Jaquet Droz Magic Lotus Automaton: Zen Serenity On The Wrist
The Japanese have been building incredible gardens for around two millennia as a part of the ancient Shinto religion, though the more recognizable formal garden was imported from China along with Buddhism in the middle of the sixth century. Over the following 600 years, the Chinese-inspired style slowly shifted until the gardens became distinctly Japanese in structure and focus.
This period saw the development of the Shinden garden, a water garden highlighting lakes, bridges, boats, and paths that are meant to bring the visitor into and through the garden or to the lake.
This was the beginning of the shift away from the Chinese temple-oriented garden, which was based around a central structure and designed to be viewed from within the structure looking out. The Shinden gardens set the stage for all the future Japanese garden styles including the Paradise garden, Karesansui (dry rock) garden, Roji or tea garden, the Promenade garden (Kaiyū-shiki-teien), the Tsubo-niwa courtyard garden, the hermitage garden, and the entire spectrum of modern “zen” gardens found throughout Japan and the world.
While all these gardens would fall under the broad (and somewhat vague) title of a “zen garden,” what most people think of when they imagine a “zen garden” is one of two main styles. It may be either the dry rock garden, which often features little to no foliage and a significantly manicured expanse of white pebbles and large stones, or the popular tea gardens with abundant foliage and plenty of plant-based details (which have now also been exported around the world).
Regardless of the style, all these gardens are masterpieces of planning, space, and horticulture representing a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism inspiration and Japanese dedication.
Such things sometimes feel like they could also represent the achievements of some watchmakers, especially the master of automata, Jaquet Droz.
And it just so happens that Jaquet Droz released a brand-new automaton masterpiece in the spring of 2019 during Time to Move called the Magic Lotus Automaton, which uses the theme of the “zen garden” as the basis of a brand-new complex animation.
The piece is technically complex, but the mechanics are expertly hidden beneath a tapestry of artistic crafts creating a soothing scene, exquisitely capturing the tranquility of the Japanese garden.
Jaquet Droz’s Magic Lotus drifts along
The Magic Lotus Automaton is a visually peaceful display requiring a complicated mechanism and a unique execution to achieve the intended effect. The entire purpose of a zen garden is to promote reflection and meditation in search of inner peace, and this display has the same goal.
Inspired by the roots of the Japanese garden, which grew out of the Shinden-style water garden where lotus flower and koi were staples of the design, the Magic Lotus Automaton sees a cyclical animation of swimming koi and a transforming lotus flower slowly rotating around the dial.
The water garden style provides a perfect backdrop for a presentation that uses four lotus flowers to signify the cycle of life (or the seasons) with a lotus bud, a flower in full bloom, a fallen flower drifting along with the currents, and a seed pod waiting to spring forth with new life.
The fallen flower is the only animated one, rotating opposite the swimming orange koi. The peripheral disk that the flower and koi are mounted on rotates underneath lotus flowers and leaves as well as the off-center time display.
Each time the lotus flower passes under either of the leaves or the time display dial, the center of the flower transforms between yellow sapphire, blue sapphire, and deep red ruby in what might seem to be random as they don’t cycle in order.
The order skips over a color as the trio changes by one position, then another, then two positions to advance the cycle before repeating that pattern. When I say positions, I am referring to the fact that the three gemstones are mounted in a small geared cage rotating (in a rolling motion) positions between the different colors.
When the lotus flower passes under the onyx dial displaying the time, the cage advances by two positions (240 degrees) to reset the cycle; continuing on, it rotates one position (120 degrees) as it passes underneath each of the high-fire enamel. This allows for a repeating pattern of three that alternates between yellow, blue and red, followed by blue, red, and yellow, and capped by red, yellow, and blue. The pattern begins again with yellow once it passes again under the onyx dial.
It is an ingenious way to insert variety into an animation as it simply relies on a toothed rack with gaps where different numbers of teeth advance the cage by different amounts. Even with that, I find that the koi is still the most visually impressive.
The orange koi is articulated in the center of its body enabling its tailfin to swish back and forth as it “swims” around the dial. But Jaquet Droz didn’t stop there: the koi also swims up and down three-dimensionally, diving underneath the leaves and the onyx subdial and swimming back up to the surface in between the leaves.
Moving three-dimensionally gives the animation another layer of detail and semi-realism for the tiny hand-carved gold and enamel koi.
Decoration to the max
The final aspect of the animation is the power reserve indicator for the automaton mechanism at 9 o’clock. A tiny dragonfly perches upon a thin leaf, swinging through an arc to indicate the passing of the approximately four minutes of animation (eight rotations lasting about 30 seconds each).
