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  • Place of origin:

    France (case, made)
    The Hague (movement, made)

  • Date:

    1640-1660 (made)
    1740-60 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Vrythoff, Jan Bernardus (watchmaker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watch with gilt-metal and steel movement with silver regulator dial and with case and dial decorated in painted enamel

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case CA2

Enamelled watchcases continued to be valued in the eighteenth century. Some were turned into gold boxes. Others, like this one, had a more movement inserted.

In about 1630 improved techniques made it possible to execute miniature painting in enamel in a wide range of colours. The metal was covered with an enamel ground and fired in the kiln. It was then painted with metal oxides mixed with oil. Each colour had to be fired in turn to fuse it onto the enamel ground. Such was the potential of the new technique that some watchcases, like this one, became wider and flatter to provide an extensive surface for enamelling. The technique was used to decorate watchcases and other goldsmiths' work as well as to paint portraits in minature.

The key figures in this development, among whom the leading role is given to Jean Toutin (1578-1644), were enamellers and goldsmiths in Paris, Blois and Châteaudun who had close links with watchmakers.

There has been considerable discussion about how the techniques employed in the new painted enamels differed from those which went before, but it is apparent that the effect was different: previously it had not been possible to create enamel paintings in such a wide range of colours as to rival or to copy an oil painting.

Physical description

Gold watch. The case is enamelled in polychrome on the back with figures who can reasonably be identified as Mars wearing a breastplate. Venus, and Cupid who holds Mars's helment. On the front two cupids and a female figure, presumably Venus, holding an arrow directed towards a heart. Around the side of the case are landscape vignettes. Inside the back of the case is a landscape with a seated man with a large burden on his back. On the reverse of the lid is a man fishing in a landscape. The centre of the dial is painted in enamel with a seated woman with her left hand extended. A cupid in the foreground holds a drawn bow with an arrow pointing towards her heart. White enamel chapter ring with Roman numerals and half-hour marks. Gilt-metal hands. Brass movement plates. Cylindrical pillars. Fusee and chain. Verge escapement. Balance wheel and spring, with regulator of Tompion type, with rotating silvered dial, numbered 1 to 6. Bridge balance-cock with mock pendulum aperture: engraved numerals 1 to 6 visible through the aperture. Two steel hands are screwed on top of the cock at the ends of the mock pendulum aperture. The cock is cast with a naked cupid setting fire to a heart by concentrating the rays of the sun with a magnifying glass. The rim of the cock outside the pendulum aperture is engraved 'HOWELL HY VER AF IS'. Pierced and engraved scrollwork applied to the top plate and the maker's name as below.

Place of Origin

France (case, made)
The Hague (movement, made)


1640-1660 (made)
1740-60 (made)


Vrythoff, Jan Bernardus (watchmaker)

Materials and Techniques

Watch with gilt-metal and steel movement with silver regulator dial and with case and dial decorated in painted enamel

Marks and inscriptions

'J. Bernardus / Vrythoff /HAGAE N 162'
Engraved on top plate


Height: 71 mm top of pendant to opposite point on case, Diameter: 62 mm east-west, Depth: 24 mm

Object history note

Painted enamel watchcases from the middle of the seventeenth century continued to be admired in the eighteenth century and are to be found fitted with new movements or made into snuff boxes. In this instance the movement appears to have been purpose-made to fit the existing case. The invention of the balance spring in the 1670s made watches much more accurate than previously so there was every reason to change the movements while keeping the superbly decorated cases.

Descriptive line

Watch with gold case decorated with figures and landscapes in painted enamel, France, 1640-60, with a later movement by J. Bernard Vrythoff, The Hague, ca. 1720-60


Gold; Enamel; Gilt-brass; Steel; Silver

Subjects depicted



Jewellery; Clocks & Watches; Metalwork; Europeana Fashion Project


Metalwork Collection

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