The Whimsical Song Of Jaquet Droz’s Charming Bird
When historians, journalists, and informed clients think of Jaquet Droz, it doesn’t take long before their thoughts automatically turn to the songbird.
As Pierre Jaquet-Droz embarked upon his career to become the most talented and famous watchmaker of the Neuchâtel area, his creations included clocks, watches, and singing birds in addition to the world-renowned automata that so captured the hearts and minds of world’s nobility.
One of his most capricious inventions was the wall clock whose dial formed the base of a full-size bird cage. As the cage was made to hang (like a real bird cage would), the dial was seen from below; the cages contained one or two singing “birds” whose song seemed like conversation between the animals. In rare instances, they also contained a mechanism that allowed the “birds” to jump or “fly” from one perch to the other.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was also the inventor of the sliding piston whistle that enabled the “birds” to “sing” using just one pipe. It was this invention that led to the singing bird snuff boxes that were so successful in China, one of his main markets. Before that, a bird’s song was emulated by a larger organ comprising several pipes. Using just one pipe allowed the bird to be built into smaller objects like snuff boxes and watches.
Adding the songbird to a modern Jaquet Droz timepiece celebrates the brand’s past. And it pays homage to its founder by reviving this ultra-rare miniaturized technology. Like in the Charming Bird, which was first introduced in 2014, but only perfected and completed in 2015.
The 2015 Charming Bird
Now the Charming Bird has been presented in its final version, and all I can say is, “Wow!”
The little songbird is integrated into the movement of a contemporary 47 mm timepiece that boasts a pared-down, sober, minimalistic aesthetic featuring a grey and black color scheme.
The colorful little singing bird is cozily ensconced within a sapphire crystal dome (or “cage”) that was especially conceived to enhance the effect of light passing through it.
The artisans working in the Jaquet Droz Ateliers d’Art spend more than twenty hours fashioning each songbird: first the feathers, head, and delicate tail are exactingly engraved. Then the painter adds tiny strokes of bright color that contrast with the black and anthracite lines of the dial.
The Jaquet Droz songbird and its traditional bellows system needed to be miniaturized to fit into a modern wristwatch. New technologies were specially developed to achieve this whimsical feat: sapphire crystal for the tube (due to its extreme resistance to wear and tear, it was the perfect material) and carbon fiber for the piston (to limit friction while increasing water resistance).
Then, of course, there is the silicon balance spring, which has become a signature element of the prestige brands belonging to the Swatch Group.
While most striking mechanisms inside timepieces draw inspiration from stringed instruments (such as music boxes) or percussion instruments (such as minute repeaters), the Charming Bird has been designed according to the principle of a wind instrument.
Tiny pistons were developed that pump the air, store it, and produce the sound. The exact auditory uttering it makes is dependent on the speed of the piston and the position of the bellows opening at any given moment. This element alone took six months of research and development.
This is surely the first singing bird that you can wear on your wrist. Now you no longer need to open the window and wait for a little guy to serenade you with song. You can hear it any time you like.
For more information, please visit www.jaquet-droz.com.
Case: 47 mm, white gold
Movement: automatic Jaquet Droz Caliber 615 with silicon balance spring and pallets; a second manually wound movement powers the bird automaton
Functions: hours, minutes; singing bird
Limitation: 28 pieces
Price: 380,000 Swiss francs