Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater
We went, at Baselworld 2018, hands-on with the last specimen of this masterpiece
Introduction: the Minute Repeater which paved the way for the first 280 years of the manufacture founded by Pierre-Jaquet Droz
If ten years ago you had come up to me and told me about an automaton I would have probably dismissed that conversation with a simple "I do not care" or would have simply ignored it and pretended I was not interested in such a complicated feature. The understanding of a watch with animation and "miniature painting" requires a sufficiently long study and learning phase. Expressions of amazement are understandable but they are not enough – you need a good knowledge of watch-making and a live experience with Jaquet Droz's Ateliers d'Art, for example; an experience I had during the 2017 tour of the manufacture.
The Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater - what you can see on here is the last model left in the world and it is going to be hosted within the brand’s museum
During Baselworld 2018 and during the in-depth sessions we had with the various brands, we dedicated particular attention to some of those brands and held some photo-shooting sessions that were separated from the classic press conferences. The anniversary marked by Jaquet Droz is so important and the collections presented are so rich that our cameras stopped by the brand’s stand longer than expected. And this extra time paid off well in terms of photographic material.
When I wrote about the Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater a bit ago I felt a sense of deprivation - if we insist on trying a GMT or a classic watch with power reserve, imagine what you can feel when you are allowed to touch a timepiece like the Tropical Bird. You must see a Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater live to fully appreciate it and what you see in these photos is the last one of the 8 copies ever made that will go into a display hosted within a case of the Jaquet Droz museum.
An extraordinary fusion between the most admired complication ever crafted and a delicate automaton
The minute repeater is universally recognized as the most difficult among the complications of haute horlogerie - it is the equivalent, in watch-making, of an extremely valuable music instrument and it must be perfectly tuned in and provide a superior acoustic output with warm and original tones, since the hours, quarters and minutes repetitions seem all the same on paper, but to a trained ear, they sound like different sounds and these people are also able to distinguish an exceptional repetition from a good one.
The repetition that plays inside the Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater is rich and particularly wide (to my ear), it is also enchanting, because, while you are listening to it, it feels as if you were immersed in a magical tropical forest, which comes alive and greatly amplifies that listening experience.
Animations and decorations
At the end of last year, Jaquet Droz released a video that showed the animations on the Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater in still life. In total, considering the different combinations available, the Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater features 7 animations lasting longer than 12 seconds, which create up to 4 possible scenarios. The mechanics that was designed to measure the time mixes together with the one designed to manage and balance out these complications.
The tail of the peacock and the beak of the toucan open up progressively, while the wings of the hummingbird move to forty times per second. Designing and correctly operating all these animations and playing with the inertia of the individual parts is a technical challenge in itself that no other brand has ever equaled (conceptually speaking, it resembles the Van Cleef & Arpels – a brand that, however, does not boast the same level of watch-making complication).
Animation alone is not enough though, unless it comes with a same-level crafting ability and, from this point of view, Jaquet Droz has made big improvements in recent years if compared to the automata that it used to craft only ten years ago. The brand’s decorated animations have reached a level of finesse, detail and expressive capacity that is simply incredible - the mechanics are there but they are not visible, and the result achieved in terms of maturity and expressive power is superlative and is the effect of a tangible and unstoppable improvement process of decorative techniques.
Trying on a Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater
During the recent exhibition organized in Milan at Pisa Orologeria to celebrate the anniversary of the first 280 years of the Jaquet Droz manufacture, I had a long interview with Christian Lattmann (the CEO of the brand). During the interview Christian wore the last model in the world that still exists of the Jaquet Droz Tropical Bird Repeater – a timepiece that will soon go, as anticipated and confirmed by Latmann himself, to the museum to be hosted within a display case.
This was the last time, when I saw the most prestigious wrist watch of the brand before visiting hopefully again this year Jaquet Droz in La Chaux de Fonds. The focus is now on the new releases, such as the Jaquet Droz Skelet-One, which opened a new chapter and is particularly innovative and will soon unveil I'm pretty sure, new unexpected scenarios.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®