Rare antique mystery clock by Robert-Houdin

By Robert-Houdin, Jean-Eugene (French, 1805-1871)


Crafted by the founding figure of modern magic, this mystery clock is filled with secrets and showcases design and technological ingenuity.


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This fascinating piece of horological history was crafted in the mid-19th century by the renowned Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin (French, 1805-1871). He was one of the most famous magicians of the 19th century and the inventor of the mystery clock an example of which is in Mayfair Gallery’s collection. The movement of the clock is where the mystery lies as the clock hands are not attached to any visible mechanism.

A circular, frosted glass disk with Roman numerals tops the clock. In the centre is a single arrow-shaped hour hand, appearing as if attached to no mechanism. The glass disc is set within an elegant gilt brass frame. Superbly cast twin griffin supports rising from an ornate pillar are below the clock. An unusual addition to the design is the candle holder positioned behind the translucent disc. This is another clever addition as the candlelight beautifully illuminates the piece, ensuring the clock was a functional timepiece even during the night at a time when electricity was yet to be invented.

The clock stands on top of a refined gilt brass base adorned with Renaissance style motifs. Architectural pilaster uprights superbly frame the base and large foliate panels decorate the front and side panels. On the reverse is a pin-hinged door, when opened revealing the clock mechanism.

The magic lies in the clock’s ingenious construction and mechanism. A tightly coiled spring ‘belt’ is driven by a pully fitted to the front of the movement which passes through the griffin-shaped mounts as well as over the back of the inside revolving glass plate. The movement is cleverly concealed inside the brass frame and on the second ‘invisible’ frosted glass dial fixed to the centre behind the visible brass dial. This tricks the observer into believing that the clock is working because of magic.

This remarkable clock embodies Robert-Houdin’s talent as both a clockmaker and a magician. It would be an attention-grabbing addition to the collection of anyone interested in magic and horology. 


Artist / Maker
By Robert-Houdin, Jean-Eugene (French, 1805-1871)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
c. 1850
19th Century
Louis XVI, Neoclassical
Gilt Brass, Glass
Gold, Metallic, White


35 cm / 13.8 inches
12 cm / 4.7 inches
11 cm / 4.3 inches


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