Sunday, April 12, 2015

Frères Rochat - Creating Unique Emotions

The magic of singing-bird automata has fascinated horological enthusiasts for more than 200 years. Through the revival of the famous Singing Bird Automaton in 2013, the prestigious Swiss manufacturer Frères Rochat commemorates two hundred years of one of the most outstanding legends in the history of watchmaking worldwide. Their masterpieces, developed during the 19th century, are an ode to beauty and technique and represent such unique expertise as can only elicit pure admiration. These items are without a doubt amongst the most complex ever made worldwide, are emblems of specifically Swiss horology skills at the height of their sophistication at that time.

A rebirth stamped with the seal of outstanding success: the Singing Bird Automata are unique evidence of watchmaking craftsmanship in the 19th century. These priceless works of art, pride of the Rochat Brothers, join the ranks of the most extraordinary jewels in watchmaking craftsmanship, boasting a very limited circle of buyers and collectors. Ultimate luxury, they represent excellence and rareness of a kind which still today is only accessible through auctions, but seldom put forward for sale. Frères Rochat is the fusion of sublime ornaments and Grand Complications. The prestigious Frères Rochat hallmark found on each piece is the guarantee of unequalled craftsmanship, of quality and authenticity of movements and of unique luxury craftsmanship goods, designed and assembled behind closed doors in Le Brassus workshops.
Frères Rochat has its origins in an eminent watchmaking family from Le Brassus. In the early 19th century, the Rochat brothers devised the most elaborate singing birds ever made and supplied other manufacturers, including the prestigious firm of Jaquet Droz & Leschot. Their extravagant masterpieces, the singing-bird pistols and the mirror with a singing bird that charmed royal and imperial courts in 1820, represented the culmination of their art. Empress Josephine and Napoleon’s celebrated mistress, Maria Waleska, were among their renowned customers, as were the Sultan’s court in Constantinople and the aristocracy of imperial China.

The realistic movements, the intricate mechanism and the refined decorative work of the Frères Rochat singing birds are admired by knowledgeable collectors, more than 200 years after they were made, although few of those collectors could claim ever to have owned one. For the bicentenary of Frères Rochat in 2013, Stéphane Velan brought this valuable heritage back to life.

In 2013, Frères Rochat presented the Babylone and Intemporis lines at Baselworld. They are fitted with their proprietary Swiss-designed and manufactured calibre FR2903 movement. It’s 20 complications, 1,227 components, 74 jewels, 14 cams, 12 semitones and 4 tunes – including Mozart’s 40th symphony — limit the annual production to a few pieces and make the Frères Rochat singing bird a new reference in highly complicated horology.

The Rochat Brothers
The Rochats had been watchmakers for generations in the village of Le Brassus in the heart of the Joux Valley when David Rochat was born in 1746. He turned out to be particularly talented and went on to specialise in the design and manufacture of singing bird automata. David and his three sons, François, Frédéric and Samuel, developed the most sophisticated singing birds of the early 19th century.

They also made for other producers, including the prestigious house of Jaquet Droz&Leschot. After the death of their father, the three brothers left the Joux Valley in 1813 for Geneva where they established the Frères Rochat (Rochat Brothers) workshops in Rue de Coutance. Their maker’s hallmark soon came to represent the finest workmanship of Geneva’s master cabinotiers (master craftsmen). Their art reached its peak in such extravagant masterpieces as the singing-bird pistols or the mirror with a singing bird that enchanted royal and imperial courts in 1820. The Empress Josephine and one of Napoleon’s celebrated mistresses, Maria Waleska, were among their distinguished clients, as well as the court of the Sultan in Constantinople or the highest ranks of imperial Chinese society. The Rochats were also known for their business acumen, becoming one of the first watchmakers to integrate manufacturing with distribution at an international level.

