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Automata

The Jaquet-Droz automata, created between 1768 and 1774 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, are not only wonders of precision, to be admired as masterpieces. These automata from La-Chaux-de-Fonds show the genius of a region, its creativity, its expertise, its future in the watch-making industry and micro technologies and the international recognition that would come as a result!

Behold the writer, the drawer and the musician. They are most certainly Neuchâtel’s most famous celebrities.

How advanced the writer is for his age! This three-year-old child sitting on a Louis-XV-style stool leans his left hand on a small mahogany table and writes with a goose feather quill in his right. While his eyes follow his movements, the quill draws full and loose letters. The writer can write any text that does not exceed forty letters or signs. When he changes line and dips the quill into the inkpot, his facial expression follows his movements.

The draftsman is even more spectacular than the writer, although his mechanism is less complicated. Three different sets of cams, dating from construction, allow the child to produce four drawings because the portrait of Louis XV and “My Pooch” are on the same cams.

Their sister is a musician.

A young slim girl, the musician is regarded as the most beautiful automaton in the world, together with the dulcimer player of Kintzing (National School of Engineering and Technology in Paris). She plays on a type of organ with two stops of flutes, an independent instrument (different to modern automata, where the instrument plays and the fingers only follow the keys). You can see her breathing, how she turns her head from side to side, looking left, then right, how she lowers and raises her eyes, leans forward and straightens up once more. She emphasises her movements when she plays and finishes with a curtsey.

Together with her brothers, she too is a well-travelled lady.

The three Jaquet-Droz automata have been nomadic over a long period of time, guests of all the courts of Europe, visiting Paris, Brussels, London, Kazan (Russia), Madrid, Austria, Germany and Denmark. In 1906, the Neuchâtel Society of History and Archaeology acquired them for 75,000 gold francs and bestowed them to the Neuchâtel Museum of Art and History, where they have become masterpieces. They can be admired in action on the first Sunday of every month at 2p.m., 3p.m. and 4p.m. or by pre-arrangement for groups.