Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721-1790), along with his son Henri-Louis, was a leading watchmaker in the Neuchâtel region, and in his workshops were created some of the most amazing timepieces and automatons ever seen. Even Qianlong, the sixth emperor of the Qing Dynasty of China, admired and collected Jaquet Droz’s works of art. Among the workshops’ specialties were singing birds, something the modern brand has reintroduced with great success.

The museums in the Neuchâtel region, specifically the Musée d’horlogerie of Le Locle at Château des Monts and the Musée international d’horlogerie of La Chaux-de-Fonds, have a large collection of Jaquet Droz’s works, and the brand’s interest in restoring these excellent examples of the great master’s work continues.

The latest restoration project, just started, involves the collaboration between museums, artisans and Jaquet Droz to bring a pendulum clock with singing bird back to “life.”

“Since 2012, we have been supporting the association ‘Automates et Merveilles’ in order to preserve and promote our patrimony and history,” says Christian Lattmann, CEO, Jaquet Droz. “On the occasion of our 275th anniversary in 2013, an incredible number of masterpieces and detailed information about Jaquet Droz was gathered for the first time in three museums in Switzerland. With the same spirit, it made sense for us to continue supporting the association’s new project of safeguarding and showcasing the region’s watchmaking heritage through the restoration of the Jaquet Droz singing-bird pendulum clock. This partnership also reserves some surprises for our 280th anniversary next year.”

Magical Mystery Tour

When I walked into the dining room of the museum at Château des Monts, I saw the scope of Jaquet Droz’s latest restoration project–all the parts of the singing bird clock were meticulously laid out on the table in front of me.

However, rather than a straightforward restoration, this new project is more of a process of discovery. Here’s what we know so far:

• The clock in its current condition was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte and gifted to a princess in Wartenberg, Germany.

• The complicated mechanism of the clock and the singing bird were produced by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, and the movement is signed “Pierre Jaquet-Droz à La Chaux-de-Fonds.”

• The wooden case holding the mechanism is not the original case for this clock. It is in the Empire style, which was popular in Europe from 1800–1815 after Pierre Jaquet-Droz passed away.

Here’s what we don’t know:

• What the original clock looked like.
• What the original clock sounded like.
• Who commissioned the original clock.
• When exactly it was made.

And much more.

The hope is that during this restoration, these mysteries will become clear. Says Morghan Mootoosamy, director, Musée d’horlogerie du Locle, Château des Monts, “During the course of this restoration, we might discover who commissioned this clock, and we don’t even know the melodies that the bird sings. We know that there are six melodies, but we don’t know what they are.

“This project would not be possible without Jaquet Droz’s support and involvement,” he continues. “This project will bring together different artisans to get the best possible result. Everyone involved will learn a great deal from just working on it, and we hopefully will rediscover some secrets.”

The project just started at the end of 2016, and it is estimated to be completed in 2018, in time to help celebrate the 280th anniversary of Jaquet Droz. When it is completed, the clock will be displayed in the dining room of the Musée d’horlogerie du Locle, considered by the museum to be the most important room, across from another Jaquet Droz clock.

The Clock

Made sometime in the 18th century, this impressive clock combines an eight-day power reserve mechanical clock that chimes the time and comes complete with a singing bird. The bird’s head turns, the beak opens, the tail feathers move, the wings might open (they are fixed now, but they might have moved before) and the body turns while singing different musical tunes. The bellows that power the bird, producing the melodies, are connected to the mechanical movement and power reserve by an intricate system of wires.

The museum acquired the clock from its English owner in 1984, and it did operate then, but it has since stopped working. The gilded bronze figures and work on the face of the clock are typical of the Empire style, popular after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt.

To restore this clock, everything has to be taken apart–the wooden case has been assigned to a cabinet maker in the region, the bronze work has all been disassembled and will be restored separately. The movement is in the Musée international d’horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds (MIH), where it will be completely taken apart, parts cleaned and restored and other parts fabricated to fit. Within the movement is a system of four four-link chains, like miniature bicycle chains, and these very strong chains, unique to Jaquet Droz, have to be completely examined, remade and reassembled.

“We are remaking the chains, respecting the original shape and materials, adding security,” explains Masaki Kanazawa, a restorer with the MIH. “We will do the computer design of the movement, to examine how it works and to help in its restoration, and we work with the school of watchmaking in Le Locle, and we collaborate with the Château des Monts museum as well. This is a very big project with lots of different fields of study.”

Once all this meticulous work is finished, the clock will be re-assembled and will, fingers crossed, function as it was designed to way back in the 18th century.

You can be sure that Jaquet Droz will continue to support projects like this incredible singing-bird clock.

“Jaquet Droz’s heritage and history is part of our DNA, so it inspires all our new creations,” explains Lattmann. “With this long and rich history, it is our duty to honor and preserve it for the next generations. The most important thing for us is to create and innovate through our expertise in automatons and craftsmanship in the same spirit as our founder.

“Jaquet Droz has a long history, but also a future,” he continues. “What we do today will be the heritage for the future generations. All our new creations are developed with this long-term vision. To develop our future, we have to preserve our past.”

Revolution will track this project over the next year or so, as the clock is scheduled to be ready in 2018. Rest assured that we will be there when the caged bird sings.

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