to bid for these clocks – and see if you can solve the mystery of their mechanisms.
Classic Houdin mystery clock
Signed Houdin, Paris, this 19th century clock is a classic example of the illusionist’s mystery model. It features a stylised foliate engraved bezel, supported upon a foliate cast fluted column to the ebonised circular turned stepped base, which houses the movement. It has an estimate of £6000-8000.
French marble figure clock
Slightly more unusual is this Bras-en-L’air (literally ‘arm-in-the-air’) mystery mantle clock. It is made of French ormolu, enamel and white Carrara marble, depicting a robed lady, who indicates the time by pointing to enamel numerals on either side of her. It is offered with an estimate of £6000-8000.
‘Triple mystery’ clock
As the name suggests, the triple mystery clock contains three puzzles. First, the glass dial where the hands move apparently independently. Second, the dial is supported on a glass dial which displays no means of transmitting the propulsion of a concealed movement. Finally, there is apparently no connection between the gears in the pedestal and the clock itself – in fact, the clock is powered by controls hidden in one of the apparently decorative supports at the bottom of the glass column. It is partially signed Robert-Houdin, Paris, and has an estimate of £8000-12,000.