This fine and rare enamel cased verge watch is an exquisite example of the prowess of Swiss enamelling from the 17th century. Geneva’s unique geographic location and reputation as a safe haven from religious persecution made it a flourishing centre of trade throughout the 17th-19th centuries with high density of talented goldsmiths, watchmakers and enamellists practicing their trade.
This box depicts a fine polychrome scene Venus and Adonis, a story which has attracted artists and poets alike, from Shakespeare to Titian. The case band has also been skilfully painted with enamel pastoral vignettes to the band, framed by foliage and flowers on blue ground, while the interior of the case has also been decorated with a painted pastoral scene. In the 17th century classical landscape painting came into prominence in Europe. These landscapes were influenced by classical antiquity and sought to illustrate an ideal landscape recalling Arcadia, a legendary place in ancient Greece known for its quiet pastoral beauty. The Roman poet Virgil had described Arcadia as the home of pastoral simplicity. Painters and patrons alike took influence from the Italian landscapes they had travelled through on the Grand Tour, like the scenes on this watch case.
The Huaud (or Huaut) family of Geneva are celebrated for their distinct and beautiful style of enamelling, particularly their work in miniatures and watch cases. Their outstanding work is characterized by their rich and varied use of bold colours, in contrast to the pastel shades of contemporary French enamellers in Blois. The enamel cases decorated by the Huaud family are regarded as exceptional works of art in their own right, with examples of their work in the collections of major museums around the world including the Met (New York), the Louvre (Paris) and the V&A (London).
The Huad family were the decedents of Huguenots who settled in Geneva to escape increasing religious persecution in France. Born in 1612, Pierre I Huaud was the son of the French goldsmith Jean Huaud and founder of the dynasty. In 1630 he moved to Geneva where three of his eleven children would also become renowned enamellers: Pierre II (1647-1698), Jean-Pierre (1655-1723) and Ami (1657-1724). It is likely that the three brothers trained in the workshop of their father until around 1680 when Pierre II set up his own workshop in Geneva. The present watch case, signed Huaud Le puis né, or ‘Huaud the first-born’, can be dated from this period. The watch cases of the Huauds are usually found with movements made by various Dutch, English, French, German and Swiss makers to whom they were obviously sold at the time.
The second son, Jean-Pierre entered into partnership with his brother Ami in 1682, when the brothers moved to Berlin in an attempt to find the support and patronage for their luxury items. In 1686 they were joined by their brother Pierre II, who helped them obtain appointments as enamel painters to Friedrich Wilhelm III (1657-1713) who would become the Duke of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg, a position they held until their return to Geneva in 1700. The brothers continued working together until the death of Jean-Pierre in 1723 and Ami a year later.