Spotlight on the Guinness Collection: Precious Smalls

Inventions in mechanical music leaped forward in the late 1700s into the 1800s as clock and watchmakers discovered ways in which to incorporate musical movements into the tiniest of pieces.  The introduction of musicwork into tiny objects was almost exclusively restricted to Swiss makers located in Switzerland and elsewhere, and required the greatest possible skill and finest craftsmanship.

Evidence shows that in 1796, Geneva clockmaker, Antoine Favre gifted to another person, a newly made musical (seal?), with a design not seen before, utilizing tuned steel reeds, or “teeth.”  It was a marvel of miniaturization at the time!  The comb was plucked by pins on a musical cylinder, and in time, the ability to make music from mechanisms only a few centimeters in length and even smaller thickness, drove a tremendous musical novelty market.  These tiny comb movements were placed in objects such as watches, seals, pendants, snuff boxes, fans, scent-bottles and more.   They became a fashion statement!

Today, we’ll explore a few interesting “precious smalls” from the Guinness Collection.  Later in the month, we’ll take a look at a few more!

2003 18 19a-d closedIn German, the word glockenspiel refers to a “set of bells,” and this diminutive 4”x4” miniature musical box contains 5 tiny bronze bells.  Made by Petrus Peckmann of Austria, c1750-1770, the gilded case of this Miniature Glockenspiel features elaborate engravings and detailed pierce work decorations, which allow the sound to flow outward.  Five tiny hammers strike the bells while the brass pinned wooden cylinder plucks a 70-tooth comb to produce 6 different melodies…however, each one only lasts about 7 seconds!

2003 18 18abIsaac Daniel Piguet was a high-end watchmaker who partnered with Henri Daniel Capt between 1802 and 1811.  Capt created fine quality snuffboxes, watches and automata.

Created by Piguet and Capt in Geneva, 1802-1811, the tiniest of mechanical musical mechanisms was placed into this striking Musical Ring with an animated scene, and was set with 8 turquoise stones.  The ring contains an 8-note movement within the octagonal case, and a beautifully engraved floral motif decoration.  Interestingly, the glass bezel was cleverly shaped to magnify the miniature scene.  As one can imagine, a piece such as this required the varied skills of a designer, jeweler, enameller, goldsmith, engraver, stone-setter, plus the first generation of musical box maker.

Look closely to view a music session in the drawing room, complete with hanging oil lamp and the pet dog curled up asleep on the floor.  A woman turns the handle of a serinette, often used to train birds to sing short human melodies.  Standing before the music stand, the music master has a violin tucked under his arm, in which he raises and lowers his bow to keep time to the music that accompanies the performance.

2003 18 96-004The earliest seals date back to ancient history, and were in general use in early Medieval Europe.  During a period of time when a majority of people could neither read or write, the seal was their signature.  Later, seals became more widely used by prominent families:  the nobility and royalty whose own unique seals were used for correspondence and official documents.  By the 19th century, the official practice of sealing had become restricted to legal documents, such as marriage, while the main use of a personal seal was to secure letters.

2003 18 96 open (2)In this piece, made in Geneva, c1810, there are 6 separate tuned steel teeth that are stacked up directly next to a tiny spring barrel with the program pins; this saves space.  The teeth with greater mass and weight, produce a lower pitch note, the thinner, the higher. Unfortunately, its maker is unknown.

Join me in a couple of weeks and we’ll take a look at a necessaire, or work box made of mother-of-pearl, a musical jewelry box with dancers – very unlike the modern jewel box – and a pop-up singing bird.  Until then, enjoy these precious smalls!

~Michele Marinelli, Curator of the Guinness Collection