The Charming Bird watch by Jaquet Droz is an astonishingly charming mechanical audio-visual work of art that also tells the time.
If there is one word we’d use to describe The Charming Bird wristwatch, having seen and experienced it at the 2015 BaselWorld watch fair, it will be: “amazing”.
Below its off-centred dial for the hours and minutes display is what is described as the singing bird automaton that is activated on demand via a pusher at the two o’clock position.
An automaton, as defined by the Illustrated Professional Dictionary of Horology I & II by G.-A. Berner, is a “… watch with animated figures set in motion by a hand control outside the case”.
The mechanisms moving the automatons are typically based on clockwork movements. What must be noted is that these automatons are dependant on mechanical energy and not from electrical sources.
This is so for the example of The Charming Bird whereby energy is derived from a spring barrel.
After the pusher at the two o’clock position is activated, the bird automaton at six o’clock, housed inside a protruding dome-shaped sapphire, will begin to sing (chirp), flap its wings and move around in a life-like manner for more than 40 seconds.
While the sounds produced by most striking mechanisms in watches are based either on either stringed instruments (music boxes are an example of such watches) or percussion instruments (like the minute repeating watch), The Charming Bird utilises the principle used in a wind instrument.
The sound of the chirping bird is caused by air movements; the mechanism does not harness vibrations. With Jaquet Droz’s system, three different notes of the melody sung by the bird are amplified.
Traditional singing bird automatons were made with the bellows system and these had to be miniaturised in order to fit into a wristwatch.
Tiny pistons were created to pump air, have it stored and to produce the sounds. The speed of the pistons and the shape of the opening of the bellows will determine the exact sound produced.
Sapphire, a mineral with strong wear-and-tear resistance, was used for the tube and carbon for the pistons. According to Jaquet Droz, carbon is used to limit friction and increase water resistance.
So how does one get to listen to and enjoy the chirping from this amazing mechanical watch that is rare, considering that only 28 pieces will be made?
You are in luck for we recorded the chirping of the blue tit from The Charming Bird during the 2015 BaselWorld watch fair.
Do turn up the volume before playing and listening to the “singing” of this bird automaton which lasts for more than 40 seconds. Listen closely and you’d also hear the whirring of the mechanism in the background. We apologise for the other noise in the background; after all, this was the BaselWorld fair.
The automaton is part of Jaquet Droz’s legacy. Pierre Jaquet Droz (1721 to 1790) from Neuchâtel in Switzerland was a pioneer of watch and clock automatons.
Bear in mind that in those days, entertainment was a true luxury. The television, radio or Internet were all non-existent and there was no electricity.
The success in harnessing electricity on a large scale was achieved only in September 1882 when American Thomas Edison illuminated New York street lamps for the very first time using his direct current (DC) system.
During Pierre Jaquet Droz’s time in 1752, Benjamin Franklin was just experimenting with his kite and key during a storm, proving that lightning and tiny electric sparks were the same thing.
“What we did first was to establish the brand’s aesthetic codes, bearing in mind that Jaquet Droz occupies a unique position in watchmaking. It is a brand with a long history and what it needs is a more contemporary style.
“We decided that it was important for us to recreate once again, the spirit of Pierre Jaquet Droz. Our first objective was the creation of the automaton in a modern way,” says Christian Lattmann, senior executive vice president, Montres Jaquet Droz SA.
What resulted was The Bird Repeater that was introduced in 2012, produced in collaboration with Christophe Claret.
“For The Charming Bird, we collaborated with François Junod who is someone who works in the same spirit as Pierre Jaquet Droz. Together with Blancpain, we worked on The Charming Bird.
“It required four years of development. We had to consider the aesthetic codes, the substance and the astonishment created through the use of the automaton. This is the uniqueness of the brand; the art of astonishment,” says Lattmann.
The Charming Bird for instance, houses what the brand terms the Calibre 615 automatic movement and it features a silicium hairspring.
The Charming Bird is actually a blue tit and this timepiece was first presented in 2013. It became a final commercial piece in 2015.
The “Art of Astonishment” is an apt tagline for Jaquet Droz. This tagline was used for the brand’s advertising campaign in January 2014 and it relates to the craftsmanship involved such as miniature painting, engraving and sculpting to amaze clients.
The brand states that The Charming Bird represents the apotheosis of Jaquet Droz’s creativity and legacy, states the brand. We fully agree.
In fact, in October 2015, The Charming Bird was the winner in the “Mechanical Exception” category of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. This prize is for the best watch with a special mechanism or exceptional horological concept. This award for Jaquet Droz is well-deserved.
“At the end of the day, who is our ambassador? It is our products,” concludes Lattmann.