The history of the Hermitage's Peacock Clock begins in 1777, when the Duchess of Kingston visited St Petersburg. Balls were given in the Russian capital in honour of this wealthy and distinguished guest. Grigory Potiomkin, who met the Duchess in society, learned of James Cox's magnificent mechanisms. Pandering to Catherine II's passion for collecting, the Prince commissioned the celebrated craftsman to make a monumental automaton with a clock for the Empress's Hermitage. In order to meet this expensive order as quickly as possible, Cox, whose financial affairs were currently not in the best of health, decided to use an existing mechanical peacock that featured in the Dublin lottery. He expanded the composition with a cockerel, owl and a clock mechanism with a dial incorporated into the head of a mushroom, and removed the snakes. To create his new automaton, Cox recruited the assistance of Friedrich Jury, a German craftsman who had settled in London. The Peacock Clock arrived in St Petersburg in 1781. The records of the Winter Palace chancellery listing the valuables that Catherine II acquired in that year include mention of two payments - on 30 September and 14 December - to the clockmaker Jury for a clock delivered from England. The payments amounted to 11,000 roubles (around 1,800 pounds sterling) and were made from the Empress's personal funds on the basis of a letter from Prince Potiomkin. The clock was brought to Russia in pieces. At Potiomkin's request the Russian mechanic Ivan Kulibin set it in working order. From 1797 to the present day the Peacock Clock has been one of the Hermitage's most famous exhibits. It is, moreover, the only large 18th-century automaton in the world to have come down to us unaltered and in a functioning condition. The State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg. Photo by Evgeniy Sinyaver.