An early modern portable clock with Islamic calendar, by Artemis Yagou, Research Associate, Deutsches Museum, Munich
My research interest in the various forms and manifestations of luxury in early modern south-eastern Europe has led me to the study of clocks and watches made in Europe for the market of the Ottoman Empire. In the eighteenth century, this multinational, multilingual and multi-confessional empire occupied a vast area including most of south-eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East and North Africa. Thanks to a SIS grant, I had the chance to examine a clock with Ottoman-era numerals (numbers used with the Arabic script) intended for the Ottoman market and now kept in the Collection of Clocks and Scientific Instruments of the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart (inventory number WLM 1968-195). It is an oval-shaped, silver and bronze, gold-plated, engraved, rather large portable clock, equipped with verge escapement movement and weighing almost 600 grams (Figure 1).
The face of the watch is made of gilt bronze covered with openwork silver floral tendrils and includes two dials with iron hands marking the date and hour respectively. The date dial also has a circular aperture under which a rotating disk is located, bearing a red shape with stars. When the underlying disk rotates, different parts of the starred shape are exposed, to indicate the phases of the moon. Additionally, on the left and right of the clock face there are two curved trapezoid apertures, through which we can see two rotating disks with the names of the weekdays and of the twelve months, all in Arabic script. Days and months conform to the Islamic, lunar-based Hijri calendar, the object was therefore clearly intended for Muslim customers, for whom timekeeping was important in relation to the five daily prayers.
The functional and aesthetic features of the WLM 1968-195 are rather unusual. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify a number of clocks that are quite similar from both stylistic and functional points of view – for example, a large pectoral watch from the Omega collection, probably made by Persian craftsmen working under the direction of European watchmakers in the early part of the seventeenth century, as well as a Swiss-made oval gilt metal astronomical watch with Ottoman-era numerals from the mid-seventeenth century. The WLM 1968-195 also resembles various watches for Western customers, for example one made by Georg Bayr of Friedberg (South Germany) before 1674 and another made by Jacob Mayr of Augsburg around 1680. The documentation of the Landesmuseum Württemberg dates the WLM 1968-195 around 1700 but, given the aforementioned affinities, it could be even older. There is no signature, hallmark or other indication of the object’s origin. Landesmuseum documentation describes the watch as being ‘of South German manufacture’, possibly because of its oval shape, typically associated with watches produced in Nuremberg in mid- to late-sixteenth century. Nevertheless, in the meantime the oval watch style was much more widespread, for example in France, therefore around 1700 the oval shape is insufficient evidence of a South German background.
Through this object, we have a glimpse into the world of early modern European trade for the Eastern markets. In that time period, a great variety of clocks and watches were exported from Europe to the Ottoman Empire and were quite sought after. Elaborate and precious watches were intended as gifts or bribes for rulers and high-ranking officials; accessible watches appeared only towards the end of the eighteenth century. Given that there is scant information on the origin and date of this watch, we can only speculate about its market trajectory, its sellers, buyers and users. The quality of its craftsmanship and other features suggest that it was intended for a person of some standing, for example a diplomat or a rich merchant. Furthermore, the exploration of its collection history reveals interesting albeit somehow confusing information involving several individuals, including the industrialist Arthur Junghans who donated the object to the Landesmuseum. Many questions remain unanswered about the clock’s provenance and usage; they are open to further research. Arguably, as a portable object to be used ‘on the move’, it illuminates and exemplifies an important feature of the early modern period, namely the evolving mobility patterns and associated novel ways of living, working, communicating and learning.
Artemis’s research was funded by a SIS Grant.