The singing birds that the Frères Rochat created 200 years ago are today recognised as the most sophisticated and extraordinary in existence. Still in working condition, they are owned by such prestigious institutions as the Patek Philippe Museum or the Sandoz Collection in Le Locle.

2013: Bicentenary of Frères Rochat
On the technical level, recreating the singing bird automaton of the Frères Rochat was an exploit in itself. A mixed team of constructors and experienced craftsmen took more than three years to design and build the first prototypes in the style of the Rochat brothers. The mechanism thus works like a trombone slide, relying on a bellows-whistle to produce the fluid birdsong, and on an ingenious fusee barrel to drive all the complications. Connoisseurs might note that the bird’s head turns both ways and it sings Mozart.

But the team was not content with bringing to life one of the finest horological mechanisms of the 19th century; it also had to improve it so that the bird could be displayed when stopped. They also increased the power reserve and mellowed the sequence of tunes. Neither screw nor pin mars the perfection of the bird and the decorative finishes, taken to a level never before attained in the history of the company. Every component of the mechanism is finished by hand according to the highest grade of Swiss watchmaking.

In all, 20 complications, 1,227 components, 74 jewels, 14 cams, 12 semitones and 4 tunes make the Frères Rochat singing bird a new reference in highly complicated horology. Only a hand-count of pieces can be produced a year.

Frères Rochat’s contemporary versions of the Singing Bird Automata bear the mark and savoir-faire of the originals. Mindful of honouring the true spirit of their predecessors, these are divided into two unique collections.

Babylone: The Babylone collection, the most contemporary of the two, brings creativity, tradition and modernity together, with particular attention given to design, originality and transparency. Named after one of the eight gates in the walls surrounding the city of Babylon, built during King Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign around 500 B.C.
This is an ode, a tribute to one of the most mythical cities of the world and its famous outer wall, with its eight doors, each one bearing a ceremonial name, guaranteeing divine protection to the city. Cradle to humanity and to the Babylonian Empire, Herodotus describes these walls, which were among the Seven Wonders of the World in his writings. The four pillars at the corners of this model represent the legendary Tower of Babel.

Intemporis: The model “Intemporis – Odyssée 2903” has been conceived and designed to emphasise the decorative arts and crafts realisations. Artistic creativity is limitless and a future owner can participate in personalising and customising their exceptional piece as they desire by working alongside best designers.
Should a client or a collector desire a personalised present or a timeless souvenir, frères Rochat is able to offer sumptuous decors, engraving, enamel or designs set with jewels or precious metals to create a unique piece that emphasises the extreme “Haute Horlogerie” complication and ultimate artistic beauty.

Unique pieces by Frères Rochat
The Frères Rochat singing bird is inspired by the wood warbler whose lively trill has been in the collective memory of those who grew up in Le Brassus since time immemorial. As soon as it has been wound up, it perches confidently on top of its nest and, twirling gracefully, moves its head, beak, tail and wings in perfect time with its song.
At the end of its recital, which can be performed four times without rewinding, the bird hides away, leaving the eye to marvel at the elaborate sophistication of its home of precious metals. Creative imaginations in all the great crafts have been applied to the decoration of its nest with enamelling, engraving, miniature paintings and settings of gemstones. All these skills have been brought together here to customise each piece to the new owner’s specifications and to create the most valuable and exclusive horological artworks of the 21st century.

Stéphane Velan, managing director of Frères Rochat SA
Married with two children, Stéphane Velan comes from Bassins, a few kilometres from Le Brassus. His father, a graduate of the Geneva Watchmaking School, and his mother, who worked for Jaeger-LeCoultre at Le Sentier, passed on their love of fine watchmaking to their son at an early age.  Although as an adult his career takes him to some of Switzerland’s biggest corporations, he remains true to his origins. He develops an interest in the genealogy of the major watchmaking families of the Joux Valley, especially that of his wife’s family, the Rochats. He regularly follows auction sales that feature the renowned singing bird automata by the Frères Rochat. Noting the growing infatuation of collectors for these objects, he resolves to revive a tradition that no other major firm has claimed.
His resolve comes to fruition in March 2010, when he establishes the Frères Rochat SA workshops in Le Brassus. He then brings together the best designers and horological craftsmen, to whom he sets the task of recreating the singing bird in the style of the Rochat brothers of the 19th century. With patient determination the team build the two prototypes that made their world debut at Baselworld in 2013, exactly 200 years after the establishment of Frères Rochat.

