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Jaquet Droz - Like a fish in water

Jaquet Droz Like a fish in water

The automaton, a historical specialty of Jaquet Droz back in the 18th century, is making a convincing comeback to the eponymous company. The Magic Lotus Automaton is also a meticulous and comprehensive artistic crafts creation.

To say that the history of Jaquet Droz is closely connected with that of automata is an understatement. It was through the creation of these extraordinarily lifelike machines that Pierre Jaquet Droz earned favour in the courts of Europe, 250 years ago. When the brand was relaunched this heritage, of which many examples still remain, became a source of inspiration. Some of these marvels of antique technology were restored, and the brand went on to create several timekeeping devices with features drawn from automata. These included minute repeaters, an autograph machine and even a whistling bird incorporated into a wristwatch, and later into a desk clock. Some of the movements that animated them (in the sense of the Latin animus, soul) were created with the assistance of external suppliers. In 2019, at the Time To Move event, Jaquet Droz is launching its first exclusive automaton. The Magic Lotus Automaton was designed and assembled internally, and developed and manufactured with the help of the Swatch Group’s dedicated movement supplier, the Blancpain manufacture.

Like a fish in water

Magic Lotus Automaton © David Chokron/WorldTempus

The automaton depicts four stages in the lifecycle of a lotus blossom, as imagined by Jaquet Droz. From bud to flower, which fades and falls into the water to bloom anew, the lotus sits in a rippling pond where a dragonfly alights and a koi carp swims. Once the scene is set, all that remains is to bring it to life. The four phases of the flower are represented in a miniature sculpture, carved and painted, and worked in gold. The dragonfly rises and falls to indicate the power reserve of the animation. Once exhausted, it settles on a lotus leaf. The carp swims around, swishing its tail back and forth, beneath the ring that forms the outer part of the dial. These four simultaneous animations are all governed by a relatively modestly sized movement; four living subjects, all created in the manufacture’s La Chaux-de-Fonds workshops, where engravers, enamellers, sculptors and painters work to bring these tiny creations to life.

Like a fish in water

© Jaquet Droz

The Magic Lotus Automaton also tells the time, which is displayed in an off-centre dial positioned at 12 o’clock, as per the layout of Jaquet Droz’s Petite Heure Minute. The format naturally lends itself to this type of exercise, because it leaves a large area of the dial open for animations. The fluidity of the movement is particularly striking, especially the motion of the carp, which looks as if it is in its element. Another amazing feature is the variety of colours and the diversity of decorations and shapes that burst out from the flat surface of the dial, which is also decorated. The scene is less a painting, and more a puppet theatre or a pop-up book, a living tableau in miniature.

Like a fish in water

The case of the Jaquet Droz Magic Lotus Automaton with its swimming carp © David Chokron/WorldTempus

This looks likely to be the first chapter in a long saga. It’s hard to imagine the company stopping there, when it has the legitimacy and the desire, and now the resources, to take the concept further. On closer examination, the intricate design of the movement (616 parts, 4 patents, 4 barrels, 4 minutes of animation) is complex precisely because of its intrinsic ability to offer a variety of different options. As well as changing the subject and the aesthetic theme, it should be equally possible to modify the animations themselves. 

Like a fish in water

© Jaquet Droz

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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