In January 1769, on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Maria Luisa of Parma, who was also a clock enthusiast, there arrived in Madrid “une pendule de porcelaine de Sévé, d’un goût exquis”, a gift from King Louis XV to the young Princess, who was absolutely enchanted by it.
Three years later, wishing to offer his wife a present, the Prince showed his confidence in the skills of a Spanish clockmaker by commissioning from him a magnificent timepiece that is still conserved today in one of the salons of the Royal Palace in Madrid (Inv. No.10003662).
The object is a skeleton-type table clock, made of steel and gilded bronze: The movement is housed in a glass cage since the clockmaker was so proud of his creation that he did not want its powerful machinery to be concealed by a case. Its structure consists of four fluted pillars and three flat panes of glass, and is covered by a glass dome that also helps protect the verge escapement. Four small balusters and a pineapple-shaped pinnacle are the only decorative features to embellish the “case”.
A very high level of technical and artistic accomplishment
The cut-away steel dial features Roman numerals for the hours and Arabic numerals to indicate the minutes. The dial has two independent scales of measurement, one with forty-eight divisions for the hours and quarter-hours, and one with sixty divisions for the minutes. The cannon pinion of the hands is decorated with a flower or rosette made up of cut-away petals and surrounded by a circle. An arched plaque at six o’clock is inscribed with the watchmaker’s name and the city of production: “Manl Gutierrez Mad”. The hands are made of blued steel.
The clock has an eight day reserve. The spiral, barrel fuse train follows the English pattern of clock movements and has an escapement with pallets and a pendulum. The striking-train of the Grande Sonnerie is linked to the main train. The setting-wheel is placed above the rosette of the canon pinion. The plates have a triangular profile that is reminiscent of an oriental pagoda.
It is displayed on a small cabinet made of mahogany and satinwood fitted with adjustable supports so as to maintain the clock on a level surface.
The timepiece shows the clockmaker’s very high level of technical and artistic accomplishment. In order to create balance and symmetry in the instrument’s appearance, he arranged for all its visible features to have the same profile both in front and at the back. This means that the barrel and snail occupy a similar space and both are decorated identically with an indented disc, in order to create a unified appearance. The same is also true of the cannon pinion of the hands and the circular part enclosing the count wheel.
The intention to compete with foreign manufacturers
The clock was commissioned by Prince Charles in early 1772, and Princess Maria Luisa placed it in their private apartments, where it remained until the reign of their grand-daughter Queen Isabel II.
Manuel Gutiérrez worked as a gunsmith and clockmaker in Madrid. He was born in Sigüenza in the province of Guadalajara. He produced a number of clocks for the Infante Don Luis de Borbón y Farnesio, the brother of Charles III and uncle of Charles IV, which enabled him to make the acquaintance of the latter monarch when he was still a young Prince.
On 4 September 1770 he sent a submission to the General Board for Commerce and Coinage in Madrid proposing to open a clock and watchmaking manufactory in Madrid, explaining that he had already worked for King Charles III and for the Infante Luis. He wished to compete with foreign manufacturers, thus lowering production and purchasing costs and perfect the art of clockmaking in Spain, but he never succeeded in gaining the monarch’s support for this project.
Gutiérrez proposed the creation of a manufactury in which a group of masters in clock and watchmaking, silversmiths, wood turners, engravers, etc., would work together following the English model. At the same time he would set up a workshop where to construct all the necessary implements and tools, including the mainsprings (which were the costliest items), so as not to have to depend on foreign suppliers.
The project of establishing a clockmaking school
In his plans, Gutiérrez undertook to pay for all the expenses involved by establishing a clockmaking school and training a dozen apprentices over a seven-year period. He proposed to teach his pupils to manufacture all kinds of pocket watches made out of both steel and brass, so as to be able to compete with the English and Swiss clock and watch factories. Gutiérrez’s only requests were for premises in which to set up the new school and a loan for purchasing tools, machinery and materials.
He was however in competition with the Charost brothers, two French clockmakers established at the royal court in Madrid, who for their part succeeded in winning royal backing, establishing and directing a clock and watchmaking factory and school, where they trained a number of future official Spanish clockmakers without great interest or enthusiasm.
The clock in question was complicated and that it was more logical for the clockmaker who had built it to look after it during his lifetime so as to ensure that it was not damaged.
Gutiérrez applied on a number of occasions to be appointed the official Clockmaker of the King’s Chamber but these applications came to nothing. He was, however, entrusted from the very start with the care, maintenance and repair of the steel clock that had been placed in the Princess’s apartments. He continued to take care of it throughout the reign of Charles IV and Maria Luisa, since various documents have been preserved which confirm the salary that the clockmaker was paid for this service. The fact that this task was entrusted to him, and not to another royal clockmaker, indicates that the clock in question was complicated and that it was more logical for the clockmaker who had built it to look after it during his lifetime so as to ensure that it was not damaged. This arrangement, moreover, confirms the trust that was placed in him, since only very few people had access to the private chambers of the Royal Family.
Official clockmaker to the Royal Household
In his capacity as a royal gunsmith, he made two swords in 1787 for the Prince of Wales. On 3 February 1792 he requested permission to engrave on the clock that he had constructed for the cathedral church of Toledo not only his name and country of origin, but also the coat of arms used by the King’s official clockmaker. In the same year, in recognition of his merits he was finally appointed official clockmaker to the Royal Household.
In August 1797 he presented a bill for another skeleton clock that he had also built for Maria Luisa of Parma. Described as the “Royal Clock”, it was made of steel and other fire guilt metals, and featured a dozen large glass expanses that allowed the mechanism to be observed. The timepiece was decorated with two gundogs, four chimeras, sundry fauns topped by a date palm. Unfortunately, this intriguing model has not been conserved.
On 25 May 1808 Gutierrez requested permission to move to Sigüenza to recover from an illness. No further mention of him is found in the records, indicating that he must have died shortly afterwards. Manuel Gutiérrez was a great artist and an exemplary craftsman who has bequeathed to us a small number of extremely worthy creations that give the true measure of his talent.
Amelia Aranda Huete
Curator of the clock and watch collection, Patrimonio Nacional
J. Ramón Colón de Carvajal, Catálogo de relojes de Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1987
Luis Montañés, El escape y el péndulo, Madrid, Antiqvaria, 1991
Amelia Aranda Huete: Relojes de reyes en la corte española del siglo XVIII. Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2011
The ancient art of time measurement
The art of time measurement is one of the great advances of humankind. This centuries-old heritage is rightfully conserved in numerous, though often little-known, museums. So as to bring these riches to life, HH Magazine presents some of the most exceptional pieces, chosen for their technical significance, historical importance, or for their beauty. This regular feature trains the spotlight on a timepiece which has been chosen and described by the curator of the horological collection of one of the approximately two hundred public or private museums which conserve clocks and watches in their collections.