How many clocks does the French interior designer Jacques Garcia own?
“One, two, three — wait, I’m counting the rooms,” he said. “I have them on the fireplaces.”
“About 20” was the final estimate from the designer, 75, who is known for creating the interior of the trendy Hôtel Costes in Paris and collaborating with the Louvre and Versailles on several projects. Mr. Garcia said he began collecting timepieces in his 20s.
Now two of his clocks — along with 73 other items, a total that is a nod to Mr. Garcia’s age — are scheduled to be sold at Sotheby’s Paris. He said the proceeds of the May 16 auction were intended to help transfer the maintenance of Château du Champ de Bataille, his home northwest of Paris, to a trust.
His Louis XVI gilt-bronze mantel clock adorned with six putti, a piece attributed to Robert Osmond and with a movement attributed to Robert Robin, has a sales estimate of 60,000 euros to 100,000 euros ($64,310 to $107,185). And a Louis XVI gilt-bronze mounted Sèvres porcelain clock, signed Le Roy et Fils, is estimated at €30,000 to €50,000.
From the 17th to the early 20th centuries, such decorative clocks were considered a necessary piece of furniture; large residences, like Mr. Garcia’s castle, often had more than one. But just as the progressive miniaturization of time-telling devices made clocks obsolete, a taste for collecting them began to emerge in the 19th century and has continued to grow.
At Sotheby’s, for example, an unsigned 18th century Louis XVI gilt-bronze and marble mantel clock sold in October for €30,240, six times its low estimate. And last summer an Atmos 561 clock, designed by Mark Newson in 2008 and produced by Jaeger-LeCoultre, sold for $37,800, four times its low estimate.
A clock collector, however, is not limited to vintage. Swiss watch brands, some of which first made their names with clocks, have continued to experiment with the form: for example, the UFO (Unidentified Floating Object) table clock introduced by Ulysse Nardin in 2021 and the timepieces that debuted during the Watches and Wonders trade fair that just ended in Geneva.
The secondary market for clocks is centered on the most sought-after pieces and comprises multiple niches, such as “decorative clocks, academically interesting clocks or technologically interesting clocks,” said Jonathan Hills, director and senior specialist of clocks and barometers at Sotheby’s in London.
And, he said, the geographic location of prospective buyers often is related to their choice of clock maker, especially with antique pieces.
But while most of those prospective buyers have been older men, the group has been changing, Mr. Hills said. “We’ve got younger collectors coming in.”
One of their number is Wagner Eleuteri, 34, managing director of his family’s vintage jewelry business founded in Rome in the late 19th century. “I do not like to wear wristwatches,” he said. “I do not feel comfortable and not even safe in these times, but I love clocks, they are beautiful touches of decoration.”
Mr. Eleuteri said he was 28 when he began buying decorative desk clocks — mainly by Cartier, but also Jaeger-LeCoultre — from antique shops or his jewelry clients.
It was this kind of customer that prompted L’Epée 1839, a Swiss brand specializing in high-end mechanical clocks, to experiment with new designs.
“When I took over in 2009, L’Epée was almost dying,” its chief executive, Arnaud Nicolas, said. “The company was still making functional clocks, which nobody needed, so I thought to move into creating kinetic device art.”
While continuing to produce classic carriage clocks, L’Epée has introduced such pieces as Arachnophobia, a 2015 wall clock inspired by a Louise Bourgeois spider sculpture; the Time Fast series of car-shaped clocks introduced in 2018; and Time Flies, a clock in the form of a model airplane that debuted in 2020.
Mark Toulson, head of watch buying at the Watches of Switzerland Group, said he thought the Time Fast line had been popular because playing with a car winds its clock. “I think clients are reminded of their childhood.”
A similar kind of playfulness was described by Pierre Rainero, Cartier’s director of image, style and heritage. He said the house loved to surprise collectors by changing the position of the mechanism in its Mystery Clock, a design introduced in 1912 in which the hands appeared to float in space. “It is usually existing customers who buy our clocks,” he said, “but last year one of our magnetic pendulum clocks attracted a customer new to the house.”
During the Watches and Wonders fair, L’Epée displayed its newest creation — a clock in boat form, named Regatta — at the Beau Rivage hotel in Geneva. The Lion Astroclock, limited to five pieces, which L’Epée produced for Chanel, also debuted at the fair.
And Van Cleef & Arpels introduced three animated table clocks, a 50-centimeter-tall Planétarium, Floraison du Nénuphar and Éveil du Cyclamen, additions to its Extraordinary Objects collection that were created in partnership with the automaton builder François Junod. These two last two clocks, each almost 30 centimeters, or almost 12 inches tall, feature flowers that open, allowing a butterfly to emerge, all set to music composed specially for the timepiece.
Nicolas Bos, the company’s chief executive, wrote in an email that such creations allowed the brand to “tell our stories on a larger scale” and also to preserve artisanal skills “that can sometimes fall in disuse or become extinct.”
Such ventures in clockmaking, said Jack Forster, global editorial director at the resale platform WatchBox, are “a way of drawing attention to the brand’s capabilities as a whole.” And, he noted, they reflect positively on the brands’ watches, too.
Love and Calm
Collectors’ comments about their clocks can be as varied as the timepieces themselves.
“I don’t understand anything about timepieces,” said Pietro del Bono, a property developer in Milan, “but I simply love being surrounded by clocks.” He has about 40, ranging from antique pendulums to contemporary Atmos pieces by Jaeger-LeCoultre.
For Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, co-president of Chopard, clocks are beautiful symbols of time. He said he inherited some of his approximately 50-piece collection from his great-grandfather, who instilled in him a fascination for their mechanics.
One of his most significant additions, he said, is a table clock from around 1831 with regulator dial and equation-of-time display by the Paris maker L. G. Blondeau. The purchase prompted him, in 2006, to acquire the brand name and archives of the French clockmaker Ferdinand Berthoud, who made clocks similar to Blondeau’s. Mr. Scheufele now directs the brand.
Today, Mr. Scheufele’s clocks are divided among his house, his office and the L.U.C.EUM, Chopard’s museum at its factory in Fleurier, Switzerland.
“Everything in our world seems to be in accelerated mode, but when I step into a room and the clock ticks at regular intervals, it has a soothing effect on me,” he said. “A clock in a room calms you down.”