The Story of Jaquet Droz – Watchmaker Since 1783

Written By: D Constant for The Watch Review Site

The Beginning – How it all started

The story of Jaquet Droz the Watchmaker began with Pierre Jaquet Droz and his sons, and can be seen as one of the most moving stories in Horology history. Pierre Jaquet Droz born 1721, was know to be a mechanical genius, creator of jewellery watchmaking and composer of poetry and was one of the most fascinating figures of the period.

Jaquet Droz PETITE HEURE MINUTE 35 PHOENIX LRPierre’s mastery of complex mechanisms and movements allowed him to become a master of automata and his creations were also genuine works of art, from singing birds, fountains, and musical watches to name a few.

Pierre Jaquet droz was the creator of The Writer (1775), which was a unique automaton and a true piece of art, which consisted 0f a six hundred piece mechanism and was extremely complex, much more intricate than those of other automata of its time. It could be set to write any text of up to forty letters or symbols on a smooth piece of paper, as if on a typewriter. Two other automata, The Musician and The Draftsman, were designed by his two sons, both of whom were trained by Pierre. These creations can still be admired today some 200 years later at the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History in Switzerland.

Pierre Jaquet Droz was always at the forefront of developments in watchmaking, creating limited series that were seen as true artistic masterpieces. His ingenuity and talent were recognized throughout the world and applauded by all the Courts of Europe,Russia and even China.

Pierre in his wisdom surrounded himself with the best watchmakers, alchemists, mechanics, enamellers and gemstone craftsmen and opened three Manufactures:

Jaquet Droz PETITE HEURE MINUTE PAILLONSLa Chaux-de-Fonds in 1738, He begun absorbing the rudiments of watchmaking and mechanics in his father’s farm workshop very quickly. From this workshop in La Ferme sur le Pont in 1738, he started producing and selling standing and table clocks of increasing complexity, often enlivened with all manner of automata and musical mechanisms at the age of 17. It was in his first workshop that Pierre Jaquet Droz began to specialize in the production and exportation of timekeepers endowed with Grand Complications such a singing bird, or mechanism striking hour…The workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds excelled in all fields of mechanical ingenuity.

London in 1774: This was Pierre Jaquet Droz second watchmaking workshop and was based in London, This workshop was headed by Henry-Louis (Pierre’s Son). Henry provided a striking demonstration of his strategic audacity and his far-reaching vision. London was the commercial decision making heart of Europe and the key business center. Henry-Louis was the first to recognise the potential of London as a trade base to China (that’s forward thinking). As with all ventures Henry-Louis was overworked and hence, delegated a part of his responsibilities to Jean-Frédéric Leschot, the adoptive son of Pierre Jaquet Droz. Jean Frederic was in particular responsible for dealing with Cox & Son, who went on to represent Jaquet Droz in China, India and Japan for many years.

Genevain 1784: Henry-Louis decided to move to Geneva a town whose artistic and literary life he appreciated and he was soon joined by Jean-Frédéric Leschot, together they set up Geneva’s first real horological workshop, a year before Vacheron Constantin appeared on the scene. This manufacture was set up to specialise in limited production and export luxury pieces, musical boxes, automatons and Grand Complications. The talent and interest which Henry-Louis Jaquet Droz and Jean-Frédéric Leschot demonstrated for the general welfare of the town were soon recognized and rewarded. They were both made honorary citizens and interest was shown in their business activities. Jaquet Droz was welcomed by the Geneva Society of Arts, which had just been re-formed and he played a highly active role in improving vocational training. In addition, he helped to set up a workshop-school in Geneva which produced under-dial work for repeaters. And Therefore Jaquet Droz watchmaker was born……

Pierre Jaquet Droz achieved many technological developments, these are some:

The suspended-barrel bridge caliber, invented by the French watchmaker Jean-Antoine Lépine in 1770. In the Manufacture’s accounting registers, watches produced with this caliber were designated by the expression “à la Lépine”.

The keyless watch device, where watches were rewound by repeatedly use of the pendant (pump winding). This technique was used on many watches in the 18th century, either to wind the main spring, for a “sonnerie au passage”, or a chime.

