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Photograph courtesy of Sotheby's London.

A closer look at Fabergé circular guilloché enamel clocks... 

7 October 2023

Fabergé clocks with circular guilloché enamelled borders have an enduring attraction for the discerning collector. The high prices they tend to fetch at auction is testament to their appeal. The variety of colours in which they are enamelled, the pattern of engine-turning and the combinations of decorative borders, make each one unique. Several examples are illustrated below...

Expect to pay between GB£ 80,000 and 120,000, or upwards for more elaborate timepieces.

The understated beauty of the clock pictured above caught my eye at Sotheby's London on 19 June 2009, Lot 548. This timepiece fetched GB£ 79,250. It is sheer perfection in its understated elegance, with its engine-turned wavy sunburst pattern, translucent lilac enamel and its berried laurel leaf outer border and clock bezel in silver. Everything about this Fabergé clock is "right". 

For my part, I have enjoyed many an hour sitting at the engine-turning lathes that belong to my dear friend David Wood-Heath at his home in Kent. As a result, I can fully appreciate the technical prowess of the engine turner who fabricated this engraved panel. The metal plate of this clock would have been engraved on a "straight line" lathe. There is no evidence of any variation of the pressure applied to the thumb-piece while the cutting tool indexed its way around the work piece. This indicates an unbroken concentration on the workpiece from start to finish... 

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As you can see in the close up photograph above, in this instance the "berried laurel leaf" pattern of the bezel of the clock dial and the border of the exterior frame match each other. Sometimes, the bezel surrounding the clock face is set with seed pearls, or rose cut diamonds on more elaborate clocks... An example of a seed-pearl bezel can be seen below, in this pale blue Fabergé clock bearing marks for Henrik Wigström, St. Petersburg, circa 1904-1908, Inventory N° 14995, 91 zolotnik silver.

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The engine turning has a similar wavy sunburst pattern and equal finesse in the craftsmanship to the lilac clock above. 

In the catalogue from Sotheby's London 26 November 2013 sale, Lot 605: "of translucent pale ice blue enamel over wavy sunburst engine-turning, acanthus tip border, the white enamel dial within a seed pearl bezel, ivory back, silver-gilt scroll strut, struck with workmaster's initials and Fabergé in Cyrillic, 91 standard, scratched inventory number 14995. Diameter 11.8cm, 4⅝ in."

It is fabricated in 91 zolotnik standard silver, a higher purity compared to the 88 Zolotnik silver used for the Fabergé clock with Inventory N° 18357. 

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This fabulous vibrant pink enamel Fabergé clock, circa 1900, is struck with H.W. initials for Henrik Wigström. It has St. Petersburg Assay Office marks for 88 Zolotnik standard silver on the rear cover of the clock and on the strut. We notice the "straight sunburst" guilloché enamel pattern that contrasts to the first two examples shown above, with their "wavy sunburst".

Of note are the "sun rays" that do not touch the outer border. There are 24 groups of 4 rays, each of varying lengths. Each ray is 3 engraved lines wide and the gaps between the rays are 3 lines in width. Both the outer border and the clock bezel are decorated with a simple ribbed band, that is satisfyingly tactile and most pleasing to the touch.

This magnificent timepiece is currently (as of November 2023) being offered for sale by M.S. Rau Antiques in New Orleans, U.S.A. The price of US$ 118,500 benchmarks favourably with over a dozen comparable Fabergé clocks in my digital archive.

I have no doubt that it will be treasured by whomever is so fortunate to have acquired this exceptional timepiece!

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The clock illustrated below, with marks for Mikhaïl Perkhin, circa 1903, shows the same "wavy sunburst" guilloché enamel pattern as the first two examples shown above, with a vibrant sky-blue enamel colour. It was presented in its original wooden case, with a silk lining to the inside cover, printed in black ink with the Imperial Warrant, FABERGÉ in Cyrillic, and St. Petersburg, Moscow and Odessa. It has an illegible Inventory N°. Diameter 4⅜ in. (11cm.) Inscribed “Souvenir of Kiev, 1903”. (The auction catalogue states "Kiel"). Sold at auction by Sotheby’s London on 12 June 2007, Lot 486. 

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Close up, we notice the satisfying contrast between the entrelac ribbon pattern of the border and the chased laurel leaf bezel surrounding the clock dial. The tiny darker spots that we notice in the blue enamel may be flecks of soot from the kiln, which at the time of fabrication were fired with either wood, coke or charcoal, and sometimes even coal, or a mixture thereof. Today, in part due to technological advancement with a focus on efficiency, and in part due to the mental illness that is incorrectly called "Health & Safety", enamelling kilns are usually fired by either gas or electricity, neither of which produce any soot. These minute darker flecks may also be caused by slightly larger grains of ground coloured glass, after grinding them down in the pestle & mortar to form a fine powder, prior to being applied to the metal plate and fired in the kiln. To my mind, these minor imperfections do not detract from the overall quality of the finish. In fact they add a unique "fingerprint" to the enamel panel, that cannot be reproduced.  

