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  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1770 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cox, James (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold-mounted agate, set with pearls and paste gems, clockwork mechanism and carillon.

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.35:1 to 13-2008

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The jeweller and goldsmith James Cox was celebrated for his sumptuous objets de vertu, particularly those with automaton and watch movements. The upper carcass of this necessaire, or case, opens as a drawer containing a range of personal articles including tweezers, scissors, a pencil and penknife. Cox may not have made all the components of this necessaire. He bought his watch and clock movements from other craftsmen. The quality of craftsmanship on this piece, as well as other similar objects by him, seems to suggest that other elements may have been outsourced.

In the eighteenth century, an emerging class of rich citizens used their acquired wealth to indulge a passion for beautiful objects. The Renaissance tradition of the treasury or Schatzkammer, a special room for displaying exotic artefacts, continued in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other types of display included presentation plate, often of solid gold, which in the 18th century was worth about twenty times the value of silver.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

A jewelled, gold-mounted agate musical necessaire and watch with a seven-bell carillon. The lower carcass is modelled as a chest of drawers with scroll-and-mask feet and festooned volutes at each corner all supported by elephants. The upper drawers set with pearl and green stone handles are surmounted by four vases with "tremblant" paste-set butterflies. The upper carcass, also supported on four elephants, consists of eight agate panels mounted in a gold cagework of scrolls and foliage, the whole front opening as a drawer, containing a pair of tweezers, a combined ear- and toothpick, scissors, a pencil, a penknife, and tablets. The pyramidical cover is surmounted by a watch supported by two putti, the dial with Roman numerals for the hours and Arabic numerals for the minutes and gold hands. The entire structure surmounted by a paste-set peacock finial.

Place of Origin

London (made)


ca. 1770 (made)


Cox, James (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Gold-mounted agate, set with pearls and paste gems, clockwork mechanism and carillon.

Marks and inscriptions

No marks

Signed 'James Cox' on the watch dial

Object history note

Provenance: H. Blairman and Sons, London. Partridge, London.

Descriptive line

Gold-mounted agate necessaire, set with pearls and paste gems, clockwork mechanism and carillon, London, ca. 1770, by James Cox.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Le Corbeiller, Clare. 'James Cox: a biographical review'. Burlington Magazine. June 1970, vol. 112, fig. 7, p. 356.
Truman, Charles.The Gilbert collection of gold boxes, Vol. I. Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1991, cat. no. 106, pp. 309-10. ISBN.0875871623


Gold; Agate; Pearl; Paste (glass)


Mounting; Setting; Clock making

Subjects depicted

Butterfly; Putti; Peacocks; Scroll feet; Volutes; Watches; Foliage; Scrolls (motifs); Carillons; Masks (design elements); Elephants


Metalwork Collection

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