We could all use a spot of serenity in today’s perpetually plugged-in, frenzied world. Watching a carp swim along a gently rippling pond as fallen flowers drift by with jewel-like iridescence – it’s a scene to soothe the soul. And a scene that has been captured in a wrist-sized wonderland powered not by nature, but by gears, cogs and dreams. Pierre Jaquet-Droz wasn’t just an 18th-century watchmaker who adored automatons. He was foremost a storyteller, and his legacy of mechanical playfulness lives on in his eponymous brand 281 years later.
Masters of the craft
“Jaquet Droz is the art of astonishment,” says CEO Christian Lattmann. “We create models that have a high emotional value and a strong identity.”
Indeed, a good story requires powerful imagery, which Jaquet Droz achieves through its Atelier d’Art. Since its founder’s time, the company has excelled in luxury decoration, supporting generation after generation of craftsmen through their work. But instead of decorative urns, snuffboxes and cages for mechanical singing birds, these craftsmen are now applying their skills to a much smaller, more challenging canvas: the watch dial.
Grand feu enamelling is a Jaquet Droz signature, and the perfectly smooth, sumptuously vivid colours achieved with this technique is a result of combining traditional methods with modern technology. The brand’s dial makers are now armed with ultra-fine powders and precision kilns to produce thin dials that will retain their colour and gloss for centuries. For more elaborate patterns, paillonee enamelling is used, where ornamental paillons (tiny motifs cut from gold or silver leaf) are covered with translucent enamel.
Engraving is another revived ancestral technique, bringing depth and realism to a dial. Motifs and impressions are sculpted in relief entirely by hand, then painted or left unadorned on mother-of-pearl or onyx dials. When the enamelled or engraved surface is finished, a miniature painter may take over. With the aid of a microscope, a brush that takes months to adapt properly to the artist’s hand, and surgery-level steadiness, colourful birds, delicate butterflies and entire landscapes can be recreated in a watch.
But the watches that demand the full force of artistic talents are its masterpieces, the automatons.
Poetry in motion
Throughout Pierre-Jaquet Droz’s career, he has built many a wondrous automaton, from dolls that can draw to robotic birds that can move and sing. In modern watches, numerous displays of the natural world have come alive at the push of a button. The peaceful pond described in the beginning is actually the brand’s latest novelty – the Magic Lotus Automaton – and is a splendid example of how the skills of artist and watchmaker come together.
The lotus flower’s petals are carved from mother-of-pearl and finished with a coat of translucent paint to accentuate the relief. At its centre lies a yellow sapphire set with gold prongs. The large green leaves, depicted by grand feu enamel on red or white gold, appear to float on the carved eddies of the water. Diamonds replace the seeds in the flower’s seedpod, and the hour and minute hands are crafted in gold. It’s all undeniably beautiful but the real wizardry happens when the pusher is activated.
When the automaton is in motion, the water – which is painted onto a peripheral disc – begins to rotate. The current carries the carp along, swishing its tail as it travels around the dial. The watchmakers also had to ensure the fish was able to move up and down, so that it could dip below the lotus leaves as it swam. Those not paying attention to the over four-minute-long animation will miss the fact that the gemstone on the moving flower actually changes at random between a blue sapphire, yellow sapphire and ruby each time it passes under the subdial or leaves.
The movement, also abundantly decorated with circular graining, drawn strokes and hand-chamfering, is composed of 500 parts and development for this watch took over three years. “In the era of digitalisation and ever-shorter product obsolescence, our mechanical watches are highly valued for their timelessness and authenticity. These are jewels we never get tired of,” declares Lattmann.
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A familiar face
Of course, not everyone can afford (or bear) to walk around with a moving landscape on their wrists. That’s where Jaquet Droz’s other pillar comes in. Drawing on more traditional watchmaking styles and complications, the Grande Seconde collection is an unparalleled choice for elegance with a dash of boldness.
The figure eight that the two off-centre subdials form symbolises purity and offers a refreshing way to tell the time. It also lends itself easily to interpretations. It can be classic like the time-only Grande Seconde Enamel, packaged with popular complications like the Grande Seconde Moon or Grande Seconde Tourbillon, or completely break from convention the way the new Grande Seconde Skelet-One Ceramic did with its modern skeletonisation and use of ceramic instead of gold.
“We also invest a lot in the quality of our products. For example, we now have silicon escapements at the heart of our movements. Silicon escapements allow our watches to no longer be sensitive to magnetic fields, something which is constantly present in our modern environment,” continues Lattmann.
“Moreover, every year we train watchmakers to be able to provide a fast service on our parts throughout the world.”
Where watch connoisseurs often have to choose between artistry and technicity, there’s no need for that at Jaquet Droz. The two aspects co-exist in harmony, and when those worlds collide, magic happens.
– BROUGHT TO YOU BY JAQUET DROZ –