Pierre Jaquet-Droz: The Restoration of the Singing Bird Pendulum Clock
Restoration work by Association Automates et Merveilles reaches its halfway mark under the patronage of Jaquet-Droz.
The Pierre Jaquet-Droz Pendulum Clock
The Watch Museum of Le Locle (MHL) and the International Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds (MIH) teamed up to restore the Pierre Jaquet-Droz pendulum clock to working order under the patronage of Jacquet-Droz.
This timepiece with a deep rooted history was a gift by Napoleon to a Princess of Württemberg. The clock features the singing bird automaton housed in a cage, mounted on a mahogany French cabinet and decorated with bronze Empire style motifs. First acquired in 1984 by the Watch Museum of Le Locle, it has now become a treasure of Neuchâtel watchmaking heritage.
The master craftsmen have worked together to fully revise the mechanisms and restore the bird, the cabinet and the gilded appliques while honing their technical skills and based on their knowledge. The piece will be presented this year after two years of restoration work.
The experts report on the progress to date and share their findings:
The bird motif has been part of Jaquet-Droz since the brand’s inception. Pierre-André Grimm has refreshed the bird’s plumage while respecting the original feathers. With regards to the wings, a spacing analysis found a lack of mobility in this area, contrary to the restored beak, tail and throat of the bird. Originally the serin’s glorious song could be heard on demand, or automatically on the hour, in testament to the grand complication inside the timepiece.
The grand complication movement bears a brass plaque that reads: “Pierre Jaquet-Droz à La Chaux-de-Fonds.” We entirely disassembled the movement for inspection and cleaning. The double fusee, grooves, crown wheel escapement, barrels, drums and other elements of the movement were checked and calibrated. The quadrature of the striking mechanism was also examined for the purposes of calibration. Next, leading experts Gérard Vouga (from MHL), Aurélie Branchini and Masaki Kanasawa (from MIH) performed the lengthy, painstaking task of reassembling the movement for testing.
The six melodies in its repertoire were played by a pin-barrel serinette, a feat of mechanical genius that produced sounds by air intake to its flutes. The serinette has now been restored, thanks to Walter Dahler’s long-term endeavor of measuring, checking and reassembling, and some 75 hours of studying the movement.
Under the supervision of Sylvain Varone, identical reproductions of the four-link chains in the motor of the serinette and the clock were created. This work involves producing initial cutouts, carrying out strength testing, and testing the metals. To date, the team has produced the stamps and ordered the components for profile-turning, which is the final stage before reassembly.
The base of the movement and the first casing do indeed date from the time of Pierre Jaquet-Droz, the second veneer was added by a skillful antiquarian in the late 19th century!
Far from leaving the movement to languish in a cupboard, he capitalised on his find – realising that both the Jaquet-Droz brand and the Egyptian-influenced cabinet were a safe bet – and crowned the clock with an imperial legend.