This watch can be compared with the ‘barking dog’ series made by the renowned watchmakers Piguet & Meylan. During their partnership they produced some the finest masterpieces in automata, which are still held in highest regard by horologists today. They were celebrated for their musical and novelty watches incorporating tiny automata, decorated in the style typical of Geneva: watches predominantly modelled in gold, with rich blue guilloche enamelled backgrounds with fine gold chased automata scenes, and edged with gold or delicate pearls
The 'barking dog' series of watches are quite rare and appear to represent the earliest type of watch produced by Piguet & Meylan. This timepiece unusual in terms of automata as it does not strike a gong but activates a set of bellows to mimic a dog barking. To achieve the sound, the mechanism exerts a sharp pressure on a miniature bellows connected to a whistle vented through an aperture which simultaneously opens to the lower edge of the case.
Just over 20 ‘Barking Dog’ automata watches are known, of which the majority are of large size (approximately 59mm in diameter). The present watch measures just 39mm in diameter and is one of only four examples currently known of such small size. Watches featuring a barking dog automaton were most commonly produced with a dog attacking a swan or other bird. The bird and swan theme is believed to have been based on paintings from the 1740s by Jean Baptiste Oudry. By contrast, all four of the small ‘Barking Dog’ watches feature a dog barking at a cat, a scene most likely based on a design by the painter Johann Wenzel Peter (1745-1829). These small watches, all by Piguet & Meylan, are numbered between 275 and 282; two of these feature their cat to the left side of the scene, whilst the other two show the cat at the scene’s right.
The Bohemian painter Johann Wenzel Peter (1745-1829) lived and worked in Rome from 1774 and specialized in painting animals in conflict. His design of a dog barking at a cat (though not identical to this) was much copied by Roman mosaicists after it was first recorded in the studio of the mosaicist Puglieschi in 1805/6. An example signed by Gioacchino Barberi (1783-1857) is set into the lid of a contemporary gold box by A.J. Strachan, London, 1807/8 that is now in the Gilbert Collection, London (Charles Truman, The Gilbert Collection of Gold Boxes, vol. I, Los Angeles, 1991, p. 328, no. 113). Another example, in a private collection, signed by the mosaicist Domenico Moglia (1780-1862) is also set into the lid of a snuff box by Strachan, c. 1807/8; the base is set with a micro mosaic of a dog barking at a swan. It is not inconceivable that Piguet & Meylan were aware of these fashionable mosaics since many were bought as plaques by travellers on the Grand Tour and mounted by Geneva gold box makers.