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Singing Bird Box

On view

Singing Bird Box

Date: c. 1850
Medium: Gilt silver, enamel, feathers
Dimensions:
95.3 x 60.3 x 31.8 mm
Signed: movement-stamped: C. Bruguier A Geneve, 43 and with grafitto signature: Charles Bruguier, rue des Paquis No. 5 a Geneve
Credit Line: Proctor Collection, Frederick T. Proctor Watch Collection
Object number: PC. 1023.40
Label Text
Applying music-box technology developed by Augsburg, Germany, clockmakers a century earlier, a notable mid-eighteenth-century artisan, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, and his partner, Jean-Frédéric Leschot, developed realistic, mechanized birds that were used to decorate elegant snuffboxes. The manufacture of these boxes required the collaborative effort of artists, enamelers, technicians, goldsmiths, and watchmakers. Like automata made for an Eastern clientele, singing-bird boxes captivated an eager market in China, Turkey, and India and remained popular until the end of the nineteenth century.

ATD
Text Entries

Building on music-box technology  developed by Augsburg, Germany,  clockmakers a century earlier, a notable mid-eighteenth-century artisan, Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721-90), and his partner, Jean-Frédéric Leschot (1746-1824), achieved highly faithful mechanized imitations of birds that they and others used to decorate elegant snuff boxes marketed to a wealthy clientele. Mechanical birds also found homes in flasks, miniature buildings, and, occasionally, bracelets and watches.(1) In snuff boxes the bird was “caged” in a special compartment under a medallion on the cover. The manufacture of these boxes required the collaborative effort of artists, enamelers, technicians, goldsmiths, and watchmakers. Like automata made for an eastern clientele, singing-bird boxes found a ready market in China, Turkey, and India and remained popular until the end of the nineteenth century Some incorporated watch dials into the front side.

Boxes with singing birds are usually rectangular, decorated with enamel scenes and floral motifs. Pressure on a lever, located on the front side, activates a tiny spring that opens the hinged lid and releases the bird, feathered in natural plumage, flapping its wings, turning its head, and opening and closing its beak as it sings.(2) The bird acts and looks like a miniature, real-life specimen.

On this box the bird resides in the lid, under the medallion with a painted enamel alpine landscape. In the foreground is a house with trees and two figures nearby. The area in front of the house slopes downward to a crevice from which rises a hill with a strand of trees. Water is visible in the middle ground; mountains in the background are arranged at a raking angle to the water. Above is the pale blue sky with cumulus clouds.

The central panel on this box is surrounded by an engraved foliate border edged with trefoils in black champlevé enamel. On the underside of the lid is a bouquet of painted enamel flowers, mostly roses, on a blue enamel ground. Each of the four corners on the lid is decorated with enameled flowers on a dark blue ground surrounded by white champlevé-enamel borders. Between the corners are engraved flowers on a blue ground within a heart-shaped motif, bordered by green champlevé-enamel leaves. The sides of the box are engraved with panels of flowers, a stylized clover leaf, and flowers arranged in cartouches with the background engraved in a cable pattern. On the underside of the box, an engraved foliate design is surrounded by an engine-turned basket weave pattern.

1. It is known that the workshops of Jaquet-Droz of London and of Rochat Freres of Le Brassus produced “singing-bird watches.” For more information, see Eugene Jaquet and Alfred Chapuis, Technique and History of the Swiss Watch (London: Hamlyn Publishing Group, 1970), p. 154, and fig. 98 for an illustration of a singing-bird watch by Rochat Freres. For an illustration of a watch with a singing bird by Jaquet- Droz and Leschot, see Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata: A Historical and Technological Study, trans. by Alec Reid (New York: Central Book Comapny, 1958), p. 201, fig. 244. For an illustration of a singing-bird watch where the bird comes out of the front side, see P. W. Cumhaill, Investing in Clocks and Watches (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1967), p. 84.

2. For a history of singing-bird watches and an explanation of how the mechanisms work, see Alfred Chapuis and Edmond Droz, Automata: A History and Technological Study, trans. by Alec Reed (New York: Central Book Co., 1958), p. 193-221.

 

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