‘Chinese Duplex’ Pocket Watch with Mock Pendulum

Louis Auguste Etienne-Guyot, Switzerland, 1880’s

I accidentally managed to stumble upon a rare mechanism with some very interesting features. This is a rare duplex movement with a jumping second hand and decorative pendulum on a coloured enamel dial. First, have a look at this video to see how it all works. Then below we will consider how everything functions inside.

It appears as if the pendulum, defying the laws of gravity, swings in any plane.

The mechanism is one of the variations of the duplex type machines from the Chinese Market. The arrangement of the wheel system is identical to another mechanism that was in the collection (see here), but an additional axle is provided above the drum for greater resistance to axle wear, as well as a balance of a later version that is thermocompensated with screws.

The board has the AEG stamp which, according to the catalogue, corresponds to Louis Auguste Etienne-Guyot. The mark was registered from 1880 – 1881.

The best part of the watch is the enamel dial – with not a single defect to be seen.

The painting on the dial is hand-drawn and imitates a mantel clock with marble columns. It is tastefully executed. The through aperture for the pendulum is edged with a bronze frame.

The design on the enamel dial is an interesting feature, as it depicts the masonic columns, or ‘the Twin Pillars Boaz and Joachim’ referenced by the Freemasons, which for them represent strength and beauty. In a presentation given at a Freemason’s meeting in Rhode Island in 2017, the twin pillars are described as follows:

“Since the dawn of civilization, two pillars have guarded the entrance of sacred and mysterious places. Whether in art or architecture, twin pillars are archetypal symbols representing an important gateway or passage toward the unknown. In Freemasonry, the pillars Boaz and Jachin represent one of the brotherhood’s most recognizable symbols and most times is prominently featured in Masonic art, documents, and buildings.”

However, the concept of the two columns does not originate with the Freemasons. Such imagery has also been documented in Ancient Greece, in the ‘Pillars of Hercules” beyond which could be found the lost realm of Atlantis. What is of particular note here, is that between the two pillars depicted on the dial there appears to be another domain, suggesting that – as with the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ – these pillars represent a gateway to another realm or dimension.

On the back of the dial is visible the traditional counter-enamel and feet for fastening.

How Does the Pendulum Work?

My first thought was that the pendulum was attached to the mechanism fork. But there was no plug – it’s a duplex mechanism!

A typical duplex wheel shape with teeth that look like crab claws, hence the name “crab duplex”.

There is a trib (gear wheel) on the balance axis, which drives the comb of the pendulum. Duplex steel roller, without rubies.

Of course, such a design is parasitic and takes some of the energy away from the balance. So, the pendulum on the comb is made with a counterweight to equalise the effort in different positions.

An interesting point here is that the quality of the automaton (the moving part) is even higher than the quality of the mechanism itself. For example, the central second axis is made without a jewel on the side of the dial, and the comb of the automaton is made on two jewels. The pendulum itself is very thin and made of foil to reduce weight and momentum.

Chinese duplex mechanisms became widespread in the 1860’s, and were often covered with engravings (see example). Here, judging by the brand, this watch is more likely from the 1880’s, at a time when other more reliable anchor-type mechanisms were common and easily available. However, the manufacturer discarded the new designs, instead using the older 1860’s design as a basis, and then modified it with a moving part.

The watch was a typical Swiss ‘toy’ for wealthy Asian buyers. Such watches were highly appreciated in China, but only the very rich could afford them. Coloured dials, music, moving automatons, and large second hands – all are attributes of watches designed for the East. We can only guess what kind of case housed this watch – most likely it was gold and lost in a pawnshop long ago. It is lucky that the rest of what is left has been so well preserved, as it is still possible to make a good collectible watch out of it.

The Case

I found a good pocket watch case, made new fasteners, and viola – our watch has a new home.

The case body is a plump, nickel alloy.

Inside the case, a mysterious unicorn and lion marking compliments the Chinese theme of the movement.

The inner dust cover did not match the holes, and so it was removed and replaced with a glass cover with key holes.

After servicing, the watch runs within an error margin of 1 – 2 minutes per day, which is extremely good for such an old movement.

Additional Links:

Similar watch in original gold case.

AEG stamp.

Similar Caliber “Chinese duplex” pocket watch.

Similar watches from the Chinese market on Antiquorum.