Being one of the oldest manufactures in the watchmaking industry, Jaquet Droz is heading towards its 280th year with innovations that are well ahead of its counterparts in the watch industry. Following the birth of the Bird Repeater in 2012 and the Charming Bird watch in 2015, the maison unveils its latest complicated automata timepiece — the Tropical Bird Repeater. Surrounding the watch’s onyx subdial is a picturesque backdrop of lush forest green with tropical wildlife animated by a series of micro-engineering feats. When the gongs are struck, the painted scene comes to life, beginning with the flitting wings of the hummingbird that move at a frequency 40 times per second. The hand-engraved case houses a new RMA89 movement that comes with a 60-hour power reserve and a silent wheel regulator, which lengthens the pause between the quarter hours and minutes, resulting in a more defined, resounding chime. Crafted from 18K red gold, the limited-edition watch — with a total production of only eight pieces — is complemented by a dark green alligator strap.
As the Revolution team pore over the animated spectacle with every push of the slide that activates the watch’s complicated mechanism, CEO Christian Lattmann tells us that this marriage of technical and artistic mastery is a vision that has been a constant pursuit of the brand ever since its founding by Pierre Jaquet-Droz. As we chat further, Christian shares with us the story behind the Tropical Bird Repeater and how he has striven to preserve the brand’s formidable spirit.
When did you start working for Jaquet Droz?
I worked for Breguet since 2002 while sharing my time with Jaquet Droz from 2009. In 2016 I have been appointed CEO by our President Mr Marc Hayek and work only for Jaquet Droz now.
Were you involved with the Breguet Tradition when it was launched?
The Tradition was launched in 2005 and I was the vice president then, in charge of product development. I remember when Mr. Nicolas G. Hayek led this project. The capacity of having everyone work together towards one goal to make the best collection — it was really amazing.
Let’s talk about Jaquet Droz! The Tropical Bird Repeater is absolutely amazing. First of all, tell me about the inspiration behind this watch.
In the 18th century, there were two types of watchmakers. There were watchmakers who were looking for precision in timekeeping and they were trying to push the watchmaking industry for it. Now that still is very important, but at the same time, there was another type of watchmaker like Pierre Jaquet-Droz, who were looking for something more emotional. Pierre Jaquet-Droz was inspired by nature, with an affinity for birds and clouds. He channeled this spirit through his automaton creations, very much like what we’re still doing today. It was 2012 when we decided to have a real automaton that you can wear on your wrist. It was the first Repeater and it became a really huge success. Until today, it’s surprising how there’s always a demand for this kind of watches. This is what I call “The Art of the Astonishment”. It’s an emotion that you have as if you were a child and you discover something new. You just go like, wow.
To want and have things like a child comes together easily, because as adults, we tend to think about our families, finances, and other problems that keep us away from these pure emotions. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “All grown-ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.” At the same time, Mr. Hayek Sr. used to say, “Keep the fantasy of your childhood.”
And he was right! We have to stay like a child to have this imagination. So we have created the Tropical Bird Repeater with this spirit in mind. What we wanted to create is a watch with a completely new automaton, something that is completely different from what we see in the watchmaking industry. It’s a real piece of art. It houses seven animations: the waterfall moving slowly in the background; three little dragonflies; the peacock opening and closing its colourful feathers; the palm leaves exposing a toucan with a moving beak; the hummingbird that inches towards the birds-of-paradise, and also beats its wings at the speed of 40 times per second — you almost don’t see the wings moving.
Like a real hummingbird?
Yes, exactly. But a real hummingbird is moving at 80 times per second! It’s a lot faster at a speed we can’t reach. After all, nature is nature.
Tell me about the development of the hummingbird wings.
The wings are based on a complication with a specific regulator that is moving by itself. It’s almost the same regulator that you have for the minute repeater, except the one we use in this version is completely silent. The wings are, to tell you the truth, the only element not in gold as we needed them to be lightweight. The rest are hand-engraved in gold and painted by hand.
How long is the entire sequence?
It’s 12 seconds. The time needed for the development [of this watch] is three years, because it’s based on the first Bird Repeater. It takes one month to engrave the case, and another to create the dial using three different miniature artists. All the components are in gold, hand-engraved and hand-painted.
Using the same technique as the Loving Butterfly Automaton, we’ve also introduced suspending components in the Tropical Bird Repeater. It doesn’t take long to notice that certain fixed elements like the trees and birds add a three-dimensional effect.
