The year may be young, but here's a date for your diary - the upcoming Automates & Merveilles Exhibition which will run from April 28th to September 30th 2012. This will be a co-operative event - three museums in three cities - the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Neuchâtel will host the Jaquet Droz and Jean-Frederic Leschot exhibit, the Musée International d’Horlogerie in La Chaux-de-Fonds will focus on "Marvellous Movements and Amazing Mechanisms" and in Le Locle the Musée d'Horlogerie will feature Masterpieces of Luxury Miniaturization. Whether you be a horological historian, an fan of eclectic engineering or simply a lover of all things beautiful, prepare to be amazed - this will be the event of the year.
Readers of the Watch Press.com will already know the name Jaquet Droz - we love these exceptional, flawless timepieces. The Swatch Group, a very modern-thinking company may own the brand now, but between 1768 and 1774 Pierre Jaquet Droz had an ingenious marketing idea to help sell his timepieces. Along with his son, Henri-Louis and also Jean-Frederic Leschot he created three astounding Automata, the Musician, the Drawer and the Writer - human-like mechanical dolls so-named because each could realistically perform their given task. The concept was simple - almost Biver-esque in its resourcefulness, those who viewed these superb Automata would be suitably impressed, making the timepieces produced under the Jaquet Droz name highly desirable, and those who he sought to excite were no ordinary individuals, these potential clients were the Kings and Emperors of Europe, China and beyond.
Modern wristwatch calibres contain hundreds of micro components, with added desirability gained from the hours and days invested in its assembly. The Automatons were constructed from parts numbering in the thousands, and are considered by many to be the first computers, such was their ability to be "programmed" albeit via the use of mechanical cams and switches - complexities made even more astonishing considering the conditions under which they were made - no power tools or well-lit clinically clean workshops. What is, perhaps even more astonishing is that all three survive to this day, bought by the History and Archeology society of Neuchâtel and donated to the local museum who have cared for them ever since.
Curiously, the art of the illusionist and the art of Automata are intrinsically linked. Movie fans may have seen Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" - an adventure based on the life story of Georges Méliès - film maker, illusionist and automated toymaker. "Hugo" is Hugo Cabret, son of a Master Clockmaker, who when orphaned takes responsibility for his late father's project - restoration of a broken automaton - who writes with a pen. It is a movie with a story so interwoven with horology that it is simply unmissable for anyone in the industry - see if you can spot a cameo appearance by an exquisite "Mystery Clock".
The trio of Automates & Merveilles exhibitions will run simultaneously in French, English and German, with pieces from both private and public collections on loan for the first time.
More information at the Jaquet Droz website.