They walked into the small house. Li Du took out the four antique clocks while Hans chatted with the shrewd-looking Mr. Raymond.
Seeing the antique clocks, Raymond's eyes lit up. Ignoring his conversation with Hans, he picked one up to take a closer look.
With just one look at it, he confidently said, "This was made in the Louis XV style. I would say this is a gilt-bronze, French-styled mantel clock with porcelain flowers from the Meissen company in Germany."
"Do you mean that the porcelain flowers are German, from Meissen, and that the clock was made in France?" asked Hans.
This was different from what Kevin from the general store had said. Kevin had told them that the box was English. The clock should be the same.
Raymond shook his head. "No, it was just made in the French style. It was probably made in England, sometime between 1815 and 1850."
Li Du and Hans glanced at each other. The old man was a true connoisseur. With just one glance, he'd been able to tell them what Kevin had taken a long time to figure out, and give them a more specific time frame.
Putting what Kevin and Raymond had each said, the authentic antique clocks had been produced in England between 1815 and 1820, during the reign of King George the Third, with German porcelain accessories and English gilt, in the French style.
Hans coughed and told him what they knew.
Raymond looked at him with astonishment. "You two have good eyes. This isn't a famous clock. It's quite impressive to know this much."
"How much are you willing to pay for these clocks?" Hans asked. "I imagine that anyone who loves clocks would be very interested in old masterpieces such as these."
Raymond put down the clock. "If it really were a bronze-gilt French-style mantel clock with Meissen porcelain flowers, then it would be an old masterpiece."
"What does that mean?" Hans's expression darkened.
"These are counterfeits. And counterfeits less than twenty years old at that," continued Raymond. "I'm sorry, but they're worthless."
This was a real blow to Hans. They had picked these randomly when dividing the clocks with The President's Umbrella. At the time, he had told them that there were only two authentic clocks among the nine.
"Our luck can't be that bad, can it?" Hans looked at Li Du bitterly. "All four are counterfeits? We didn't get a single real one?"
Treasure hunters based their trade on transparency and fairness. They didn't try to fool their buyers, and in exchange, their buyers shared information with them.
If a treasure hunter were to sell a counterfeit or substandard item, whether it was intentional or not, their reputation within the trade would go down. Fewer people would be willing to deal with them.
So Hans communicated with Li Du openly without avoiding Raymond hearing them.
Li Du didn't answer, but looked curiously at the old man. "Mr. Raymond, how could you tell that they were counterfeits?"
The old man said confidently, "Come. Let me show you. No matter how well-made a counterfeit is, there are ways to tell."
He lifted the antique clock in front of him. "First of all, real antique clocks are made in one piece. Whereas counterfeits are made with thin and light copper plates welded together.
"The assembly needs to be done layer by layer, so the space between the plates is large and the surface uneven. Overall, counterfeits look flimsy, not solid and substantial like authentic ones."
Li Du scrutinized the clock and frowned. "It looks quite solid to me."
Raymond smiled and pointed to the clock's surface. "Fine. Let's move on. Do you think that the surface was gilded or plated?"
Obviously, plating was a modern process while gilding was the traditional way of doing it.
"For counterfeits, a large part of the cost of production comes from the plating, so the plating is usually thin. There are even cases where the sides, back, and base of the clock aren't plated."
At this, Raymond lifted the clock to take a look. "Not bad. The whole clock was plated. It's well made even though it's just a counterfeit."
Li Du shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I can't tell that it's plated and not gilded."
Raymond said, "Then we'll have to open it up. You don't mind, do you?"
Naturally, they didn't mind. Antique clocks weren't like chinaware. They were made of machinery. To strike a deal, they would have had to open it up to check on the wear and tear of the parts anyway.
He moved aside. Hans got to work with a full set of screwdrivers. Li Du swapped the clocks inconspicuously.
Throughout all this, the old man continued, "Counterfeits can usually be recognized by the clockwork inside. We usually find modern screws, nuts, gaskets and even newer alloys in there.
"And if this were a two-hundred-year-old clock, the clockwork should show some wear and tear, especially between the pinion gear and the bridge. If there isn't any wear and tear around there, then it's just not right…"
The antique clock was opened up, its parts displayed in the open. The screws and bolts looked old and worn, nothing like modern parts.
Seeing this, Raymond frowned and hesitated. "Of course, counterfeit clocks have to be distressed and antiqued, including its internal clockwork. But some details still can't be faked…"
"Which are?" asked Li Du.
"The clockwork can be faked," Raymond said, "but authentic clocks have labels which bear the logo of the factory, the year of production, patent numbers, and all that. Counterfeit clocks can have them too, but I have never seen one which is clear and well-defined."
Hans carefully blew away the dust in the clock in the clock with a blow dryer. A few clear, well-defined words appeared on the inside of the base and some other parts.
There was a sentence inscribed on the base—"May HRH The Prince of Wales be as everlasting as time."
Raymond was stunned.
Hans, too, was taken aback. "Shouldn't this clock be from the era of King George the Third? Why is it praising Prince George as the Prince of Wales?"
"The Prince of Wales that it's referring to is George the Fourth. King George the Third suffered from mental illness in his later years. His son, George the Fourth, Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent in his place. This also proves that this clock was produced during the late reign of King George the Third."
Hans was impressed. "Your knowledge of history is not bad at all. "
Li Du rolled his eyes and raised his phone. "When Kevin told us about the boxes, I did some research on the internet. I just happened to read about this."
Raymond kept quiet. He took out a magnifying glass to take a closer look at the clock. He also pulled out his phone, took some pictures, and sent them to someone.
After a while, his phone rang. He walked off and had a short conversation over the phone. Then, he walked back and said, "Give me a price. How much for this clock?"
"You're sure about it?" Hans asked.
Raymond nodded. "This is an authentic piece. The truth has proved my mistake."