Perhaps the name of Jaquet Droz, one of Switzerland’s few luxury watch factories, does not ring much of a bell in the East but, in the West, fans applaud it for its top notch watch-making technology and its rich history.
The company’s founder, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, was born in 1721 on his family’s farm in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He began to take a serious interest in clock-making and precision mechanics under the tutelage of older relatives. It proved to be a true revelation for him. From 1738 – 1747, Pierre Jaquet-Droz devoted himself to clock-making. He created a series of longcase grandfather clocks, equipped with improved precision movements; it was an unprecedented clock collection.
In 1774, Pierre decided to establish a factory in London and handed over its management to his son Henri-Louis. With a pair of skilled hands, rigorous attention to detail, and sound knowledge of mechanical principles, Pierre added music, automated dolls and other creative elements to his watches. The most outstanding one was the birds time-keeping watch, which gained the favorable attention of many discerning customers.
To access markets in the East, Jaquet Droz signed a deal with exporter James Cox & Sons, to form an agency in Guangzhou, China, to meet the needs of Chinese people. As early as the 18th century, the Qing Emperor and dignitaries started collecting Yakedeluo (Jaquet Droz) watches. Emperor Qianlong was also keen on collecting mechanical clocks and automated dolls, and he sanctioned the construction of a Clock Making Palace. There he employed several hundred mechanics to make watches according to his wishes, as well as importing mechanical clocks and automated dolls from Europe.
In 1784, Pierre established a permanent residence in Geneva and there he created his first watch factory. His overseas sales were mainly handled by agencies in France, London and Guangzhou. In 1788, Jaquet Droz watches reached their pinnacle. However, the good times lasted for only a few years. In 1790, due to his inability to fulfill his promise to his Chinese agencies, and the unfortunate bankruptcy of his London agencies, he was forced to declare bankruptcy, along with his partners.
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Jaquet Droz Brand Acquired by Swatch
In 2000, Jaquet Droz was bought by Swatch and moved back to La Chaux-de-Fonds into a brand new Haute Horlogerie workshop in the summer of 2010. With its inherent elegance and grace, the new workshop added more creative power and gathered more traditional watch-making skills to bring the watch to new heights.
The ultimate benchmark in watch craftsmanship: the Bird Repeater Geneva wrist watch.
A stunning example of a watch created in the new workshop is the Bird Repeater Geneva. Launched in 2012, it is a bird timekeeping piece with the city of Geneva interwoven into the natural beauty of the scenery set as the background of the dial. Sculptors, painters and enamel artist were able to miniaturize local scenes, successfully creating famous sites such as Lake Geneva and its water fountain.
Set in the center of the dial, a pair of red-faced goldfinches rest at the inlet of Lake Geneva. These two hand crafted birds, with their eye-catching yellow wing patches, carefully guard their two chicks below. In the middle of the birds’ nest lies an egg which opens and closes at will. Even the finest strand of grass is beautifully rendered, reflecting the skills and outstanding achievements of the artisans.
The Geneva bird timekeeping piece is equipped with the Jaquet Droz RMA88 automatic winding movement which has 48 hours storage power. It is produced in a limited edition of eight pieces. Eight is a symbolic number for Jaquet Droz, and is also a lucky number in traditional Chinese culture. Many Jaquet Droz wrist watches have been produced in limited editions of eight and are dearly loved by collectors.
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Another exquisite watch, the Charming Bird wrist watch, was shown at the Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Show held in Switzerland on March 2013 to celebrate the 275th anniversary of the start of clock-making by Pierre Jaquet-Droz. With a diameter of 47mm, it includes a tiny automaton of a bird that moves and sings. Mechanical noise has been reduced to a minimum, the bird song is more melodious and the song time longer. To hear the bird, the wearer simply needs to press a button.
Such time pieces display the creativity of the craftspeople, as well as the cooperation between graphic and enamel artists. They are deeply admired and are avidly collected by both museums and individuals, hence their value is not affected by market changes. Of course, although the new Apple smart watch which came out in April is also widely popular, it is no rival to Jaquet Droz.