Watch Lust: The Bird Repeater by Jaquet Droz


Many of the watches that demand the price tag of todays Watch Lust are rich with complications, precious materials, provenance, and anything else you may expect from a watch that costs nearly $500,000. But The Bird Repeater by Jaquet Droz brings something altogether different to the mix, and we’re not just talking about the fully mechanical bird family present on the watch dial.  Believe it or not, there’s more than meets the eye with The Bird Repeater, which is saying alot considering how eye popping it is, and that’s precisely why it’s our latest Watch Lust.

Jaquet Droz is a Swiss watch manufacturer with heritage dating back to 1738.  Now owned by the Swatch Group, a majority of their current pieces are classically styled luxury watches that exemplify a mastery of haute horologie.  Head to their site and you’ll find the usual suspects: tourbillon movements, grand complications, finely finished or decorated dials/cases and precious materials.

Last month, Jaquet Droz made big news with the release of The Bird Repeater, a manual wind mechanical timepiece that features a minute repeater function, and which sells for a whopping $472,500 in 18k red gold, and $493,500 in 18k white gold.  For those unfamiliar, a minute repeater allows the watch user to trigger a switch on the outside of the watch case that causes a bell inside to chime the hour and minute of the current time.  Check out these wikipedia articles for a full explanation of repeater clock functions and specifically the striking mechanism that makes them work.

Needless to say, the in-house caliber RMA88 movement that powers The Bird Repeater is sophisticated for this complication alone.  But what makes it truly special is its inclusion of a function that powers automated birds on the face of the watch dial.  When the repeater function is activated, two adult birds, two baby birds and one hatching egg with baby bird inside begin to move.  The mother bird feeds the baby birds, the egg hatches revealing a third baby bird, and the father begins to spread his wings.  Oh, and there’s an actively flowing waterfall in the background.  It’s all pretty astounding.  You can see for yourself in the video below.

The craftsmanship and mechanical achievement of a piece like this is clear, and there is certainly a case to made for its artistry.  But there is something altogether more universally exciting about The Bird Repeater that, for me, is the real reason it is worthy of your Watch Lust.  Many luxury watches with grand complications are crafted in the service of precise time telling, but few depart from horological spectrum to become aesthetic treatment.  Even fewer with an emphasis on narrative.

The inclusion of the bird animation on The Bird Repeater, in addition to elevating the artistry and design of watch, frames its mechanical achievement in such a way that it is easier to understand and appreciate.  A watch novice can look at a Richard Mille, for example, and more or less get confused or fail to see the true value of the mechanism inside.  But one look at The Bird Repeater in action and you are immediately struck by the scene playing out, and amazed to learn that it is all being powered by an analog mechanism.

In other words, while The Bird Repeater is a watch that only the wealthiest and most refined watch collectors will ever own, the narrative, artistic form of its complication, makes it capable of being more broadly understood and appreciated than many other ultra-luxury pieces.

Interestingly, Jaquet Droz actually has a long history of creating mechanical sculpture, similar to what is found on The Bird Repeater.  In fact, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, founder of the watch company, constructed three of the most famous automata (self-operating machines) in history called The Writer, The Musician and The Draughtsman in the mid 1700’s.  Each is a mechanically powered figurines perform a task: The Writer is programmed to write up to 40 letters, The Draughtsman can draw four pictures, and The Musician plays an organ.  Each represents astounding works of mechanical achievement and all were used to sell Jaquet Droz watches at the time.  They were presented to the wealthiest and most important people throughout the world, exciting their imagination, and sparking an appreciation for mechanical movements.

In 2009, Jaquet Droz released La Machine à Ecrire le Temps or The Machine that Writes the Time.  This piece is a decidedly less elegant, though equally impressive automata that through mechanical power and movement will write out the current time.  You can check out in the video below.

So to circle back to my original statement that there is more to The Bird Repeater than meets they eye, maybe a more appropriate phrase to use is that the impact of The Bird Repeater is far greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s one thing for us watch geeks to describe with unending enthusiasm the splendor of the tiny mechanism on our wrist, but its another thing altogether when the tiny mechanism on our wrist truly speaks for itself.  The Bird Repeater does just that, and is produced by a company with a long history of creating wonderful mechanical devices that are immediately exciting and enchanting all on their own.  So while on paper The Bird Repeater may fall into the class of luxury timepieces with unthinkably high price tags, know that the price tag is well deserved, and that it is certainly deserving of your watch lust.

By Blake Malin

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