Automatically wound watches with an oscillating mass. Pierre Jaquet Droz contributed to raising awareness of this technical marvel first in England, then in the Far East.

Decoration of high luxury watches. The enamel on the case of Jaquet Droz models is embellished by gold foil and silver “sous fondant”. This enameling technique, called “paillonné”, was adopted by numerous Geneva enamellers.

 Jaquet Droz Corporate Movie 2012

That was the History, now to the recent Past and the resurrection of Montres Jaquet Droz SA

After a few years’ absence from the world of watchmaking, and a period marked by ownership of foreign shareholders, the brand was acquired in 2000 by the Swatch Group. The Swatch Group returned Jaquet Droz to its town of origin, La Chaux-de-Fonds, and moved in the summer of 2010 in to its new “Atelier de Haute Horlogerie”.

A short ten years from the resurgence of Jaquet Droz by The Swatch Group the success of Jaquet Droz is undeniable. The Manufacture is well positioned within the prestige and luxury segment of the Group. Marc A. Hayek, President, with a steering committee, has set himself the mission of cultivating this spirit of excellence and innovation while continuing to communicate emotional and poetical values. The link between the Age of Enlightenment (Pierre Jaquet Droz’s Era) and the third Millennium is therefore still at the heart of the brand’s creative inspiration and is seen in Jaquet Droz’s 8 Codes.

Code 1 – Grande Seconde

On a single dial, the hours and minutes counter, off-centered at 12 o’clock, embraces the seconds counter, situated at 6 o’clock, with echoes of Avant- Garde poetry, aesthetics at the very core of the identity of Jaquet Droz. From the 18th century to the third millennium, the Grande Seconde has been the eternal source of inspiration for the Manufacture of La Chaux-de-Fonds, a timeless icon in extremely exclusive interpretations which evolve with time and with each new collection.

Outlined with pearls or precious stones and clad in Grand Feu enameling or rare minerals, the Grande Seconde represents both prodigious history and the present moment and leaves the promises of the future to the imagination with the majestic elegance of its lines.

Code 2 – The 8 Symbol

Formed by two sub dials on the watch face, this symbol suggests the rarity of limited editions and exclusive models produced in small numbers. Representing infinity and eternity, the number 8 is one of the Manufacture’s most distinctive and magical numerological references. Jaquet Droz sub dials play with Arabic and Roman numerals, treat each passing moment as unique, in other words, they offer a new perception of Time.

Jaquet Droz CHRONO GRANDE DATE BLACKENAMECode 3 – Grand Feu Enameling

Grand Feu enameling is one of the expert techniques that constitute the signature of a Jaquet Droz watch. Combining traditional production methods with latest-generation technology, the dial-makers at Jaquet Droz have kept up with the latest developments in timepieces and the technical constraints that they involve. The Jaquet droz dial-makers are the sole guardians of the formula that yields these magnificent dials, whose color and graining are absolutely unique. Jaquet Droz has a long history of Grand Feu enameling and still practices the art today. Firing is carried out at a temperature exceeding 1,000°C, although lower temperatures are used for decoration and decals. New research has enabled Jaquet Droz, famous for its ivory-colored dials, to meet a major challenge by adding black and blue to its color repertoire. The number of coats needed to produce these shades, remarkable for their great depth, is variable, the color blue requiring the most.

You can see the attention to detail placed on Grand Feu Enameling with Jaquet Droz as the master dial-maker may create five or more dials and deem only one worth keeping.  The slightest imperfection is fatal as soon as a grain or crack is detected, the dial is rejected. The enamel will retain its beauty and gloss for centuries, withstanding the ravages of time indefinitely.

This is a distinctive signature of Jaquet Droz timepieces since the 18th century, it has been reinterpreted by the brand in its contemporary collections.

Code 4 – The Watch Case

At Jaquet Droz they see a watch case as a treasure chest full of mechanical wonders to track time. The case was carefully conceived to contain remarkable movements. The Manufacture believes that each watch case is absolutely essential, whether it has a screw-type back or comes in one piece. Each one undergoes no fewer than 80 different operations. That’s why Jaquet Droz prizes the hands of its master craftsmen above any manufacturing tool.

