ZURICH Open-minded collectors seeking an unusual conversation piece may want to snap up one of a rare assortment of erotic watches coming under the hammer in Switzerland this weekend.
An important private collection of 33 watches from the 18th and 19th centuries featuring racy tableaux will be offered for sale on Sunday at Antiquorum, a Geneva-based auction house specializing in fine timepieces.
Among the sale's highlights is an uncommon early 19th Century 18-carat watch by Genevan craftsman Henry Capt expected to fetch $70,000 to $90,000 and featuring two automata -- one on the front of the watch depicting an idyll of doves and musicians and another hidden one showing a couple in an amorous embrace.
Buyers with about $20,000 to $30,000 to spare meanwhile could be tempted by a very rare heart-shaped gilt metal watch by London watchmaker James Cox around 1780. It has two concealed paintings on enamel that include a lady secretly spying two partially clothed lovers caught in an adventurous position.
The watches, mainly crafted in Switzerland, are part of a wider collection of more than 700 erotic artifacts painstakingly assembled over 25 years, including walking sticks, statues and ivory objects designed for autoerotic stimulation, Antiquorum Director Etienne Lemenager told Reuters.
The collection's septuagenarian Swiss owner, who wants to remain anonymous, plans to sell the remaining objects in a separate auction in France later this year as nobody in his family is interested in carrying on his work, Lemenager said.
"He enjoyed collecting and now he is enjoying selling because he was involved with us doing the catalog and was happy to provide comments on some of the pocket watches," Lemenager said, adding that preparing the sale was a lot of fun.
The manufacture of watches with explicit motifs -- often concealed from immediate view -- began in the 17th century for the Chinese market, with the most luxurious timepieces created for the Emperor and his retinue.
In the 18th century watchmakers introduced rhythmic interest by incorporating tiny automata to the erotic scenes and watches containing libertine scenes were made for the Far East, followed by India and more recently by the Middle-East.
Only a very few, highly skilled horologists crafted these items, most of which feature finely painted miniatures on enamel and varicolored gold ornaments.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)