Profile: Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater

Jaquet Droz debuts a brand new minute repeater that also includes an automaton, thus pairing the passions of founder Pierre Jaquet-Droz

What does bird song have to do with a contemporary wristwatch? To find the answer, you have to travel back in time to the age of Swiss inventor and watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz. Our time machine of the moment is the Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater, a sublime minute repeater and automaton. A brief description of this device is called for before we embark.

We have long been fans of the work of both Pierre Jaquet-Droz and the watchmaking brand that bears his name. This year, the Swatch Group-owned Jaquet Droz debuts a timepiece that incorporates a magnificent automaton that speaks – nay sings – the virtues of the inventor. Not only does the Bird Repeater have a magical automaton on its dial, it is also a minute repeater (as implied by its name) and has a beautifully decorated dial, with engraving and painting coming together. We would have included it on our list of most complicated watches of 2012 if it had been ready for preview at Basel World 2012.

It is often said the true test of a minute repeater is in the hearing but for the Bird Repeater, the eye is given first class entertainment, thanks to the lavish decoration on the dial and the automaton.  Truly, there is much to admire here, especially for fans of automatons and of Jaquet-Droz in particular.

Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 2

A table clock created by Pierre Jaquet-Droz

A History of Mechanical Ingenuity

The inventor’s automatons – the Musician, the Writer and the Draftsman – are on display at the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, which if you are ever in Neuchâtel you should certainly visit. With regards to the Bird Repeater in particular, collectors may want to take note of Jaquet-Droz’s work with animatronic birds – in table clocks, music boxes and pocket watches – many of which can be seen at his birthplace, La Chaux-de-Fonds.

In fact, Pierre Jaquet-Droz actually created chiming clockworks incorporated into actual birdcages, as you can see here, but eventually moved on to creating miniaturized versions for pocket watches and table clocks. In 2012, more than 200 years after his death, the brand Jaquet Droz reminds the world yet again of the importance of its founder and also takes his work to the next level.

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One of the original bird automatons created by Pierre Jaquet-Droz


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At this angle, the three-dimensional nature of the automaton is clear

The 47mm Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater is a proper minute repeater, sounding the hours, minutes and quarter hours with two hammers and a cathedral gong. The slide mechanism at 9 o’clock controls the minute repeater, as is typical. The pusher at 3 o’clock activates the automaton, which has no less than eight separate and distinct animations: one bird’s head and wings, and feeding action from the other bird; the movement of each fledgling, the hatching of the egg, the emergence of the new chick and flow of the water.

Watchmaking Goodness

Cased in grey gold (with diamonds) and rose gold (without diamonds), the Bird Repeater is limited to eight pieces per version. The watch has a power reserve of 48 hours from a single barrel and the manual-winding movement RMA88 boasts incredible complexity with 508 components. All this high watchmaking goodness is packed into a case some 18.4mm thick. The space is necessary for the automaton on the dial; aside from being meticulously hand-crafted, the nesting birds are three-dimensional sculptures.

Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater

Note the hammers at the 5 o'clock position. The cathedral gong is wrapped around the movement twice

Jaquet Droz has chosen Blue Tits or cyanistes caeruleus for the birds as they are symbolic of Jaquet-Droz’s Swiss Jura roots while the waterfall represents Saut du Doubs, also in the Jura. The yellow, blue, white and black of the birds’ plumage are the result of countless hours of work by the painters and enamel artisans; the birds, the nest, the grass and the falls are also the work of the engravers of course. When activated by the pusher on the crown, the scene comes alive with one bird feeding the fledglings while the other bird bobs its head and spreads its wings. Each fledgling reaches toward the food in the beak of the feeding bird while the egg hatches, revealing yet another hungry chick. In the background, the water of the falls flows.

We look forward to both hearing and seeing this piece in the metal at Basel World in 2013 but the brand tells us that there will be a new version that will be shown at the fair too. This one will be the ultimate tribute to the brand’s own heritage as it celebrates 275 years of watchmaking history next year.

  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 1The Bird Repeater at rest
  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 4Close-up of the Blue Tits and the nest in action
  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 7This part of the movement, specifically the fan-shaped area, controls the automaton
  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 5An artisan examines the Bird Repeater dial
  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 6The finished Bird Repeater dial, without automaton. The disc with the the water is clearly visible here
  • Profile Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater 8An artisan works on the Bird Repeater dial

Jaquet Droz

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