Jaquet Droz, which in 2018 marks 280 years since its founder and namesake began making watches under his own name, has a deep-rooted history in automata, repeating and chiming mechanisms, musical birds, and elaborately decorated pocketwatches. The modern company, now part of the Swatch Group, pays tribute to all these hallmarks with a unique piece it introduced at Baselworld 2018, the Jaquet Droz Parrot Repeater Pocket Watch.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721 – 1790), throughout his prolific career, made scores of clocks, watches, and music boxes that featured singing bird automata — moving mechanical devices in the shape of human beings or animals — often in collaboration with his son Henri-Louis, and his eponymous brand has paid tribute to this history in recent years with its extremely complex and highly limited Bird Repeater wristwatches. The Parrot Repeater, the first of the so-called Automata Collection to use a pocketwatch case (which, of course, would have been the preferred style of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, whose entire career preceded the rise of the wrist-borne timekeeper) is the most complex and most limited to date — a literal one-of-a-kind timepiece with five animations on the dial and a host of decorative techniques and gem-setting adorning its 56 mm, 18k rose gold case.
On the mother-of-pearl dial are perched a family of macaws, members of the parrot family known for their brightly colorful plumage, with two adults watching over two chicks and surrounded by a lush jungle landscape of vines and hibiscus. Positioned in front of the white mother-of-pearl subdial, on which the off-center hours and minutes are displayed by gold hands, each of the family of birds is animated: the parrot on the left moves its body while the larger one on the right wiggles its head. One of the chicks emerges from its egg while the other hops back and forth. Other details emerge as one watches the scene unfold and listens to the musical chirping of the birds, such as a tiger pausing for a drink at an animated waterfall in the background, and another tiger crouching below the macaws’ nest at 6 o’clock. The whole tableau involves miniature painting for the dazzling colors of the jungle flora and fauna and miniature relief engraving for the 3D depth of the elements; the tree trunks, birds, and nest are solid gold appliqués, hand-painted and hand-applied to the dial.
The complexity in both construction and decorative embellishment extends to the rose-gold case, whose rim boasts a rainbow of colors achieved by a painstakingly complex gem-setting. It uses two covers to protect the dial. One is on the back, with a grand feu enamel painting of a macaw, enhanced with spangles and executed in a special technique that mixes hand-ground enamel powder with oil, rather than the traditional water, to produce the image before firing it in a kiln, adding the spangles by hand, then adding a protective layer of translucent enamel before a final firing in the kiln and a final hand-polish. On the front is a dial cover, offering a peek at the dial’s scenery through its sculpted vines and tropical foliage, which are set with multicolored gemstones. Both covers can be opened individually by a dual case-spring mechanism embedded into the unconventional 12 o’clock crown.
The manual-wound, minute repeater movement inside this unique piece is composed of 668 components, including 69 jewels, and stores a power reserve of 48 hours. The slider at 9 o’clock simultaneously activates the automata and the minute repeater, whose cathedral gongs chime the hours, quarter hours, and minutes. The watch is suspended on a rose-gold chain and is presented in a special hand-painted box designed to allow the owner to appreciate this singularly amazing timepiece from all sides.