Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a skilled watchmaker of the late 18th-century, who chanced upon a most unique way to market his wares — he designed and built animated dolls, or automata. His finely constructed dolls — The Writer, The Musician and The Draughtsman — are considered by many to be the oldest examples of the computer. The dolls are still mechanically sound and a set of three is currently housed at the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
This spirit prevails 280 years on at the Jaquet Droz studio, reinstated in its ancestral home of La Chaux-de-Fonds. It was here, in utmost secrecy for nearly three years, that every artisan at the firm joined forces to bring to life an exquisite piece to celebrate the 280th anniversary of Jaquet Droz: the Parrot Repeater Pocket Watch. Although I watched a video of this masterpiece in action multiple times on YouTube, there was nothing quite like seeing it move in real life.
Jaquet Droz CEO Christian Lattmann holds the pocket watch delicately for me in his ivory gloved hand and I take a good five minutes to take in the complex forest scene brought to life by grand feu enamelling. It is anchored by colourful adult macaws watching over three chicks, one of which hatches from an egg while its sibling moves back and forth in its nest. A bird of paradise is visible, a tiger pauses for a drink at the foot of an animated waterfall and a second great cat can be spotted at 6 o’clock.
It feels like the function of time is completely superfluous, yet the watch boasts impressive credentials in this respect as well — atop a mother-of-pearl dial, minute and hour hands are powered by a unique mechanical calibre that consists of an automaton with minute repeater and cathedral gongs. A pull-out piece positioned on the case at 9 o’clock is used to activate the automata as well as the chimes that ring the hours, quarter-hours and minutes. The watch has been awarded a patent for its ingenious construction. Simply amazing, I tell Lattmann, and he smiles.
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