Recently we travelled to Switzerland where we visited Jaquet Droz. Starting off in the museum in Nauchatel where we got to see the automations by Jaquet Droz made around 1770. Quite impressive when you learn how complicated these creations actually are.
Located in the museum we find the three automata or automations lined up. Originally they were created for entertainment and advertisement. Trying to sell watches to the noble in Europe. Seeing them function is something special. Hard to imagine what the people at that time would think about these creations. The trio consists of the musician, the draughtsman and the writer.
Jaquet Droz Automations
Each of the machines is fully functional so we get to see how they work. The musician has seperate functions and even has a chest that moves. The mechanism moves the hands and fingers around the instrument, pressing the keys make it release the notes. The eyes follow the movement of the hands.
The draughtsman is modelled after a child and creates different drawings with a pencil. Drawing different designs is done by using a system of cams that code the movements of the hand in two dimensions. Another lifts the pencil when needed. While drawing an occosional blow by the mouth is used to remove pencil dust.
Similar is the writer which uses an ink pen to write a short message. Even dipping the pen in the ink is done where the head follows the hands. During the writing the eyes follow the movements of the pen. When looking atthe actual mechanism you see how complicated it is. On the back there is a disc what is programmed with differnt characters. This way any message can be created up to 40 letters.
The musician and the instrument are separated and operate on their own. So she is actually playing the instrument and it’s not programmedinto a certain song.
Back side of the draughtsman where you can see the discs used to transfer the design onto paper.
On the writer it even looks more complex. Clearly visible is the disc that is programmed with the letters. For each letter there is a corresponding disc which transfers the right motion onto the paper.
Automations and watchmaking
After this demonstration it’s time to visit the Jaquet Droz headquarter. Following up on the museum tour we get to see some more automations. Here we clearly see the history in watchmaking and the combination with automations. The birs in the cage can sing a song while moving. The center column is moving as if it’s a fountain which is created from glass strips. On the bottom there is a clock. These were meant to hang off the ceiling which made them functional.
After the cage and a small music box with the singing bird we continue our tour through the manufacturing process. Several types of stone which is used for the dials are on display. We get to see a sample off fossilised tree. You can imagine it’s hard enough to find these kind of materials, let alone the proces of turning it into very thin dials. Not a single dial will be the same so each is unique.
All about quality
Time to meet the watchmakers in the workshop. Here we see several people working on assembly and quality control. Each of the parts are assembled by hand with microcopic prescison. Even the setting of the hands is done with specific tolerances which are checked on a monitor.
Constant cleaning of the movements to make sure not a single piece of dustor a fingerprint is encased with the watch.
Newly assembled rotors are tested to see if they meet up with the quality standard. If something is wrong it needs to be adjusted to the right standards. All the workshops are behind big glass windows showing the great Swiss landscape. This also gives as lot of light for the right working conditions.
Quality control of newly engraved dials. Everything is thoroughly checked to see if there are flaws in the materials or the engravings which are the base for the final watch. Below you can see how tiny specs of dust are marked with a pen. This means the watch has to be taken apart again and have the spots removed. This proces of final inspectiookn is repeated again afterwards.
Next stop is the assembly of the complicated watches. Here we see how the charming bird movement is assembled and tested. Basically this originates to the bird cage we’ve seen earlier. Only it has been significantly resized to fit into a watch. Seeing how it works is pretty amazing including a small bellow and tiny flute. The sound is tested in a special recording chamber to make sure it sounds as intended. Little changes can be made to adjust to the final sounds.
Prototypes and samples on display. This clearly shows the 3d effect of the bird repeater. Especially on the large resin model.
Different colours of enamel waiting to be used to paint the dials. The material is crushed in a bowl and mixed until perfectly smooth and even in colour. Again an intensive process.
Artisans at work!
Handsculpting of trees for the loving butterfly automation. Tiny parts of the decorative dial are finished by hand under the microscope. Incredibly detailed final parts are later assembled into the final watch.
Handpainting of the dials is done under the view of a microscope. Incredible small but very detailed drawings are made in enamel which is later baked in the oven at specific temperatures. Looking at the work in progress through the microscope.
Crushed eggshell that is selected by colour and later composed into a mosaic to decorate the dial.
Gold leaf is cut out by hand and used to decorate the dial.
Tiny sculptures being created.
After seing the artisans at work it is time to try the paintingof the dials ourself. With several paints and oils we have to mix and create the head of a lion. The only thing that helps are some guiding lines on the dial and a picture of the original. For sure not an easy task. Especially if you have little to none experience with painting unless painting by numbers count.
Some paints and a clean dial turned into the dial which is shown toghether with the original below.
That was the result of under half an hour of painting. Not too bad actually ut we leave the work to the artisans for the real deal. However it was fun to get an idea of the difficulty this work brings along.
We end the day and depart with an impression of the complexity and craftsmanship that goes into the watches created by Jaquet Droz. Big thanks to Jaquet Droz for the hospitality and the opportunity to visit them.
Expect a closer look at some of their automations soon.
Complete gallery on the next page.