17th Century Animal-Form Watches

Novelty watches have a long and fascinating history. During the second quarter of the seventeenth century a fashion for watches cased in the form of animals began to emerge, a genre that included watches cast as mammals and birds.

Caspar Cameel bird-form watch, prob. Strasbourg, circa 1635 – image © Sotheby’s

Only a small number of animal-form watches are known and these include examples cast as dolphins, lions, a swan and a rabbit. The bird shown above was made in Strasbourg but the majority appear to have originated in Geneva. Ironically the strict Sumptuary Laws and Ordinances of Calvinist Geneva would have forbidden the wearing of such ornate watches within the city itself, and such pieces would therefore have been made for export.

Jr. Sermand, Geneva, silver dolphin-form watch circa 1640

The short video above shows a dolphin-form watch that was sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva (11 Nov 2019, CHF 22,500). It is typical of the manner in which movements and dials were incorporated into cases cast in the form of animals. The dolphin’s hollowed out body and head accommodate the verge movement with the dial revealed beneath a hinged panel to the dolphin’s base.

Jean Baptiste Duboule, Geneva, silver lion-form watch circa 1635 (photo: Alex Barter)

One of the most charming form watches from this period is the lion watch illustrated above which can be found on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.