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The History of Jaquet Droz

October 4 2006 at 7:10 PM

michael.ting  (Login mkt32)

Great companies are born from the fusion of hard work and forward vision of their founders. The company Jaquet Droz is no exception to this rule. Its founder, Pierre Jaquet Droz, overcame his humble beginnings as a farmer’s son to transform a small family workshop into an international manufacturer of luxury timepieces treasured throughout Europe and Asia. The beauty of Jaquet Droz’s creations has resonated through time and their intricacies continue to memorize people around the world today as they did over 250 years ago.

In examining the history and development of Jaquet Droz, two themes emerge to explain the company’s global domination of the watch industry from 1760 to approximately 1790. The first was Pierre Jaquet Droz’s ability to incorporate new technologies into sophisticated timepieces; timepieces which outclassed anything produced by his fellow watchmakers. The importance of the “Lepine-caliber” movement and Perrelet’s self winding mechanism were first recognized by Jaquet Droz and he introduced and popularized these new horological advances to the Swiss watch making community . Being an intelligent man and inspired by the physicist Daniel Bernoulli, Pierre Jaquet Droz also invented the sliding piston whistle which revolutionized the development of mechanical singing birds . However it was the creation of three lifelike automata (The Writer, The Draughtsman and The Musician) in 1773 that earned Pierre Jaquet Droz the respect and admiration of his contemporaries. Building on the works of Jacques Vaucanson and Daniel Gagnebin, Jaquet Droz demonstrated his mastery of human anatomy, mechanical engineering, and magnetism in these three “robots”…almost 190 years before the creation of UNIMATE, the first modern day robotic arm !

Besides these technical innovations it was Pierre Jaquet Droz’s entrepreneurial spirit which fueled the growth and reputation of his company throughout the world. Starting with a successful but grueling 50 day - 1500 kilometer trip to Spain in 1758, Pierre Jaquet Droz continued to fulfill his horological dreams by taking bold calculated risks . Not content with his reputation in La Chaux de Fonds, Pierre Jaquet Droz with his son Henri and Jean-Federic Leschot, sought to access new markets in Europe and Asia. London, an important center of industry and commerce, was the ideal location for their expansion. Established in 1774 the London workshop legitimized the luxury status of Jaquet Droz’s work as “it was of the general opinion that everything made in [England] is better finished, more valuable, and more robust than similar products from other countries” . Pierre Jaquet Droz also took advantage of international trade opportunities by distributing clocks, automata, watches, and singing birds to every country in the Orient, particularly China, through their London workshop. By 1784, with demand for their products pushing production capabilities to the limit, Jaquet Droz founded the first true horological factory and watch school in Geneva, a full year before the establishment of Vacheron Constantin . It was in Geneva that Pierre Jaquet Droz gathered an expert team of clockmakers, enamellers and jewelers including Jacob Frisard, Jacques Frederic Houiet, Godemar, and Decombas . These artisans produced, for the first time, true identical pairs of watches for the Asian market and perfected the decorative techniques of painted and paillonnee enameling for which Jaquet Droz is still known for today. At the height of his career in 1788, Pierre Jaquet Droz had succeeded in his dreams by building an international company worth over 400,000 french livres .

Shut down by the economic crisis caused by the French Revolution and the early death of Henri Jaquet Droz in 1789, the brand Jaquet Droz was revived but languished throughout the late 20th century. The Swatch Group under the leadership for Mr. Nicolas Hayek recognized the impact that Pierre Jaquet Droz had on Swiss horological history and assumed control of the brand in 2000. Tasked to revive this honorable name was Mr. Manuel Emch, a man similar in age to Pierre Jaquet Droz when he set out on his seminal journey to Spain. By combining original design elements from Pierre Jaquet Droz (an independent seconds movement, alternating Roman and Arabic numerals, Grand Feu enameling) Mr. Emch successfully created and launched the Grande Seconde collection. Limiting production to as few as 3,000 watches a year, the new manufactory seeks to continue and maintain Pierre Jaquet Droz’s highest and exacting standards. Only time will tell but Jaquet Droz, with its renewed focus on old world craftsmanship and elegant design, is well on the way of recapturing the original spirit of Pierre Jaquet Droz.

1.Sabrier JC and Kerman S, “The Jaquet Droz: Visionaries and Trend-Setters”, The Antiquorum Magazine: Vox Spring (2003)
2.Cedrine Jequier and Jean Claude Sabrier, Tome Premier: Le Siecle Des Lumieres (Biel, Switzerland: Montres Jaquet Droz SA, 2002)

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