How many times can you do this before the barrel runs out?
When you wind the crown, you rewind the barrel. There are two barrels, one for the minute repeater, and one for the automaton. It’s up to your fingers!
Oh, that’s convenient! We see a lot of nature being expressed in Jaquet Droz. Why is that so?
Simply because Pierre Jaquet-Droz was inspired by nature. It was the century of the Enlightenment, when the philosophers were inspired by nature, and he was a watchmaker at that time. Like I’ve said before, he wasn’t really looking for precision, but he was looking at birds. He really adored them, which is the reason why you would find us having birds often in our complications. He was also curious about the human body as science was not as accesible as it is today. When Pierre Jaquet-Droz was traveling around to show the automaton, everyone was very amazed. They looked behind to see if there was anyone moving the parts because they didn’t understand how it worked. To them, it was like magic. And this magical effect is what we try to keep to today.
I can only imagine the challenges in recreating something from nature. Nowadays, we have robots which scientists are trying to make more human-like. The robotics of that century when Pierre Jaquet-Droz was alive … were made in the same kind of spirit, right?
Yes, exactly. It’s very much like a cycle, which is what the watchmaking industry also goes through. For Jaquet Droz, I think we are in a good cycle because it’s coming back. Now it seems like everyone is well-versed in digital technology, yet here we have a complication which is not only difficult to understand, but also really difficult to create. Technically, it’s old-fashioned mechanics. You can actually see how it works when it’s pulled apart.
One thing for sure is that this watch will stay. It’ll stay in the collection and for the next 100 years, perhaps in the safe or on the wrist, as a very important piece of art. For people who buy this watch, it becomes an artistic statement and it will stay with them for a long time.
Is this the most complicated automaton that you’ve done so far? Prior to this, what was the most complicated?
Yes, it is the most complicated automaton we’ve accomplished. In terms of complications, a minute repeater in watchmaking is already at the highest level. Before this, the Charming Bird was on a different scale. It was not a chime but it instead imitates a bird’s whistle, which is produced by air escaping from within the movement. It was a pioneering innovation for us, as it’s the first and only automaton wristwatch to use air to create sound on the wrist. The Bird Repeater is also no less complicated, but the automaton activity in the Tropical Bird Repeater watch is a bit more than that.
I feel like this watch represents a new kind of energy from Jaquet Droz. The brand has been very impressive in terms of its releases and I think that there’s been a stronge sense of Jaquet Droz’s identity as evinced by this Tropical Bird Repeater, and also the Grande Seconde. For me, it’s amazing because the brand seems to be crystallizing its vision. Tell me more about that.
It’s exactly what we’re trying to communicate. A brand like Jaquet Droz has a lot of stories. We’re rooted in history, but we’re also energized by what we’re doing today. Perhaps, if a brand tries to tell all the stories at the same time, the people won’t wholly understand, and it’s not as crystalized as you said. So we decided to really focus on what Jaquet Droz is. We are Jaquet Droz doing automaton, experts in craftsmanship, and creators of the iconic Grande Seconde, which is also a signature of our brand. These three pillars are our identity and what we are creating is built around this. Our advertising campaigns contain more about these stories and our mottos. We don’t want to hold a press conference with 3,300 people because it’s impersonal — each person has different ways of understanding our watches. Watches like these are pure emotion, so I prefer to come here and present them one by one, even though it takes up more time. Between you and the next person, there will be many different questions and in this way, we can have more confidential discussions.
Since the beginning, Pierre Jaquet-Droz has been doing clocks and singing birds, and we’re keeping things in the same spirit. Yet at the same time, we try to innovate and to make things a little different. That’s the main message of this Tropical Bird Repeater. For us, the watch is our ambassador. All our physical and emtional investments go into the products. This is the reason why a model like this has to be explained in detail.
We are on tour going through Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo, and finally to Geneva. At the end of it, we will be preparing for another complication for next year, in time for the 280th anniversary. I will not tell you everything because then you won’t come to Basel to see us [laughs]. I hope you’ll be surprised by what we are going to present.
I think it’s absolutely brilliant from both a watchmaking and business-strategy point of view that you’re focusing your attention on the hallowed products that express everything about the brand.
Absolutely. With a brand that’s been creating for almost 280 years, we don’t need to do everything in a month. We’ll also be opening new Jaquet Droz boutiques that’s not only for business, but also more for visibility and communication, where we will be able to receive our clients and physically showcase all our collections.