Jaquet Droz is a watchmaker famous for its automatons, that is, robot-like mechanical contraptions that imitate people or animals.
Currently, the brand’s most prominent automatons are its birds. The company’s creations come alive; the automatons’ mechanisms cause, for example, songbirds in miniature to peck and flutter their wings.
Extreme mechanical complexity and meticulous sculpture and painting make for very expensive timepieces, therefore, this is an ultra high-end brand. In the 18th century, this company entertained and impressed royalty, and since then, it has continued its celebrated tradition.
"Elegant inside and out!" Jaquet Droz's unique aesthetic and spectacular complications allude to its 18th-century roots.
This watchmaker distinguishes itself with unique off-centered dial designs and graceful, delicate forms, as well as traditional painting and sculpting.
Contemporary and sleek, yet steeped in 18th-century opulence, the company’s visual direction is tied to its distinctively long history.
Simply continue in order to learn about this brand’s history from the start, or follow the links below:
- The Man Himself: Pierre Jaquet-Droz
- Bodies In Motion: The Automata
- Upholding The Legacy: Current Directions
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The Man Himself: Pierre Jaquet-Droz
Born in 1721, Pierre Jaquet-Droz was an horological prodigy who learned from expert clock-makers in his family during his childhood. He officially entered the timepiece business in 1738 while only 17, building clocks in his hometown of La Chaux-de-Fonds.
By 1747, his clocks reached an unprecendented level of sophistication, not only chiming automatically but, in some models, playing music.
Then, on Christmas Day 1755, his wife Marianne died shortly after giving birth to their third daughter, Charlotte. Soon after, in 1756, the infant Charlotte also died. At this time in history, however, this was an all-too-common tragedy.
This was quite a fateful turn of events, because, in his grief, Pierre submerged himself in his clockmaking. The Scotsman George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal and governor of Neuchâtel, discovered his impressive timepieces during this period.
George Keith then aided Pierre in presenting his sophisticated works to the Spanish royal court. The complicated clocks amazed King Ferdinand VI, who bought all of the pieces Jaquet-Droz brought with him.
When the watchmaker received his handsome payment from the Spanish king, he went right back to refining his craft. The pinnacle of this period in the watchmaker’s history began in 1773, when he began his three most famous automata.
Bodies In Motion: The Automata
An automaton, plural automata, is a mechanical contraption which resembles a moving human, or sometimes animal, generally performing a task. In 1774, with his protégé Jean-Frédéric Leschot, Jaquet-Droz created the Musician, the Draughtsman and, finally, the Writer.
The Musician not only appears to play an organ, but operates it with her articulated fingers. The organ, accordingly, is a real instrument independent of the automaton.
Besides the Musician’s hands, her torso moves, as do her eyes and head. Hence, this creates the appearance that she is reading music, breathing, even shifting in her seat.
The actions are all reproduced from a pin barrel, which is not too different to the barrel of a music box.
A similar design powers the Draughtsman who, depending on the pin barrel used, draws one of several pictures. With his pencil, the Draughtsman can draw a dog, a portrait of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and several others.
Reportedly, the Draughtsman was fitted with the wrong barrel during his presentation before the French royal couple. Jaquet-Droz told the Queen that her portrait was next, but the automaton drew the dog instead.
Finally, the Writer was the crowning achievement in this series, a feat not only of clockmaking but possibly computer science. The Writer not only writes, but is programmable, writing up to 40 selected characters with his pen.
This is an extremely early example of read-write memory, since operators can shift cams inside the automaton, changing the programming.
At this time, the improbably futuristic nature of the automata even led to accusations of witchcraft. Further cementing the genius of this watchmaker, these machines survive today. They are even still operational in Neuchâtel’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire.
Upholding The Legacy: Current Directions
This expertise in automata persists in Jaquet-Droz watches today, though on a miniature scale. At the forefront of the brand’s collections, for example, are its bird watches.
The Bird Repeater, specifically, features a repeater function that both chimes and animates a miniscule scene. In this scene, blue Swiss-native songbirds tend to their hatchling young while a waterfall cascades in the background.
An off-center dial, generally present in the brand’s current collections, sits just above the scene.
Offset dials, narrow bezels, skillful paintings of colorful scenes, ambitious complications and meticulously-finished enamel surfaces, therefore, are the company’s signature.
Large teams work on each Jaquet-Droz timepiece; haute horlogerie ateliers create movements while ateliers d’art paint, sculpt, and enamel.
The company also has a restoration division, which restores and researches centuries-old clocks and watches.
Continue Learning About Jaquet-Droz
Also, the official Galerie des Merveilles is a visual resource on historical timepieces by the watchmaker.
Finally, read more brand histories, watch reviews, and other high-quality information in the links below: