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Jaquet Droz invents the contemporary automaton watch
Baselworld

Jaquet Droz invents the contemporary automaton watch

Wednesday, 15 May 2013
By Louis Nardin
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Louis Nardin
Journalist and consultant

“Audacity, more audacity, always audacity.”

Georges Jacques Danton

“A quality watch is a concentration of creativity, rare technical and scientific skills, and age-old gestures. It appeals to the desire for uniqueness and distinction; it is a badge of knowledge, power and taste. A watch has many stories to tell; the details and secrets provide the relish”.

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3 min read

The Charming Bird, whose feathered creature flaps its wings and sings beneath its sapphire dome, was one of the most remarked-upon pieces at this year’s Baselworld. Embracing childhood wonder, tradition and next-generation technology, Jaquet Droz has carved itself a new niche.

It was Nicolas Hayek himself who set the wheels in motion, but it was only at this year’s Baselworld that the public finally saw what the legendary entrepreneur had meant when he declared his intention to reinvent the tradition of automata at Jaquet Droz. The Charming Bird is the first wristwatch to incorporate a bird that moves and sings, brought to life by piston-driven bellows. This delightful and also complex piece launches the company in a new direction: that of three-dimensional automata watches.

The majority of automata timepieces are behind glass in museums. The few that come up for sale do so at auction or through specialist dealers. Jaquet Droz has taken a different tack by developing automata as contemporary, even futuristic, objects while celebrating the whimsical nature that is inherent to any such creation. The company, which has amassed considerable expertise in the fine crafting of this type of mechanism, approaches fine watchmaking from a unique and innovative angle that originated with its human automata.

The Charming Bird de Jaquet Droz

Trills and chirps

First to give form to this strategy, The Charming Bird is a blue tit, a common sight in the mountains of Neuchâtel, which turns, opens and closes its beak, and flaps its wings while chirruping. Between its exertions, it perches beneath a protective sapphire dome, its nest a complex assembly of tubes and parts.

The blue tit’s strong associations with the region made it a favourite of Pierre Jaquet-Droz himself, although this particular specimen flew in not from La Chaux-de-Fonds but from Sainte-Croix. Made from hardened brass and hand-painted, it results from a collaboration between Jaquet Droz and automaton-maker François Junod. His was the only contribution to the watch from outside Swatch Group, which owns Jaquet Droz. The entire module for this singing bird was developed within the group in just one year. Hours and minutes are displayed by a Frédérique Piguet calibre.

The Charming Bird: a miniaturised version of a traditional singing bird automata.
Pistons and patents

Behind what is essentially a miniaturised version of a traditional singing bird automata lies a hugely innovative compressed-air mechanism which Jaquet Droz has completely redesigned. The pneumatic system of pump, reservoir and bellows was made to order by Comadur, also part of Swatch Group. A specialist in the manufacture of sapphire parts, Comadur also made the dome that covers the singing bird. The pistons are in steel. The ambitious objective to make this a contemporary piece as much in design as materials is reflected in the fifteen patents filed for the watch.

System of pipelines

Swatch Group companies also worked together on the question of air flow as, contrary to other sounding watches, The Charming Bird uses compressed air to make its bird sing. Producing a sufficiently powerful sound required a complete understanding of fluid dynamics and pneumatics. The solution was to invisibly integrate pipelines into the baseplate that optimise the flow of air. A silicon wall with nano-piercings and honeycomb engraving forms a membrane between the exterior and interior of the watch. It allows sound to filter while preventing dust and other impurities from entering the movement.

A visitor from the past now reinvented on a contemporary note, The Charming Bird’s avian automaton will delight young and old.

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