Fengxian Palace Watch Museum

Specialist Picks • 19 Feb 2020

Fengxian Palace Watch Museum

by Sofia Wang

Join us every Wednesday as we survey the horological landscape around the world. From museums in Switzerland to sundials in India, we’ll be drawing attention to locations that ought to be on every horologists list of places to visit. View all entries here.

Location: Fengxian Palace, China

Since its completion in 1420 the Forbidden City in Beijing has housed 24 Chinese emperors. It was, for over 500 years the ceremonial and political centre of the government. During that time the Forbidden City amassed the finest collection of antiquities in China. This collection, now part of the Palace Museum, is just one of the many reasons 14 million people flock to the Forbidden City each year. While it is believed to be the best site to cultivate a taste of Chinese culture, visitors are also able to discover rare and distinctive items from abroad. For horologists, a visit to the Fengxian Palace (formerly the Clock and Watch Gallery) is a must. Located outside Jingyun Gate, the Palace exhibit includes over 200 exquisite timepieces.

Last year (2019), the Palace Museum opened a brand-new gallery to the south of Fengxian Gate, drawing attention to its exclusive collection of royal timepieces. Broken up into 6 sections, viewers are guided through the space via a series of thematic displays featuring timepieces manufactured in Britain, France, Switzerland, Guangzhou, Imperial Workshop, and Other Nations. There are 82 pieces on display with 21 made in China and 62 from foreign countries.

Why are there so many foreign clocks in the palace? Over the mid-17th century to late 18th century, Chinese emperors developed an intense interest in horology and mechanical timepieces. In line with Qianlong’s obsession with Western art and culture, foreign trade rose, and consequently thousands of European clocks were shipped to China during his reign. (For more on imperial Chinese clock collecting read part 1 and part 2 here). A must-see piece at the gallery is Qianlong’s favourite ‘toy’ – a ‘robot’ calligrapher. It was autographed by British clockmaker Timothy Williamson, primarily designed and manufactured by Swiss renowned watchmaker Jaquet-Droz family. This special clock is a 2.31 m tall complex apparatus where the most striking part being a kneeling young man in a Georgian court suit, neatly writing Chinese characters with a brush pen. It’s worthwhile to mention that this legendary timepiece only performs to the public during special events.

Located at: 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng, Beijing, China

Additional information: https://en.dpm.org.cn/ 

  • To enter the museum, general admissions apply
    Additional tickets are required to get access to the new Clock and Watch Gallery
  • General Admission: RMB 40-60
    New Clock and Watch Gallery: RMB 10
Tags: horological travel guide

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