Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Nécessaire and watch
Rectangular agate and gold nécessaire set with coloured pastes raised as flowers and musical trophies. Lid with hinged handle in form of two dolphins. Lid opens to reveal five lead crystal glass boxes and gold implements. Clock in concealed lid. On winged dolphin feet.
The celebrated London jeweller and metalworker James Cox specialised in making lavishly ornamented objets de vertu. These often incorporated watches and complex automaton movements and great numbers were made for export to India and the Far East, where they were known as 'sing-songs'. Between 1766 and 1772 Cox exported nearly £750,000 worth of goods; works by him still survive in the Chinese and Russian imperial collections. Perhaps Cox's most famous work is a life-size swan automaton with silver plumage (Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle). In 1772 this was exhibited at Cox's celebrated museum of automata in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, and immediately became one of the sights of London.
This nécessaire is typical of Cox's work and incorporates standardised and mass-produced elements; the gold cage-work is constructed from bands produced in strips and cut to measure. Such manufacturing techniques enabled Cox to produce and export work on a large scale. In 1773 he claimed to employ 1,000 workmen.
When the lid is opened, a watch and automaton are revealed. The watch face is surrounded by an outer circle set with ten jewelled roundels; these spin individually around the watch face as the outer circle rotates. This appears to have been a favoured device and is found on other watches and clocks by Cox, including examples sent to the Emperor of China. A painted chinoiserie scene hides the back of the mechanism. Below this a second compartment is fitted with various cosmetic bottles and implements.
Portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte by Johan Zoffany hung in Cox's museum in Spring Gardens. In view of the King's keen interest in horology and Queen Charlotte's love of bijouterie and novelties, it is surprising that none of Cox's creations appears to have been acquired by them. All Cox's work in the Royal Collection today was acquired by Queen Mary in the twentieth century.
Clock dial inscribed Jas Cox / London
Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002