Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

This gilt bronze table watch will have marked the passage of many lives since it was commissioned, presumably by a bureaucrat or cleric, from Augsburg clockmaker Nicolaus Schmidt der Junger, c.1620. The relationship between time and death was ingeniously aligned in the mechanics of the fusée chain and the corresponding movements of the skull. Perpetually driven by the fusée, two six-spoke cams make 20 revolutions every hour and over the course of one revolution – 180 seconds – sinister animations of a jaw-dropping nature occur.

During the first minute what seems to be a smile slowly appears on the face of the skull. This expression has become one of grim laughter by the end of the second before evolving into a yawn for the third and final minute until the twin cams complete their circle and the jaw snaps shut. Throughout this process one serpent retreats into an eye socket while from the other emerges a second serpent – suddenly retracting when the jaw shuts and the first serpent pops from its socket.

Consigned to an Antiquorum horology sale in Geneva on April 25, the skull brought a 15/10 per cent premium-inclusive SFr90,000 (£38,000).