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The turret clock is among the oldest pieces in the show. Retaining its movement in original condition, it was previously part of the collection of the Time Museum in Illinois and is now offered for $138,500.

Like each piece in the show, which runs until November 21, the turret clock reflects a certain technological moment in the history of timekeeping. Though significantly smaller than the first clocks to emerge – large 24-hour clocks usually found in town square towers – pieces such as this were soon usurped by new clockmaking techniques.

For example, a spring-driven 17th century model also on offer embodies what MS Rau’s Amanda Chunn, curator of the exhibition, calls “one of the most important technological innovations” in her horological show. The emergence of the wound spring allowed clockmakers to gradually make smaller pieces, appropriate for the mantlepiece and eventually the pocket.

As well as technical developments, the show examines historical and cultural changes in the understanding of time embodied in the presentation of each object. The firebrass gilt exterior of the turret clock, for instance, is engraved with scenes of Old Testament figures (David and Goliath on one side and Judith and Holofernes on the other) as well as phrases dealing with the precious nature of time.

Later works, such as a 19th century French automaton clock shaped like a train locomotive, extol the virtues of progress, precision and industry.

Exhibition impetus

It took something of a temporal break for the gallery to organise this ‘timely’ show.

“The pandemic was the impetus for us to finally explore the concept of time through the clocks in our collection,” Chunn says.

“Over the past few months, our relationship with time has changed so dramatically as people have literally been placing their futures on hold until the threat of Covid-19 passes.”

However, she adds, buying has not yet come to a standstill. “At over 100 years old, we have a very loyal client base. Business has actually been going surprisingly well. It helps that we have a strong web presence.”

And the market for clocks remains robust.

“There will always be the mechanically minded people who gravitate towards clocks. Skeleton clocks have been particularly popular lately, as well as clocks from the big luxury firms such as Cartier and Tiffany,” Chunn says.

Among the other works to tempt collectors are an elaborate double-sided French ormolu portico clock from 1828 by Michel-Francois Nicolas Piolaine of Paris, a c.1880 black marble and a bronze mystery clock by Samuel Marti, and a monumental Patek Philippe T3 World Time Tower made for Zurich airport, c.1975.

Timepieces make the bulk of the offering, but there are also related items available, such as a pair of hardstone obelisks (representing some of the first devices used to measure the movement of the sun), Death’s Arrest, a painting by South African artist John Henry Amschewitz (1882-1942), and a selection other works of art.

The show runs at the gallery in compliance with New Orleans safety regulations (masks, regular cleaning). It is also available to view online.