April 29, 2013
by Ariel Adams
Museum objects produced by Jaquet Droz and his contemporaries (seen here) in the 18th century often take the form of automaton birds geared to emulate in eerie detail actual birds complete with movement and sound. Bird songs were produced by moving a piston style tube in and out of a shaft rapidly. A small air hole would whistle, sounding remarkably like a real bird. The mechanical bird figurines were designed to often have moving heads, wings, and even beaks. These machines were often parts of ornate clocks.
For the first time ever, Jaquet Droz has produced a miniature automaton bird small enough to put into a timepiece. The Charming Bird watch features a bubble in the sapphire crystal for the bird, and a mechanical bird call to reproduce the sounds of a bird song. The remarkable movement developed by Jaquet Droz is exactly what the brand should have been working on from day one. Jaquet Droz smartly designed The Charming Bird with an open movement architecture so that the entire mechanism is visible.
This year, Jaquet Droz celebrates the 275th anniversary of its namesake. In celebration, the Swiss watch brand has debuted the limited edition “The Charming Bird” watch, a truly impressive automaton-based timepiece in the spirit of animated objects produced by Jaquet Droz himself in his heyday.
Sitting with Jaquet Droz during Baselworld 2013 we could notice that Jaquet Droz was excited to show us something. It turned out to be The Charming Bird, which in a sense is a follow-up to last year’s equally impressive Bird Repeater watch also with automaton birds and a minute repeater complication. It is clear that Jaquet Droz has been working on both pieces for the last few years as flagship models for the brand.
Both The Charming Bird and the Bird Repeater are highly limited edition watches, but their value to Jaquet Droz is more about proving that the modern brand can keep up with its history. One thing that Jaquet Droz has which most historically-based brands don’t, is an incredibly rich set of intellectual assets to build off of today. The challenge of course is taking extremely complicated things such as The Writer automaton and somehow incorporate them into the brand’s larger modern collection of products.
What is possible of course is for Jaquet Droz to produce fascinating halo products such as The Charming Bird that while rare, do in fact work as salable proof of concept works that are true recreations of the technological art form that Jaquet Droz was known for. So how does it work? On demand, the wearer is able to activate the bird (the charming little bird) to move and sing in full display on the dial. The automaton moves around while flapping its wings and moving its beak. Tiny parts are involved in the delicate mechanical ballet that oddly never gets boring to watch.
Slits in the side of the 47mm wide 18k white gold case allow for sound to escape from inside the movement where the piston-style whistle emits the sounds of the bird song. This prototype version of The Charming Bird has some work to be done, including improvement and finishing of the movement, a more robust sound for the song, and adding proper crowns to the case (a tool will not be needed for winding the automaton mechanism on the final product).
Of course, The Charming Bird is also a watch. Above the bird bubble is an off-centered display for the time with just the minutes and hours. The entire movement is 100% mechanical. The caliber 610 manually wound movement has a power reserve of 40 hours with the time-telling portion simply taking up the upper portion of the dial as the crown is located at 12 o’clock.
Jaquet Droz will produce just 28 pieces of The Charming Bird watch. Along with the Bird Repeater, Jaquet Droz now has an impressive set of timepieces which bring the old of the brand into “the new.” It is quite impressive to see in action, and we look forward to once again seeing The Charming Bird when it is totally ready for (limited) retail. jaquetdroz.com
The Charming Bird Tech Specs:
Numerus Clausus (limited edition) of 28, Reference: J031534240
Movement: Jaquet Droz 610, hand-winding mechanical movement, single barrel
Jewelling: 21 jewels
Automaton Movement: Singing bird automaton movement, hand-winding mechanical movement and push button automaton triggering mechanism. Sapphire crystal whistle system.
Jewelling: 8 jewels
Indications: Off-centered hours and minutes
Power reserve: 40 hours
Frequency: 21,600 v.p.h
Case: 18-carat white gold, diameter Ø 47 mm, Height 1: 15.65 mm, Height 2: 22.80 mm
Dial: Metallized sapphire crystal, Indications by galvanic growth
Hands: Blued steel
Strap: Rolled-edge hand-made black alligator leather, with black stitches
Buckle: 18-carat white gold folding clasp