Code 5 – The Movement

Jaquet Droz has always incorporated cutting edge watchmaking technology into its timekeeping creations. All Jaquet Droz mechanical self winding and manually wound movements are engraved with a clover, the secret signature of the founder of the Manufacture. The bridges and plates are adorned with Côtes de Genève ribbing, while the luxurious sunray motif on the oscillating body is visible through the transparent case back.

Code 6 – Complications

Once again attempting to surpass it previous innovations, Jaquet Droz takes the inventiveness of its luxury watches to new heights with sophisticated complications, such as tourbillon, minute repeater, equation of time, perpetual calendar, jumping hour or chronograph.

Code 7 – Numerus Clausus

Jaquet Droz creates unique timepieces and its Numerus Clausus editions are limited to 8, 28 or 88 pieces. 

Code 8 – The Minerals

Jaquet Droz has fashioned inimitable watch dials from noble materials, treasures drawn from the depths of the Earth and from outer space. These dials offer the poetry of meteorites crossing galaxies, the geometry of rutilated inclusions in quartz, the mystery of onyx, aventurine, spectrolite, pietersite… Minerals are like the memory of the Earth and our galaxy. Whether they come from deep within the earth or the far reaches of space, they transform each watch dial into a fabulous journey through the infinity of time.

 

As you can all see the number 8 plays a big part in the Jaquet Droz dynasty, could this be why it was so popular in the far east or how it managed to develop and attain some of its history from its extensive dealing in the Far East…. its will come as no surprise as the Number 8 is associated with Luck and Good feelings in the Far East.

Jaquet Droz Eclipse Ivory enamel

The watch masters in the Jaquet Droz family were pioneers in the art of luxury decoration as far back as the 18th century and in turn generated work for an entire generation of craftsmen. The success and fame of the Jaquet droz family increased after the introduction of paillons and painted motifs to decorate the enameled surfaces of watch cases and other masterpieces, pocket watches, decorative urns, snuffboxes and cages for mechanical singing birds. These techniques were finally adopted, but much later, by the enamellers of the time.

The special skills used by Jaquet Droz in the 18th century are still applied to a very few truly exceptional pieces in the Jaquet Droz collection. In wishing to honor the art of painting on enamel in the 21st century and uphold the traditions of its founder this painstaking decorative technique is applied to a few remarkable pieces in its collection. The painter does everything by hand, with the aid of a microscope and it takes at least 40 hours to produce each unique piece.

Another central point of Jaquet Droz watches is the art of enameling, which involves covering ornamental paillons (tiny motifs or paillettes, cut from gold or silver leaf) with fondant (translucent enamel) as described in Code 3. This technique is central to Jaquet Droz’s traditional expertise and during the 18th century Pierre transformed the technique into an art form.

 

As discussed in Code 1 – The Grande Seconde is the Timeless Icon of Jaquet Droz Watches

The dials are designed in such a way as to give excellent legibility, giving them their distinguished appearance. This iconic model first appeared in 1785, where Jaquet Droz created the Grande Seconde, and gave shape to a new way of perceiving space. It is the course of the seconds hand that provides us with the best visualization of the passing of Time, established many centuries ago.

With the “Grande Seconde” dial and its figure 8 inspired design, scientific precision is no longer the reserve of academics, merchants, priests and kings. Now any admirer of fine objects can share the privilege of precision and refinement.

Nearly two centuries after its creation, the philosophical values, aesthetic identity and scientific rigor of this iconic model remain, and prove the perpetuity of Jaquet Droz designs. Since its first launch, the product has appeared in a variety of different versions, these being Grande Seconde Enamel, Grande Seconde Minute Repeater and Grande Seconde Lady. These models illustrate the extraordinary level of skill of the dial makers and the infinite possibilities for personalization.

