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Jaquet Droz - Dazzling Reliability

Jaquet Droz Dazzling Reliability

Inventive, offbeat, complex, Jaquet Droz's creations take us off the beaten path. Yet it’s not enough simply to describe them as “original”…

Which is the most deserving and inventive? He who comes up with an idea, or he who accomplishes it? Between inventors and achievers, an intellectual war has been raging since time immemorial. Jaquet Droz has chosen a third way. Based on a prolific in-house creation policy and on the manufacturing abilities of the Blancpain manufacture, sister company within the Swatch conglomerate, the brand manages to release watches that have little to no equivalent, validated by an argument that generally settles the score: sales.

Indeed, a number of pieces among the Jaquet Droz collection are one of a kind. And they are precisely the easiest ones to sell. It can't be denied that the quantities produced are inversely proportionate to their complexity. Despite their small numbers, they are quite significant.

La validation de l'innovation

Charming Bird © WorldTempus/David Chokron

First example, the Charming Bird. It is the first and only wrist-ready version of the legendary singing birds that used to bedazzle the courts of 18th century Europe and Asia... at a 1:10 scale. The watch is far from compact. But it houses a miniature, dancing, whirling bird, twirling around under a large sapphire dome. And it sings too, in a melodious, delicately pitched, long and varied manner. An enchanting sight to behold which could have been executed in a far less accomplished fashion, but comes to us in fully-formed micromechanical splendour. A larger table-top version has even discreetly been created, called the Whistling Machine.

La validation de l'innovation

Whisling Machine © Jaquet Droz

La validation de l'innovation

Parrot Repeater © WorldTempus/David Chokron

Second example, automata. Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his descendants and his successors had made a name for themselves by manufacturing these machines capable of mimicking life, be it anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. These are the remote ancestors of the Bird Repeater series. These minute repeater with jacquemarts are simplified, wearable versions of the automata of yesteryear. They feature several moving parts, creating figurines put in motion by the chiming mechanism. Then came the Lady 8 Flower, featuring a flower opening and closing in a semidetached case compartment, powered by a manually actuated pusher. But with the Magic Lotus Automaton, Jaquet Droz definitely went above and beyond. It isn't based on a minute repeater movement, but retains the principle of animated sculptures, items and characters which are even more sophisticated than a jacquemart: a lotus flower glides through a stream, its centre changing colour to indicate the four seasonal stages of its life, as a Koï carp swims around the dial and a dragonfly lands and takes off to indicate the remaining power reserve.

La validation de l'innovation

Lady 8 Flower © Jaquet Droz

La validation de l'innovation

Magic Lotus Automaton © WorldTempus/David Chokron

Third example, the Signing Machine. Initially introduced as a prototype as large as a microwave oven, it has since then been reduced to more sensible proportions. This machine is able to reproduce two different hand-signatures. Once the specific gesture is recorded with the help of sophisticated cams (like an automaton really), it will produce enough John Hancocks to last a lifetime. The 15 by 8 cm portable device is made on-demand, necessarily bespoke and... doesn't tell time.

La validation de l'innovation

Signing Machine © Jaquet Droz

Behind each and every one of these objects lie major challenges, technological or otherwise. One is to come up with a concept. More accurately, to extract from the history and archive of the Jaquet Droz family, watchmaking and precision mechanics in general, the ideas that are relevant to the predefined perimeter of the brand. And even if it's wide enough to include a Signing Machine, this still is a tight fit. Then comes the task of transplanting that idea into the here and now, especially when it comes to aesthetics. The in-house design studio is handling that one. But most of all, these products must be manufactured reliably so. Otherwise they are but mere novelties with no longevity. The Blancpain manufacture, a sister company within the Swatch Group, which provides Jaquet Droz with technical developments and components, is proving a decisive input in that regard. 

Editor’s addendum: The technical term jacquemart (with the variant spelling jaquemart) was traditionally a very specific reference to the mechanically animated homunculi seen on large clocktowers. These figures, often built with hammers in their hands, would strike a bell when the clock’s chiming mechanism was activated. Occasionally, the jacquemart actually produced the chime by hitting the bell. Just as often, the jacquemart merely simulated the bell-strike while a larger, hidden bell produced the actual chime. In modern horology, the term jacquemart is used in a general sense to refer to automata in watches and clocks.

 

The brand

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.

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