Frères Rochat Singing Bird Automata
Two hundred years after its creation, the Singing Bird Automata reappears. Its form is perfectly faithful to the Rochat Brothers’ most remarkable original designs at the time. It is a genuine feat of micro-technology, the result of years of research and development. This contemporary piece of watchmaking jewel requires the assembly of 1227 components. Its whole movement was designed and developed in Frères Rochat workshops: the mechanism is made out of a fusee-barrel, a set of gears and levers which activate the bellows and the whistle simultaneously; themselves activated by a set of 14 cams which coordinate the whole choreography with the greatest precision.
Activating the starting lever makes the bird appear. It gracefully rises from its nest, and greets the viewer with stunningly realistic head movements. The concerto starts, the bird spreads its wings majestically, opens its beak and chirps an extract of Mozart’s “Symphony nr. 40” pitch-perfect, transporting you into its enchanted world. Once the song is over, the bird disappears as quickly as it appeared and, just like magic, the lid closes delicately.

The whole movement of today’s pieces was designed, manufactured and assembled in Switzerland, to honour the original spirit of the Rochat Brothers. Bringing this Grand Complication “Singing Bird Automaton” to life has required the full extent of patience and savoir-faire of greatest master watchmakers. The frères Rochat movement is as pleasant to watch as it is to listen to its harmonious melody: the ultimate luxury of a striking emotion.

Use of noble materials and precious stones; limitless ornamentation and customisation of these pieces of watchmaking jewels, designed by the greatest craftsmen strictly adhering to traditions; sublime quality finishing for each component; Frères Rochat has stayed true to its heritage and origins. The final movement is the result of gathering watchmaking tradition and technical innovation. 1227 components, of which 74 rubies, forming three main units: the bird and its nest, the bellows and whistle, and the mechanism, including its 14 cams, the fusee-barrel and a 12 semitones adjustable whistle with its 4 different melodies.

In order to function, the Singing Bird Automaton’s mechanism sets a subtile ensemble of wheels, cams and levers in motion. Fitted in the heart of the barrel, a powerful balance spring plays the crucial role of providing energy for the entire movement. The spring’s power is such that it can complete four cycles before having to be wound again. The mechanism, called the fusee-barrel, permits the functioning of the whole set of complications as well as the clever regulation of the movement speed. The way it is designed makes it possible for the choreography to run in perfect unison with the melody. When the cycle is completed, a lever stops the wheel and releases a trigger-piece which brings the mechanism back to its initial position, ready for the next cycle of movement and song.

At the core of the movement, an essential part is the endless screw, whose design must be of the utmost absolute precision. One of the most difficult components to manufacture, it transmits energy to the other modules and guarantees a perfectly constant force.

The barrel itself is connected to the fusee by a fine micro chain. This chain is made up of 404 links, connected one by one, by hand, with precision and meticulousness. It is crucial and fundamental for the chain to be flexible and resistant, in order for the whole mechanism to work. The barrel must be able to withstand tension up to a twenty kilogramme breaking load.
The bellows is one of the movement’s centrepieces; its importance cannot be understated. Made up of 98 components, its activation depends on the alternating movement of the mechanism’s intermediary mobile plate, which allows the bellows to fill with air. Once the bellows are full, the air is then released through a valve regulated by the four air cams. The air movement is increased by passing it go through a fine cylinder, the fipple plug, and finally passes over against the whistle’s vent. A sound wave forms and resonates according to the frequency determined by the four song cams, creating a note of striking harmony. The melodious and sonorous vibrations circulate through a piston, its cylinder’s length and circumference designed with absolute precision, in order to obtain the full range of an octave, 12 semitones. A note is fixed based on a frequency scale, the value of which is defined by a mathematical formula, which is in turn transposed and recalculated in order to define the contour and precise radius of the gear tooth machined on to the cam. Each melody is constructed on an air cam for the note length and a song cam for the note pitch.

