Another discovery in Hall 2 was Frères Rochat, where I was introduced to ‘The Enchanting Bird’ a singing bird automaton that faithfully reproduces the architecture, technique and craftsmanship of the horological movements first designed by the Rochat brothers at the beginning of the 19th century.
Stéphane Velan, the company’s CEO, explained that Frères Rochat’s watchmakers, craftsmen and restorers took up the challenge of reinventing a Grand Complication movement that combines modern-day savoir-faire with the Rochat brothers’ historical creations of singing bird automata. Velan explained that today’s models contain the most miniaturised movement design ever created for this set of functions, requiring years of research before even the first functional prototype was produced.
Completely designed and developed in their workshops in Le Brassus, the automaton comprises 1227 components and the mechanism is made out of a fusée-barrel with a micro chain of 404 hand-connected links, a set of gears and levers which activate the bellows and the whistle simultaneously - which in turn are activated by a set of 14 cams to coordinate the whole choreography with horological precision. There is a whistle with 12 semitones and 4 different melodies.
Activating the starting lever makes the bird gracefully appear from its nest with an amazingly realistic head movement. The concert begins, the bird spreads its wings and flutters them majestically whilst its head turns. It opens its beak and chirps a pitch-perfect extract of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 with its beak and tail synchronised to the tempo of the melody. The bird then disappears quickly and elegantly into its nest.
Frères Rochat’s automaton of noble metals and precious stones adheres to the tradition of yesteryear with exquisite hand-finishing for each component. The exceptional technical achievement of “The Enchanting Bird” is concentrated into the equivalent of two 42 mm diameter watch calibres. A delightful discovery and a charming interlude in the day’s preoccupation with timepieces.
Throwing caution to the wind, I dodged rumbling trams and marauding taxis to visit the Palace where some of the best and most exciting watch designers and manufacturers pay (presumably a reasonable price) to be in one of BaselWorld’s worst environments: a hot, clammy tent where the only elements missing from the sauna-like atmosphere are birch twigs.
As usual, there was a hum of excitement from the numerous horological connoisseurs as they oohed and aahed at the latest creations from today’s modern masters.
Pushing my way through the crowds around the Christophe Claret and Speake-Marin booths I eased my way to the forefront of those salivating at the thought of seeing and perhaps hearing Reuge by MB&F’s latest creation: the highly unconventional MusicMachine.
With its dual propellers and twin silver cylinders mounted on outrigger landing gear, MusicMachine is designed to resemble a spaceship. Each of the cylinders plays three tunes, selected by Maximilian Büsser, MB&F’s Owner and Creative Director: the left cylinder plays, “May the Force Be With You” with the “Star Wars” theme; “Imperial March” from “The Empire Strikes Back”, and the theme from “Star Trek”. The right cylinder plays Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
“Like many kids, saving the world was my full time job when I was a boy,” Büsser explains. “For MusicMachine, I delved into my childhood dreams and fantasies inspired by heroes such as Luke Skywalker and Captain James T. Kirk.”
One of the biggest challenges for Reuge was respecting the mechanical symmetry of Büsser’s design, and it meant breaking with music box conventions to achieve it. MusicMachine actually has two independent movements, each comprising a winding propeller, a mainspring barrel (looking like a piston under the propeller), an horizontal cylinder with pins creating three melodies and a vertical comb with individual hand-tuned teeth sounding each note. When the music plays, the speed that the cylinder unwinds is governed by an air regulator in the form of a circular fan outside each propeller-topped, piston-shaped mainspring barrel. While it would have been much easier to duplicate the two movements and simply change the melodies, MB&F’s original concept called for perfect symmetry and if the movements were identical, the comb on one cylinder would not be on the outside. Consequently, Reuge took the unprecedented step of configuring the two movements as mirror images of one another, which meant completely inverting the design of the movement’s components and architecture.
The MusicMachine is a limited edition of 66 pieces: 33 pieces in white and 33 pieces in black. The main body has a walnut sound amplification chamber and the outriggers are bead-blasted anodised aluminium or matte-anodised black.
MusicMachine features two 3.72 movements - the 3 referring to the number of melodies on each cylinder and the 72 to the number of notes on each comb. One movement is ‘right’ configured and the other is ‘left’ configured (they rotate in opposite directions).
The nickel-plated brass mainplate is decorated with Côtes de Genève decoration and the barrels are in stainless steel, each with 6 heat-blued screws on top and grooved ‘piston’ sides. Each melody lasts 35 seconds requiring one revolution of the cylinder and there are three melodies on each cylinder with a power reserve of 15 minutes per cylinder.
As William Shakespeare wrote, “In sweet music is such art.” Next