Robots, androids, machines that imitate human actions are becoming more and more common as time goes by and undoubtedly will become even more so in the future.
It is amazing to think that nearly 250 years ago, gifted Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet Droz started building advanced mechanical humanoids.
Pierre Jaquet Droz was borne in 1721 in La Choux-de-Fonds near Neuchatel in Switzerland. He was raised in a wealthy family of watchmakers and farmers and studied mathematics and physics with great proficiency.
In 1738 He set up his first watchmaking workshop and quickly stood out among watchmakers of his era for his manual dexterity, meticulousness and the ability to apply mechanical principles to the art of watch-making.
His workshop produced increasingly refined pieces, richly decorated with enamel and precious stones. They also produced watches and clocks featuring miniature animated animals, including singing birds.
In 1758 Pierre Jaquet-Droz undertook an arduous journey to Spain, to present his time pieces to the Court of Spain and King Ferdinand VI. In Spain he demonstrated not only his elaborate watches, but also a few automatons. Among them was a clock with a shepherd playing on a flute, and a dog guarding a basket of apples.
From his trip to Spain He returned rich and famous. Pierre Jaquet-Droz invested his money in establishing his company as a specialist in the creation of top-of-the-range pieces end in pursuing technological advances.
He become renowned for his mechanical humanoids that he designed and built with his very talented son Henry-Louis and young mechanical specialist Jean-Frédéric Leschot.
From 1767 to 1774 He constructed three extremely complex androids: The Writer, the musician and the Draftsman.
The Writer, completed in 1772, is the most complicated of the three, with 6000 parts. This android is sitting at a table, holding a quill that he dips into the inkwell, then shakes it slightly before beginning to draw letters on paper, while his eyes follow his work.
The Writer is able to write a text of 40 characters, spread over four lines.
The main mechanism allows him to write text without external intervention. It is also possible to make him write any word, letter by letter.
The Draftsman is very similar in appearance to the Writer, but is technically simpler, made of only 2000 parts. Using a pencil, he is able to draw four different images: A portrait of the King of France—Louis XV, a drawing of a dog with the inscription ‘Mon toutou’ (My doggie), a depiction of Cupid in a chariot pulled by a butterfly, and a portrait of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI of France. There is a small bellows concealed in the head of the Draftsman that allows him to blow the dust off his paper from time to time. The Draftsman is also able to occasionally raise his hand and examine his work.
The Musician is made of 2500 pieces and is very different from the two other androids. It is a young girl, 1 meter 80 tall, sitting by a small organ flutes. It has a mechanism that activates her fingers and allows her to play her instrument. The five different melodies that she is capable of playing seem to have been composed by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, who was not only a skillfull mechanic, but also a gifted musician. The mechanism is quite complex, consisting of four parts which actuate the bellows of the instrument, the hands of the musician, breathing movements, nods, eye movements and the final curtsey. The girl accentuates her movements while she plays, she looks on the left, on the right, and finishes with a curtsey.
The extraordinary creation of Pierre Jaquet-Droz were initially exhibited in La Chaux-de-Fonds and attracted people from all over the country. Subsequently they were taken to shows all over Europe and were eventually sold to a collector in 1787. The three androids were eventually bought by The History and Archaeology society of Neuchâtel in 1906 for 75000 francs in gold, and were given to the Museum of Art and History of Neuchâtel, where they have been ever since, in virtually the same condition as when they were first made about 250 years ago.
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