Since its inception at the height of the Enlightenment, Jaquet Droz has consistently sought to push the boundaries of watchmaking. Designed to measure Time, its creations have been designed as genuine decorative treasures implementing the best expertise and knowledge of the period. The same applies to its automata, from the spectacular androids that enthralled the European royal courts to the songbirds that adorned watches, clocks and snuffboxes, supporting the great naturalist trend of the period. Many of these masterpieces are preserved today in Swiss or international institutions, particularly in the Forbidden City in Beijing. From the past to the present, this spirit is what has driven the design of Jaquet Droz's contemporary automaton creations. The Bird Repeater and Charming Bird captivate and rouse, almost three centuries later, the same level of wonder before these timepieces embodying unchanged magic.
In a special exhibition in 2012, Jaquet Droz and the Association Automates & Merveilles honored the three leading figures of 18th century watchmaking: Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and their collaborator Jean-Frédéric Leschot. On this occasion, an incredible number of pieces and information was gathered for the first time in three museums in the canton of Neuchâtel. It therefore made sense for Jaquet Droz to support the association's new project of safeguarding and showcasing the Neuchâtel watchmaking heritage through the restoration of three major pieces: the planetary clock by François Ducommun (International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds), the astronomical clock by Albert Billeter (Musée d’art et d’histoire in Neuchâtel), and the singing bird pendulum clock by Pierre Jaquet-Droz (Watch Museum of Le Locle, Château des Monts).
This last piece will be the particular focal point of the Brand's sponsorship. This clock, 92.56 cm tall and boasting a cabinet adorned with bronze decorative elements, is topped with a cage that houses the singing bird. The cabinet is emblematic of the Empire style, Egyptian revival and Orientalism in vogue under Napoleon with the attributes that are iconic of that period: the sphinx, victories, Egyptian headdress busts, swans and lotus leaves. On the plate, the pendulum clock movement bears the signature "Pierre Jaquet-Droz à La Chaux-de-Fonds". It is likely that it was Napoleon himself who ordered the Jaquet Droz movement for this piece, prior to the cabinet, to offer it to a Princess of Württemberg, a gift that was particularly popular during that period.
Joining the collections of the Watch Museum of Le Locle - Château des Monts in 1984, the clock is quickly becoming a key piece of the museum collections. The clock features a movement powered by a double fusee and chains, chiming the hours and quarter hours on two bells and a crown wheel escapement. The bird's song is produced by a pin-barrel serinette that can play six different tunes on ten flutes. During the melody, the bird pivots on the spot while opening its beak, shaking its tail feathers and puffing up its chest.
As the piece remained non-operational for many years, each component must be disassembled and cleaned. Following this step, each part will be restored respecting the original features. The four-link chains of the clock's motor, special characteristics of this piece, need to be completely redone. The mechanisms of the pendulum and serinette need to undergo complete service. The mahogany cabinet needs to be retouched so that its original color is restored. The bronze components need to be regilded and the bird freshened up. Of course, all this restoration work will be entrusted to specialists.
The restoration project will be completed in 2018 to mark the 280th anniversary of Jaquet Droz. Upon completion, the singing bird pendulum clock will be restored as close as possible to the original condition. This miracle of mechanical precision and ornamental virtuosity illustrates, just as well as contemporary creations, the spirit that has animated men and women working for Jaquet Droz since its inception: a love for the beautiful, captivating motion of Time.