Timepieces have long been used as diplomatic gifts, often serving as cultural symbols of peace offerings, gratitude or friendship. The earliest diplomatic relations with China date to the reign of Louis IX (1214-1270) when he sent an ambassador to meet with Möngke, the fourth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. The 13-14th century saw the first introduction of Western timekeepers to the Far East through Latin missionaries, and Portuguese traders were quick to establish trade for such object. Fascination with mechanical timepieces grew and by the 17-18th century Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) had established an underground horological workshop in his palace manned with craftsman from around the world.
During the 18th century the English made significant efforts to expand their trade through China. London clock-makers played a prominent role in the popularity of ‘Curiosities’ so admired by the Chinese. Contrary to what one might think, these watches did not adopt forms from their intended home. Chinese taste showed a preference for fantastical forms, arabesque floral arrangements with colourful gem set borders.
This watch is an excellent example of watches produced in London for trade to the Far East, particularly China. The watch, made by Francis Perigal, features several fantastical beasts depicted in colourful gems set atop a background of a bloodstone case. The Perigals were a family of celebrated horologists from which three firms originated. Francis Perigal, the founder, was established from 1740 at the Royal Exchange, where he was succeeded by his son and grandson. Another Francis (1770-94), who was watchmaker to the king, settled in New Bond Street and was succeeded by Perigal & Duterran, 'Watchmakers to His Majesty,' from 1810 to 1840.
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