June 16, 2015
by Ariel Adams
It was back in 2013 that aBlogtoWatch debuted the very interesting Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird watch here. Even though it took several years of development to get to that point, it was not until earlier in 2015 that Swiss watch maker Jaquet Droz professed to us that, “Ariel, The Charming Bird is now ready.” So, what is the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird, exactly? Well, it is a modern, miniaturized version of a fun, and impressively antique technology that was used to create small singing birds. Since Jaquet Droz’s brand “rebirth” in around 2000, I felt that this was exactly what the brand needed to establish itself, given the legacy of the man who was Mr. Jaquet Droz. During his time, in addition to pocket watches and incredible automatons, Jaquet Droz also made a number of mechanical singing birds.
So much engineering went into the creating and testing of an object which is purely for amusement. Unlike minute repeaters that chime and at least tell the time, the complication in the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird is used exclusively for spectacle. What is that complication, exactly? Activate the “the charming bird,” and carefully hand-painted bird figuring comes alive with animation and the watch sounds like a bird singing.
The most impressive part of the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird is this system which creates a modern version of the bellows and pistons system which for centuries has been used to mimic bird calls. This is the luxury world we are talking about, so in the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird the system, to make the bird sing and move uses some of the best materials and complex micro-engineering feats. Sapphire crystal is used for the bellow tubes, and the piston heads are produced from carbon. The size of the tube and the speed of the piston are what control the sound they emit. The pistons together play “different notes” which very much sound like a singing bird.
A careful comparison between the in-house movements from the 2013 Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird watch prototype and 2015’s final version reveal subtle but important differences. The watches are essentially the same, but in the final version, the movement has been reworked, with elements moved around and lots of improvements made. Many of those improvements relate to the volume and quality of the sound as well as the overall durability of the mechanism. Nothing quite like this has ever been produced in wrist watch form, to my knowledge.
At 47mm wide, initially in 18k white or red gold, Jaquet Droz will produce the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird as a limited edition. With that said it will likely produce more versions of the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird watch in the future in different materials or dial styles. The debut model goes for a fully open dial which allows you to appreciate the mechanism in action – which is, of course, going to be much more interesting than, say… a minute repeater.
What the singing and dancing bird complication lacks in basic utility, it makes up for in showmanship. Automatons have been entertaining people for literally hundreds of years. We seem to be fascinated by human attempts to reproduce nature (something we are getting better and better at). A machine that mimics the movements and sound of an actual bird is exactly the type of mechanism that captures our attention so well.
It is perhaps more accurate to say that the majority of people who will own the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird will do so as a collectible novelty to be played with on occasion and rarely worn. This is understandable given the precious nature of the watch as well as its delicate design. Nevertheless, Jaquet Droz designed the watch as a perfectly wearable item with a bold look which begs for conversation. It is also among the few ultra-high-end mechanical watch complications that novices who know nothing about the horological world can appreciate. Nothing sparks a conversation like, “I couldn’t help but overhear your watch chirping.” So the person with the several-hundred-thousand-dollar-per-watch budget interested in the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird needs to ask themselves… “can I make use of that extra charm in my life?”
Inside the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird is the Jaquet Droz exclusive caliber 615 automatic movement. That’s right, with everything else going on, the movement is also self-winding with a solid platinum rotor. It also uses silicon in the movement and operates at 3Hz with a power reserve of 38 hours. That is just to power the off-centered dial which indicates the time. I don’t actually think the “watch mechanism” is related to the charming bird complication. Not only is that wound using the other crown, but it is activated with it as well. I could be wrong, but I believe the bird system is separate from that used to indicate the time. Actually, Jaquet Droz amusingly refers to it as the “singing bird action.”
It isn’t worth explaining what watching the small bird in its animated state looks like, as we have a video in this post, as well as more in the original article from 2013 which is linked to above. It is very impressive to watch the little automaton with its many distinct parts rotating, flapping its wings, and moving its beak. The impressively life-like motion is not only a testament to the Jaquet Droz of today, but of the Jaquet Droz of yesterday and his contemporaries who produced similar items. Jaquet Droz has been open with the obvious fact that to build something like the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird watch, they needed to study historical examples of similar objects.
Bold, luxuriously without utility, and wonderful to look at, the Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird is the best kind of rich-boy toy because it is impressive without being at all controversial. Well, it does tell the time. Actually, is it fair to say the complication is without utility? Each time I see the “singing bird action” in operation I quickly develop a smile on my face. Jaquet Droz will produce the Jaquet Droz Charming Bird ref. J031533240 in 18k red gold which will be limited to just 28 pieces, and the ref. J031534240 in 18k white gold will also be limited to 28 pieces. Price for the watch is 380,000 Swiss Francs. jaquet-droz.com