Jaquet Droz Animated by a love of… automata!
WorldTempus visited the Ateliers Jaquet Droz to discover the brand’s enduring love of automata. An anthem to mechanical poetry.
Last week, several handpicked journalists were invited to spend a pleasant day at the Ateliers Jaquet Droz, located near the country fields around the watchmaking town of La Chaux-de-Fonds. The newly appointed CEO, Christian Lattmann, took the opportunity to present the brand’s history and in particular its love for automata.
“Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a mechanical genius!”, explains Christian Lattmann. “But also much than that. He was also a creator of wonderment thanks to his automata. And it is precisely that wonderment that we wish to elicit through contemporary Jaquet Droz timepieces.”
A horologist and a mechanic, Pierre Jaquet-Droz made three automata between 1769 and 1774 with the help of his son Henri-Louis, and his adoptive son Jean-Frédéric Leschot. After being presented in the course of his travels, his creations were sold to collectors on several occasions. Their European journey continued until their return to Switzerland, where they are now on show at the Neuchâtel Art and History Museum and can be seen in operation through demonstrations given on the first Sunday of every month, or by reservation.
The appeal of the Writer, the Draughtsman and the Musician lies in the incredible ingenuity they embody. The Writer, which houses the most complex mechanism, is an automaton doll seated at a desk and holding a quill that he dips in the inkwell before shaking it lightly and tracing letters on the paper. Three original sets of cams enable the Draughtsman to create four different drawings: a portrait of Louis XV, a dog, scene of Cupid in a chariot pulled by a butterfly, and an English royal couple. A small bellows hidden in the automaton’s head even enables it to blow dust off the paper at regular intervals, just as a living human being would do in the same situation. Finally, the female automaton named the Musician is seated at her organ. Equipped with a mechanism that moves her ten fingers, she literally plays a choice of five tunes on the organ. This wealth of complications enables observers not only to experience wonderment at the sheer complexity of such sophisticated mechanisms and their aesthetic beauty, but also to feel a variety of emotions such as the thrill of discovery, joy, as well as a certain degree of awe.
The Ateliers Jaquet Droz are also home to another charming automaton: a singing bird cage. Once the mechanism is activated, the birds chirp tunefully as they spin around a ‘flowing fountain’ represented by a crystal rods resembling water jets. It should be noted that Pierre Jaquet-Droz had embraced the naturalist movement that was prevalent among 18th century artists and philosophers. This enthusiasm for nature and living creatures was his initial source of inspiration for his automata, which are imbued with a boundless sense of mechanical poetry.
Among the recent models introduced by Jaquet Droz this year is a magnificent “Métiers d’Art” reinterpretation of the Charming Bird, a model launched at Baselworld 2015 and winner of the 2015 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève in the “Mechanical Exception” category. This exquisite timepiece reflects Jaquet Droz’s enduring penchant for fauna and flora. By introducing a songbird into a wristwatch, the watch brand from La Chaux-de-Fonds once again demonstrates extreme mechanical virtuosity, enhanced by contemporary poetry in a moving and tuneful anthem to nature.
Now available with a hand-painted and engraved white mother-of-pearl dial, the 47 mm-diameter watch is powered by mechanical self-winding Jaquet Droz Calibre 615, along with a songbird automaton movement triggered via a dedicated pusher at 2 o’clock. The quality of the sound produced inside the case is such that the timepiece creates the impression of housing a real life singing bird. “The main aim of our Métiers d’Art products is to ensure they are beautiful”, explains Christian Lattmann. “The beauty of its products is an inherent characteristic of the brand. A watch becomes an objet d’art if it is beautiful and stirs emotions.”
An elegant, outward-looking philosophy that dates back to the Age of Enlightenment is still at the heart of Jaquet Droz's identity. The fine and rare handcrafts practiced at the company’s workshops produce exquisite miniature works of art and automata that combine the best of design with unprecedented levels of horological know-how.Find out more >
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