On my recent trip to Shanghai I had the opportunity to put my hands on a luxury item that in the 18 th century was accessible only to emperors and kings — namely, a wristwatch with a singing automaton. Yes, of course, the wristwatch had yet to be invented in the 18th century, and automatons were found instead on table clocks, but Jaquet Droz’s new piece, The Charming Bird, would have been right at home in that era.
Jaquet Droz’s CEO Marc Hayek showed me the watch, and the Jaquet Droz team that traveled with us to Shanghai answered nearly almost all of my questions about this impressive timepiece.
In the 18
th century, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, for whom this modern watch brand is named, was a highly talented watchmaker. Royal courts admired his life-sized automatons (The Musician, The Writer and The Draughtsman, still on display at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland) as well as the small songbird automatons that graced his music boxes. (For more on Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his automatons, click here.) The photos below show two songbird automatons from the 18th century…
To celebrate the 275
th anniversary of the Pierre Jaquet-Droz manufacture, today’s engineers and watchmakers at Jaquet Droz now have combined the use of automatons, which first made the brand’s reputation in the 18th century, with the modern brand’s haute horlogerie expertise to create a very special wristwatch called The Charming Bird.
This ultra-complicated timepiece, for which a patent has been filed, differs from its historical predecessors in its modern, pared-down aesthetic, in which we find a miniature singing bird, ensconced inside a 47-mm-diameter case with a decidedly contemporary look and featuring black, charcoal-gray and transparent elements.
Marc Hayek wearing the Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird
I asked Marc Hayek, “What do you see when you admire the watch?”
“Against a background of a transparent sapphire dial that allows the onlooker to admire the complexity of the watch’s gear train, bridges, and plate, the representation of this songbird is stunningly realistic down to the tiniest detail,” he responded. “Every part of its body, from its feathers to its beak and even its eyes, forms an exact reproduction of the bird’s delicate proportions and magnificent radiance. And we go even further than that: thanks to an amazingly intricate mechanism, the bird turns, flaps its wings, moves its head and tail, and opens its beak to chirp.”
“What was the most complex thing to do?”
“In The Charming Bird, my team has succeeded in creating a singing automaton by developing a piston-driven bellows system and miniaturizing the techniques inherited from the 18th century.”
“In contrast with the complexity of other such pieces, it appears the designers have opted here for greater simplicity in the case design.”
“Yes, made of white gold, it combines a sober design with a dome-shaped sapphire crystal specially conceived to enhance the effect of each ray of light that passes through it. A bridge between past and present, The Charming Bird represents the apotheosis of the great watchmaker’s creativity and the longstanding fidelity of the master craftsmen who have followed in his footsteps.”
The Charming Bird will be produced in a limited edition of 28 pieces; the company sees it as an ode to the rich creativity of its past as well as the promises of today, and as a piece that encapsulates the fascinating history of Jaquet Droz, both watchmaker and watch brand.
In my opinion, this horological songbird does indeed honor the brand’s DNA by reviving the techniques of the miniature automaton. In fact, I think this is the most stunning watch presented this year so far. Click below for Jaquet Droz’s official video showcasing the watch.
Below please find the photos I was able to take of the watch. Unfortunately, the light in my hotel room was not ideal, and that is reflected in the photos. Also, keep in mind that the prototype shown here did not have yet a nonreflective sapphire crystal, which will of course be included in the final version.
For a clearer look at the finished product, here are the official Jaquet Droz computer renderings…
You can click below to hear my sound recording of Jaquet Droz The Charming Bird. Please keep in mind that it is still a prototype, and does not represent the finalized version. (Hayek´s team told me that they have been able to improve the sound dramatically since producing this first piece, but were not able to assemble a new prototype in time to bring it to Shanghai. Fortunately, your Watch Insider will be among the very first to see and hear the final version, which means visitors to WatchTime.com and my blog,
Watch-Insider.com, will be among the first ones to experience it, as well.