We are often led to explain that the passion and interest exhibited for fine watchmaking goes well beyond the rational; we look at these timepieces as works of art which are elevated considerably higher than their basic timekeeping function. Of course, they accompany us in our daily lives and allow us to pace our activities with a certain degree of predictability. However, that fundamental role, keeping track of the hours and minutes, is only the tip of the iceberg. We talk about the stories that accompany each and every timepiece, be it the history of the brand that’s on the dial, or the raison d’être for a particular function or feature, or simply the occasion on which the watch was acquired or received.
There is a manufacture though that takes this storytelling very much to heart, whereby the watches have become the physical embodiment of these fables and modern interpretation of the brand’s roots, not to mention beautiful pieces of art and rime examples of Swiss craftsmanship at its finest; that brand is Jaquet Droz.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz was born in 1721 in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, in the very horological heart of Switzerland. He would be inevitably influenced by his peers and relatives to embark on a career in watchmaking, or rather, clock making. He opened his first workshop in 1738, where, as he gained skill and experience, his clocks grew in complexity and beauty, and he started incorporating musical elements and automata into his creations, much to the delight of his wealthy clientele.
His devotion to his craft meant that he married relatively late, for that time period, in 1750, to Marianne Sandoz. His daughter, Julie, would be born in 1751, and his son, Henri-Louis, in 1752. Unfortunately, tragedy befell them and he would lose his wife and daughter in 1755, leading him to concentrate even more on his work for the rest of his life. Later on, Henri-Louis would join his father as a watch, clock and automaton maker, along with Jean-Frédéric Leschot, who was the neighbor’s son but who Jaquet-Droz would take on as his own.
All three would work to bring Jaquet Droz to new heights, not only in its mechanical accomplishments, but with its international reach, an undeniable feat for its time. By 1784, the brand had three production and profit centers, in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Geneva, and London, and with an agent in the latter city, reached as far as China, India, and Japan. However, unpaid drafts meant that the company would, in just six years, go dormant.
It’s in 2000 that the Swatch Group acquired the brand, and set out to restore it to its former glory. The historical prominence of Jaquet Droz has given today’s artisans much inspiration, as we’ve seen in recent years, with a number of spectacular timepieces that merged the brand’s legacy in timepieces and in automata, such as the Charming Bird, the Bird Repeater, and the Lady 8 Flower. This year, Jaquet Droz brings to life a story that has an unusual origin, for it’s the drawings made by one of the incredibly complex automatons that piqued the watchmaker’s interest. As you may recall, one of the technical accomplishments that truly amazed onlookers, both then and now, are the automata that seem to have a life of their own, skillfully drawing, with pen on paper, highly intricate designs. One of these, made by one of Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz’s creations, is of a cherub drawn on a cart, pulled by a giant butterfly.
The first instinct was to bring the drawing to life as a static work of art, which a number of Jaquet Droz’s talented enamelists or engravers could have done very well. However, the desire was to take its mechanical expertise and take the inspiration much further, and to create an automaton based on that very drawing. This led to the creation of today’s Loving Butterfly Automaton.
At first glance, the dial of the Loving Butterfly Automaton comes across as sculptural poetry; the brand’s signature offset time display is subtly present, but you cannot help but be drawn into the dial by the intricate aspects of the unique scenery. You see, in relief, the cherub with sheer delight on its face, standing on a two-wheeled cart, being drawn forward by a giant butterfly through a three-dimensional forest. Every detail is present, from the pattern of the bark on the trees, the smile on the cherub’s face, its tiny hands and feet, as well as the butterfly’s shimmering patterns on its wings, down to its antennae.
The mechanical tour-de-force occurs when you activate the pusher within the winding crown, as the scene comes to life, with the butterfly quickly flapping its wings while the cart’s wheels turn in a convincing trompe-l’oeil that make it look as though it’s moving forward. It would take a considerable effort to avoid smiling at the animation, as unusual and unexpected as it is beautiful.
The Loving Butterfly’s automatically wound movement is powered by two barrels for the timekeeping, while the automaton has three dedicated barrels that are manually wound. These will provide enough energy for the scene to last approximately two minutes, during which the butterfly will flap its wings more than 300 times. The mechanism required three years of development, and has two patents that are pending. Turn the watch over, and you’ll see that the chariot theme is carried over into the winding rotor, which repeats the pattern of the chariot’s wheels, over the backdrop of the impeccably finished movement.
Two versions are available, both with a 43mm case; the first is in 18K red gold, with a red gold automaton and a deep black onyx dial, while the second is in 18K white gold, with white gold detailing and a shimmering black Polynesian mother-of-pearl dial. Both are highly limited as well, to only 28 pieces each.
Of course, the Loving Butterfly Automaton is accompanied by other special timepieces this year; while they may not be automata themselves, they are no less spectacular and intriguing, and also significant examples of Jaquet Droz’s mastery of the arts. The first that we turn our attention to is the Grande Seconde Tourbillon Mother-of-Pearl.
Once again, the signature offset hours and minutes are present, but counterbalanced this time with the mechanical ballet of a tourbillon escapement at 12 o’clock, which also shows the running seconds. It’s set against a large mother-of-pearl dial, made possible by the generous 39mm case, maintaining a dimension that makes it highly wearable for more slender wrists. The mother-of-pearl is even extended to the movement’s oscillating mass, which you can see through the sapphire display back.
The figure of eight shape of the subdials is accentuated by a diamond-set red gold border, exceeded in brilliance only by the diamond-set case. The blued hands are a hint at the watchmaking traditions contained within, although there is a very modern touch, as the tourbillon is equipped with a silicon balance spring and pallet horns, giving the watch improved resistance to shock and to magnetism, leading to better precision over its seven-day power reserve.
Lastly, we turn to the Petite Heure Minute Relief Seasons, which sees two more seasons added to the collection, namely spring and summer. These motifs are not chosen accidentally; Pierre Jaquet-Droz was particularly inspired by nature, and the passing of the seasons, which he observed in his frequent travels. Birds are also very present in many of his creations, and they are often part of the themes that today’s artists at Jaquet Droz have chosen to depict.
For the Petite Heure Minute Relief Seasons – Spring, you can see the juxtaposition of the start of the warmer weather and the fading of the coldness of winter. The offset dial once again provides the artists with a larger canvas on which to express this transition. Piercing through the white mother-of-pearl landscape are splashes of color, represented by the finely detailed blue tit birds, which are expertly carved from gold and hand painted, with their wings fully extended to show their plumage and the energy of flight. They’re set on the delicate branches of blossoming plum trees, with their small pink flowers. You may very well want to bring a loupe with you whenever you wear this special watch, as there is so much detail to get drawn into if you’re able to get a magnified view of the artists’ handiwork.
These timepieces show very well how Jaquet Droz has become a true master of turning the age-old decorative crafts of precious metal sculpture, engraving, and painting into beautiful embodiments of the story telling that the brand’s forefathers were so keen to develop through their pieces. The Loving Butterfly Automaton, in particular, is a highlight of the year, elevating the mechanical timepiece into a tale of its own, one that you cannot help but be captured by and to escape into. Jaquet Droz again helps us to escape into the story, with this and other exceptional works of horological artistry.
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Fashion Assistants: Sebelle Sharmaine Ho & Carissa Marie Lim
Makeup: Ginger Lynette using NARS Cosmetics
Hairstyle: Kenneth Ong using Kevin Murphy
Model: Anna Z / AVE