The hand-painted, hand-carved gold dragonfly is a perfectly holistic way to include an indication without compromising the look of the dial.
Every bit of the dial outside of the offset onyx subdial is sculpted, enameled, painted, and stone-set to round out the scene. The mother-of-pearl petals on all of the lotus flowers (including a few that have fallen off into the water), the sculpted and enameled leaves, the gold pebbles, and the sculpted eddies in the water coated with enamel combine to depict a natural and peaceful scene that promotes the ideas of the perpetual cycles of nature.
The lotus, fully in bloom, is set with a yellow sapphire, while the seed-pod stage of the lotus features seven diamonds in place of the seeds. It truly is a stunning display, one that continues in theme to the rear of the watch. Both the skeletonized rotor and the entirety of the movement bridges are hand-engraved, and this beautiful decoration covers every square millimeter of available surface.
A variety of koi fish and various aquatic shapes are distributed across the expanse, with numerous lotus flowers surrounding jewel and screw holes, seemlessly incorporating mechanical features into the artistic design.
There are two limited edition versions of the Magic Lotus Automaton, in red gold or white gold, and the metal choice affects the appearance of the dial and movement as well. All of the hand-carved gold elements match the case material, with the exception being the small golden pebbles found in the water.
All the details from the koi and dragonfly to the lotus leaves and stems, and even the jewel settings, change from red to white gold depending on the case color. This helps tie everything together so that it feels even more holistic as tossing an artistic creation into a different case material can dramatically change how it is perceived.
And as a final topping on the Jaquet Droz sundae, the animation is wound and set via the crown and activated using a pusher within the crown, keeping the case from growing larger with the addition of a slider or some other feature.
Overall it definitely feels entirely considered, which should be the case considering it took more than three years to develop the automaton alone. But that is really where Jaquet Droz shines: creating a unique and considered automaton that nearly makes you forget you are watching a machine.
Every time Jaquet Droz comes out with a new creation like this it is a direct connection back to its beginnings and to a time where mechanical creations like this justifiably would have had every observer standing in awe.
While modern technology definitely has raised our standards of awe, Jaquet Droz continues to deliver inspiring machines that return us to an earlier time. The Magic Lotus Automaton is one such creation: a most worthy machine masquerading as art and, as the name implies, magic.
So let’s break that magic down and see how this zen universe stacks up!
- Wowza Factor * 9.76 The Magic Lotus Automaton will wow you and calm you!
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 97.6» 957.129m/s2 The power of nature to soothe and inspire is strong with this one!
- M.G.R. * 68.8 An automaton with 500 parts that mimics how nature moves is sure to get a high rating!
- Added-Functionitis * Mild* Okay, so this watch has what I would call two added functions, an animation and the animation’s power reserve. The functions don’t tell you much extra information though, which is why I gave it a “mild” rating. But given how incredible those functions are, I added the asterisk because I still think you need extra-strength Gotta-HAVE-That cream for some seriously inspired horological creativeness!
- Ouch Outline * 12.1 Falling down a flight of stairs while carrying your groceries! A doubly tragic event, missing a step and falling down a flight of stairs and dropping your freshly purchased groceries. It’s happened a couple times in my life, which hurts the ego as much as the body. Still, I would gladly do it again if it meant getting the Magic Lotus Automaton on my wrist!
- Mermaid Moment * Four minutes! That is how long the animation on the Magic Lotus Automaton runs when fully wound, and it doesn’t take more than that to fall head over heels. By the time it stops you’ll be ready to start arranging the seating chart!
- Awesome Total * 863 Take the number of pieces in each limited edition and multiply them together (28 x 28), then add the number of hours of power reserve (68), and finally add the number of precious stones found in the dial (11) for a beautifully natural awesome total!
For more information, please visit www.jaquet-droz.com/en/news/magic-lotus-automaton.
Quick Facts Jaquet Droz Magic Lotus Automaton
Case: 43 x 16.96 mm, white or red gold
Dial: hand-engraved and hand-painted white mother-of-pearl, onyx subdial, winter lotus set with 7 diamonds (.005 ct), spring lotus set with yellow sapphire (.03 ct), autumn lotus set with red briolette-cut ruby (.3 ct), blue briolette-cut sapphire (.3 ct), and yellow briolette-cut sapphire (.3 ct)
Movement: automatic Caliber 2653 AT2, 68-hour power reserve and four-minute power reserve for animation, silicon balance spring and pallet fork, two sets of twin spring barrels, hand-engraved rotor and bridges, 4 Hz/28,800 vph
Functions: hours, minutes; animated pond, carp, and lotus flower, animation power reserve indication
Limitation: 28 pieces each in red and white gold