The aesthetics of the model has not aged in the slightest. Resolutely fashionable in the treatment of the typography of the numerals Roman or traditional for the hours and minutes, modern and immediately accessible for the seconds – the watch incarnates simultaneously an impressive history and the present moment.

The relative proportions of the two counters continue a line of geometrical progression inspired by the golden number – the figure 8 – a symbol at the very heart of Jaquet Droz’ identity.

The Grande Seconde finds a natural echo in the Grande Seconde SW, exemplary in its new approach to design. Entering the sports watch field for the first time, Jaquet Droz confirms its mastery of the aesthetic and technical concerns of the 21st century: massive, light, ultra-resistant and perfectly profiled, the Grande Seconde SW takes technical optimization and Swiss watchmaking tradition to greater heights.

At a time when all watchmaking Manufactures compete in technology and multiply the complications on the market, Jaquet Droz continue in their commitment to the essential, favoring art and longevity. Much more than a simple movement, a watch is an Emotion, a passion that goes straight to the heart. Jaquet Droz continues to produce timepieces for connoisseurs in search of perfection, remaining loyal both to the watch and to an emotive and aesthetic approach to Time.

 

The Jaquet Droz Collections

Jaquet Droz was a man of great vision and as we all know from this article his prowess travelled well beyond the borders of Switzerland he established manufacture in London, gained access to China. Opened the first established workshop in Geneva along with his first in his home town. Jaquet Droz, who owned three watch factories was an extensive traveller, but he loved Paris. All these places and cities still inspire today’s Jaquet Droz Collections as can be seen below;

Legend – Geneva

As a bridge between the Age of Enlightenment and the third millennium, the  collection evokes the union between Haute Horlogerie and poetry, contemporary aesthetics and timelessness. Directly inspired by a pocket watch created in the 18th century, this collection echoes the luxurious and refined pieces designed by Pierre Jaquet Droz in his third watchmaking Manufacture. In choosingGeneva, he became a pioneer: his workshop was the very first to be established in this city.

Urban London 

Entering the sports watch field, Jaquet Droz confirms its mastery of the aesthetic and technical concerns of the 21st century, based on the Manufacture’s values over the last three centuries: boldness, a sense of adventure and the love of a challenge. The city of London is a perfect interpretation of these values and pushed Jaquet Droz to offer his craftsmanship to the world, especially to Asia.

Inspired by the 8 and the infinity, the Grande Seconde SW line and the SW Chrono and the Grande Seconde Ceramic compete with the finest examples in watchmaking.

Majestic Beijing

During the 18th century, in the heart of Beijing, the emperor and the imperial court’s dignitaries collected Pierre Jaquet Droz’s masterpieces. Like these timepieces which crossed the world, the elegant creativity and the functionality conveyed by the  collection’s models seems to know no bounds: the Grande Heure, The Twelve Cities, The Eclipse…. so many possibilities for different modes of existence, lifestyles and desires.

Complication La Chaux De  Fonds

As the creator of watches, clocks and automatons that were universally recognized for their elegance and finesse, Pierre Jaquet Droz succeeded in making people forget about the phenomenal complexity of the mechanisms and movements required to actually run his masterpieces. It was in his first workshop that Pierre Jaquet Droz began to specialize in the production and export of timekeepers endowed with Grand Complications such as a piece of music, a songbird, or a mechanism striking en passant or automatically… The workshop in La Chaux-de-Fonds excelled in all fields of mechanical ingenuity.

Elegance Paris

A cultural and intellectual bastion central to 18th century history, Parishas always held pride of place for our Manufacture. During the Enlightenment, its founder Jaquet Droz frequently visited Paris, where he presented his models to Marie-Antoinette, queen of France. Designated the capital of femininity, art and fashion, the city has been famous ever since for its jewellery watches, set with precious stones or pearls. Mysterious and enchanting, the  collection represents yet another milestone in our unrelenting quest to push back the limits of Beauty.

 

The whole Jaquet Droz Story can be seen in this 128 page, well illustrated book, which can be viewed online free at http://book.jaquetdroz.ch/Jaquet-Droz/181-JD-Catalogue-2012-2013-ENG.html#/0

 

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