Another comparable Fabergé clock with marks for Mikhaïl Perkhin, 1896-1903, in strawberry  red guilloché enamel is a second example of  the "straight sunburst" pattern. There are 18 groups of 4 sun beams, and in this example, the longest of which continues all the way to the perimeter of the enamel panel. Each ray is 2 lines wide and the gap between them is 4 lines in width.This stunning timepiece has a seed pearl set bezel around the clock face and a chased laurel leaf outer border; being a particularly pleasing and harmonious combination. Diameter 4¼ inches. (ca. 10.8 cm.).  This clock fetched GB£ 163,250 at Christie's London Russian Art Sale, 1-2 December 2009, Lot 40. 

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For the sheer enjoyment of a side-by-side comparison, shown below, here are the two "straight sunburst" clocks, the first by Perkhin, the second by Wigström. While both pieces are of the same unmistakable design handwriting of the House of Fabergé, some subtle differences can be noticed by the keen observer. Aside the differences in the guilloché engraving described above, we notice that the angle of the tips of the rays is different. In Perkhin's piece, the rays are angled in a V shape, whereas the rays in Wigström's piece have an arrow form, tapering towards the centre of the clock.


Additionally, in Perkhin's red clock, there is a slightly wider gap between the minute chapters of the clock face and the seed pearl-set bezel. Presumably, the Hry Möser & Cie clock movement is of the same model and dimensions in both pieces. In Wigström's piece, which is ¼ of an inch larger in diameter, the enamel panel seems to be slightly broader. Also, the curvature of the foot of the strut is different, being slightly more open in Perkhin's execution. These are some of the joys of exploring the subtle details and differences of meticulously hand-made pieces par la maison Fabergé.


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The shimmering effect produced by the wavy moiré engine-turned pattern is particularly effective in this tomato red enamel colour seen in the clock below. It bears marks for Fabergé in Cyrillic, and maker's initial H.W. for Henrik Wigström, 88 Zolotnik silver, with a diameter of 4⅜ inches (ca. 11.2 cm). It has a pleasing entrelac ribbon bezel and a foliate outer perimeter border. Sold at Sotheby's London on 4th June 2019, Lot 246.

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Another classic circular Fabergé clock is shown below, with its vibrant lime green enamel, circa 1900 according to the engraved inscription, bears marks for Chief Workmaster Mikhaïl Perkhin. The engine turned pattern is organised into 24 groups of 4 sun rays, in a satisfying wavy pattern that shimmers in the light when you move around it. The engraved dash & dot motif of the clock bezel contrasts pleasingly with the ribbed motif on the outer border. This fine clock sold for GB£ 72,500 at Sotheby’s London on 27 November 2007, Lot 538. 

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The pink enamel clock pictured above, bearing marks for Henrik Wigström, shows another type of engine-turned engraving. It would probably have taken an hour of unbroken concentration to engrave this piece. The resulting pattern radiates outwards from the centre, creating an effect of sunlight as the light reflects from it. It has a satisfyingly beautiful and simple beaded border that reflects the seed pearl-set bezel surrounding the clock face. This is testament to harmony in design!

This magnificent clock was sold for US$ 132,000, by Sotheby's New York in the Lily & Edmund J. Safra sale on 3rd November 2005. This auction was spectacular and memorable in equal measure!

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In the same sale, Lot 29, a circular Fabergé clock with Inventory N° 14596, is illustrated above... It sold for US$ 284,800 (over three times the high estimate of US$ 90,000). The bezel is set with seed pearls, which contrasts beautifully with the rich purple enamel colour and the entrelac ribbon exterior border in silver. 

Of note to the discerning connoisseur's eye is the painted sepia dendritic pattern, resembling birch trees or bushes. This technique, often known as en camaïeu, is seen from time to time in Fabergé pieces, albeit rarely, notably in those bearing marks for Perkhin and Wigström. The trees have been hand painted with an extremely fine brush, most likely a sable brush with very few hairs, onto the second-to-last layer of enamel. This highly refined technique was revived by Fabergé, in homage to the 18th Century goldsmiths such as Jean-Joseph Barrière, Charles Le Bastier & Joseph-Étienne Blerzy. 

If you have any questions, do feel free to get in touch with me by email!

- o0o -

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