Spring/Summer 2019

Art & Auctions
Iconic Clocks on Sale

One of the most valuable clocks ever to appear at auction, The King William & Queen Mary Royal Tompion, will lead the sale of The Clive Collection of Exceptional Clocks in London on June 19.

The table clock made by master clockmaker Thomas Tompion for Queen Mary II in 1693 is expected to fetch in excess of £2 million ($2.54 million), says auctioneer Bonhams.

Long regarded as the Father of English Clock Making, Tompion (1639-1713) was responsible for some of the finest clocks ever made. This silver-mounted, quarter-repeating miniature table clock that he made for Queen Mary is also known as ‘The Q Clock’, and accompanied the campaign clock Tompion made for her husband King William III. The clock, which is numbered 222 in the Tompion inventory, is mentioned in the diaries of his patron Robert Hooke – the entry for Friday 16 June, for example, reads ‘Called at Tompion, saw K and Q clocks.’ 

A highly important commission for Tompion, the clock would have originally taken pride of place in the Royal Apartments at Kensington Palace. The domes of both the K and Q clocks are decorated with images in silver of the royal heraldic symbols of lion and unicorn heads, which were only allowed to appear on royal clocks.

The clock may have passed out of royal hands as early as 1694, the year of Queen Mary’s death, or on the death of the King in 1702. Officers of the royal households were unpaid, and were by custom entitled to a share of the furnishings of royal palaces on the death of the sovereign.   

During the second half of the 20th century, the clock was owned by ship owner Sir James Caird, who played a major role in the establishment of The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, providing much of the financial backing. 

Head of Bonhams clock department James Stratton said: “This masterpiece by Thomas Tompion is the smallest known of his ebony repeating table clocks, and its royal provenance, highlighted by the royal coat of arms incorporated within the silver mounts, marks it out as unique. There is simply no other clock like it. Its appearance at auction for the first time in many decades will excite great interest, not only in the horological community, but far beyond.”

Tompion was born in 1639, the son of a blacksmith. During his lifetime, he enjoyed the patronage of four successive English sovereigns: Charles II, James II, William III & Mary II, and Queen Anne.  He also created clocks for Kings Charles III and Philip V of Spain, Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, and Cosimo III de Medici, becoming the most celebrated clock and watch maker in the known world. His clocks are famous for the ingenuity of their design, and their mechanical complexity and sophistication. He died in 1713 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His legacy as the father of English clock making endures to this day.

The Clive Collection is one of the finest private collections of early English clocks in the world and comprises clocks by the pre-eminent makers from the greatest period of early horology. Other highlights include:

• A rare small ‘double six-hour’ grande-sonnerie striking ebony table clock made circa 1685 by Joseph Knibb (1640-1711). Estimate: £120,000-180,000;

• A rare ebony quarter repeating table clock with ‘keyhole’ backplate made circa 1705 by Daniel Quare (1628/9-1705). Estimate: £120,000-180,000;

• A rare ‘Phase One’ period month-going, Roman-striking ebony table clock with tic-tac escarpment by Joseph Knibb. Estimate £100,000-150,000.

• A very rare miniature quarter repeating ebony ‘longcase’ timepiece with skeletonised dial made circa 1675 by John Wise (1624-1690). Estimate: £150,000-200,000.  

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