A musical ring, sealing wax and snuff boxes, and pendants in the form of clocks, a knife, a lute, a harp, a perfume bottle, a pocket watch, a bird cage, an ornate vase and a temple automaton – all these amazing examples and more reflecting the craft of the artisan watch and music automaton maker are on display in the temporary exhibition “Melodic Gold” being held at the Museum of Music Automatons.
The leading makers of these and other masterpieces were watchmakers from Geneva, who, in the 18th century, developed miniature versions of carillons and bird automatons and built them into pocket watches, bird cages and a host of other exquisite objects. In around 1780 the miniaturisation of musical pocket watches, sealing wax and snuff boxes and other items of jewellery became a Genevan speciality. The invention in 1796 of tuned steel lamellae by the Genevan watchmaker Antoine Favre-Salomon extended the possibilities and facilitated the making of extremely small musical mechanisms. The Genevan dealer and watchmaker Jean-Frédéric Leschot, for example, wrote to a business partner in February 1802 describing “two mechanical rings with accompanying moving picture… a woman, who by turning a crank, plays a tune.” The maker of the rings he described was not Favre, however, but Isaac-Daniel Piguet, a watchmaker from the Joux valley. In Geneva, the latter began by working for Leschot, then in 1802 he set up a partnership with his brother-in-law, Henri Capt, before finally going into business with Samuel Philipp Meylan in 1811. Some of the most spectacular miniature objects in the exhibition stem from Piguet's workshop. Other important figures of Genevan watchmaking, such as Abraham-Louis Breguet and the Rochat family, are also represented.