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ART MODERNE MIRROR AND ENAMEL “LIGNE S” CLOCK BY CARTIER, PARIS, CIRCA 1930

A desk clock composed of a circular mother-of-pearl dial with black enamel Roman numerals set into a rose mirrored rectangular case with black enamel frame, the corners decorated with mother of pearl and coral beads, on a rock crystal and enamel plinth

  • Signed Cartier on the face, S1638
  • Measurements: 5 3/8 X 2 3/4 X 6 inches

Additional cataloguing

Biography

Cartier was founded in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier. His three grandsons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques, built the house into a famous international jewelry empire serving royalty, Hollywood stars, and socialites. Cartier has created some of the most important jewelry and objects of art of the twentieth century with many iconic designs such as mystery clocks, Tutti Frutti jewelry and the Panthère line. In 1983, The Cartier Collection was established with the objective of acquiring important pieces that trace the firm’s artistic evolution. Today, Cartier has 200 stores in 125 countries.

 

Significance

The 1920s and 1930s were a time of great technological advancement. The fascination with new machines was reflected in the bold streamlined shapes of the late Art Deco period, known as Art Moderne. Coming off the curves and elaborate foliate decoration of previous decades, the straight lines of modern designs were shocking. Even more so as artists associated with the Union des Artistes Modernes (UAM), such as Jean Puiforcat and Jean Fouquet, eschewed extraneous decoration in favor of austere and inventive pieces.

By the end of the 1920s, Jeanne Toussaint had established the “S Department” at Cartier to create fantastic utilitarian objects such as handbags, vanity cases, and smoking accoutrements, made without the elaborate stones and trimmings of the costliest Cartier creations. Toussaint’s streamlined designs became popular, and particularly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the austere nature of such pieces helped make the S Department integral to the continued success of Cartier. At one time, the department accounted for nearly one third of Cartier’s sales. This clock, the “Ligne S” is a rare example of a timepiece created by the Department. A nearly identical example to this clock was owned by Eric Nussbaum, first director of the Cartier Collection who was charged with finding the rarest and most important example of the company’s artistry.

This magnificent clock shows that Toussiant was aware of what was happening on the design forefront and is as unusually bold and austere as something from a UAM designer might be. The clock is composed of a rose mirrored face with black Roman numeral chapter ring and skyscraper-like hands all set into a black enamel case. The clock alternates between dark and light surfaces that are mirrored or opaque, creating a study of both light and stacked geometry. While this clock displays modern design choices, the form is also recognizably Cartier. The company first started making their own timepieces around 1912 with Maurice Couet and quickly developed a form of thin screen-like clocks that lent itself the their decorative program. Deceptively simple, this rare and beautiful example of an Art Moderne desk clock by Cartier would be an important addition to any collection.