“The Bird Repeater” has a nice sound to it. After writing that sentence, I realized it was a pun, but it is true; this watch both has a catchy name and a sweet chime. Swiss watch maker Jaquet Droz unveiled the The Bird Repeater watch back in 2012, almost exactly two years ago at the time of writing this article. A year before that, in 2011, Jaquet Droz shared a not-for-publication video with me showing off their upcoming superwatch, a timepiece that would finally give the storied Swiss name a fitting modern token to Mr. Droz’s prolific legacy. One that, in my opinion, had not until then been done justice, given what Jaquet Droz himself was known for among the select group of historians outside of the watch industry familiar with his work.
Priced like a decent suburban home in many parts of America, the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater exists in rare limited editions of just eight pieces per series. In order to maximize the massive investment involved in engineering this and watches like it, Jaquet Droz gets around their own production limitations by producing different versions of the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater – a practice common in the watch industry where the need to recoup development investments is frequently weighted against the value of product exclusivity (a hallmark of luxury product valuation).
What we see here are two “new” versions of the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater watch. One, in an all 18k red gold case (ref. J031033202) with a fully engraved dial, as well as case; and another, in 18k white gold with a semi-skeletonized dial (ref. J031034203). Each is remarkably mesmerizing in its own way. These are products that even lowly Jaquet Droz company employees are proud of, because “their company was able to produce it.” Luxury watches like the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater are as marvelous to behold as they are deficient in practicality. The world may go on as people struggle and nations war, but somewhere in a peaceful place in Switzerland, a comfortable team in clean white watchmaker’s gowns are focused on making a small machines with hand-engraved (and in most instances painted) small automaton birds that bob around as the mechanical movement chimes out the current time with a ballet of hammers and gongs.
At first, I believed the dial design of the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater to be queer. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but rather that you don’t commonly see timepieces priced in the several hundred thousand dollar category with birds feeding their young. Jaquet Droz explained to me that the dial scene is meant to be highly symbolic – a statement that, of course, did not surprise me. The birds are of course a family, and allude to a real person’s family, complete with a comfortable nest, young, and parental care. The egg in the center of the scene, which “hatches,” represents the newest generation entering the world, and the role of the parents is to exist as dutiful guardians. Symbolism of this nature, I am told, carries great value in symbol-rich Asia. I’m not unfamiliar with the concept, but the notion of a man buying such a luxury in the West because he felt kinship with a small group of mechanical birds probably isn’t that common. When I see timepieces so complex, and yet so exotic, I must remind myself that, to many people out there, I am the foreigner with odd tastes.
In 2013, aBlogtoWatch shared our first hands-on look at the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater watch here. Of course, we couldn’t simply share the “basic” model, with the hand-painted enamel dial, we needed to exhibit a much more decadent model decorated with diamonds with a completely hand-engraved dial. Echos of that style exist in the 18k red gold version of the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater that you see here, but without the diamonds, and with the more traditional black onyx dial Jaquet Droz is often known for. In my opinion, the delicate nature of the engravings present the details of the scene better in red gold versus white gold.
The skeletonized dial version plays with the concept of the original Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater watch, but here without the hand-painted landscape dial showing a river, forest, and waterfall. The latter element doubles as the seconds indicator, as a slowly spinning disc attempts to mimic the flow of water. There is something a bit more appealing for me (the gearhead) about this partially skeletonized model. It isn’t that I didn’t like the original in its full glory – I did – but rather that this version of the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater mixes the mechanical art form Jaquet Droz is promoting in the watch, with just enough visuals to remind me of it on a regular basis. With the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater on my wrist, I consider a day wearing the watch around town and the possible ensuing conversations. If there was ever a convention for conversation piece watches,the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater might dutifully act as their mascot.