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A Chinese Export watch-mounted ormolu and agate casket, late 18th century. Estimate 15,00025,000 USD. Photo Sotheby’s.

the watch mechanism engraved Cabrier / LONDON and numbered 2559. height 5 in.; width 4 1/2 in.; depth 3 1/2 in.; 12.7 cm; 11.4 cm; 8.9 cm

Notes: The present casket is very similar to a group of caskets which have been identified as both English and Chinese including a pair of caskets which are mounted in agate (Howard, op. cit. cat. No. 307, p. 226) and a single one in the collection of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, which has an additional base and fitted musical interior (The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, op. cit.,  cat no. 186, p. 211).  It is mostly like that they caskets were all made in the last quarter of the 18th century.  Considering the taste in Europe at this time was for the neoclassical, the use of rococo as well as neoclassical motifs intermingled with some Chinese decorations assumes that the caskets were probably made for the Chinese market and not for export to Europe, especially when one considers the similar style of the magnificent automata clocks and objects including an almost identical casket with musical works found in the Imperial Collection.  Furthermore, whilst these pieces are in the manner of James Cox (Smith, op. cit., pp. 353-361), the quality and handling of the materials does not appear to be English or European.  Therefore, it is possible to conclude that these pieces were made in China for the Chinese market possibly imitating some of the most exquisite pieces by Cox executed in agate, ormolu and gold.

See: Clare Le Corbeiller, ‘James Cox: a Biographical Review,’ The Burlington Magazine, Vo. 112, No. 807, June 1970
David S. Howard, A Tale of Three Cities, Canton, Shanghai & Hong Kong, Sotheby’s, London, 1997
Roger Smith, ‘James Cox (c.1723-1800): A Revised Biography,’ The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 142, No. 1167, June, 2000
Scientific and Technical Instruments of the Qing Dynasty, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1998

Sotheby’s. Important English and European Decorative Arts, New York | 22 oct. 2014, 10:00 AM