Observing the fascinating complex movement, which orchestrates the melody by means of 1227 components, is quite simply magical. An outstanding work of miniaturisation; the bird’s extreme complications require state-of-the-art precision, both during the fabrication and assembly phases.The moment the mechanism is triggered, the bird deploys an elaborate set of independent movements, requiring no less than 101 components, intricately assembled, contained within a casing the size of a sugar cube.
Together, these activate the singing birds’ four functions. The three cams situated in the upper part of the mechanism harmoniously initiates the beak and tail, the wings, the head’s movements and the bird’s rotation, as it spins around in perfect synchronicity with its song, the performance of which is mesmerising. Once its serenade is completed, the avian performer disappears as quickly as it appeared.
Decorated and ornamented with the utmost care, one may admire the bird and its nest by activating a lever found at the back of the casing. This patented innovative functionality has never been realized previously. The bird emerges from its nest, activating a nest cover. The bird and its nest, richly decorated with hand-engraved Arabesque patterns, can thus be appreciated for as long as one desires.

Frères Rochat Singing Bird Automata : Technical details
Each movement is given a reference number and the Frères Rochat hallmark
Wind-up mechanical movement
1227 components
74 rubies

14 cams
- 1 exhibition cam for the bird
- 1 opening cam for the lid (to let the bird out)
- 1 power reserve cam
- 3 cams for the bird’s movements (bird rotation, wing motion and head rotation)
- 4 song cams
- 4 air cams (air valve opening, beak and tail motion)

4 different melodies

1 adjustable whistle with 12 semitones (1 octave)
1 fusee-barrel connected by 1 micro chain of 404 links
4 cycles power reserve
Extreme miniature movement (dimensions in mm): length 81.85 x width 50.80 x height 25.45, including:
- Bellows: 28.95 x 45 x 10.50
- Mechanism: 52.90 x 50.80 x 25.45
- Bird: 25.21 x 9.25 x 17.84
- Oval lid: 40.60 x 30.80 x 12.00

Component Finishing
Two Available Versions: 4N Gold Plated or Black Rhodium Plated
Polishing and circular graining on circular surfaces
Fine shot-blasting above and underneath the lower parts and on the bellows components
Lengthways straightening above and underneath the upper parts
Lengthways Circular graining or drawing of levers
Locked polished iron screws, chamfered groove and circumference
Drawn sides
Bridges, wheels and cams with 4N gold plated or black rhodium plated
Other decorated parts with 4N pink gold metallic lac in the engraving, or black rhodium plated
Upper straightening of plates 3h – 9h
Polishing of chamfers and bevels

Special Finishing
Decoration of plate supporting pillars
Bellows plate engraved with two colours, matt satin-finished with 4N pink metallic lac in the engraving, including the Frères Rochat logo
Engraved plate with reference number
Engraved whistle unit
Engraved fast-slow gear bridge
Two-colour engraved power reserve bridge
Engraved upper plate with reference number and stamped with the hallmark

Singing Bird and Its Nest
Available In Two Versions: Pink Gold or Grey Gold
101 components
Bird’s independent head, wings, beak, tail and body movements
Bird body and head in 18 kt pink gold 4N or 18 kt grey gold PD150
Jewelled setting in 18 kt pink gold 4N or 18 kt grey gold PD150
Beak, wings and tail in grade 2 titanium
Bird’s eyes in spinel or black ceramic

Angles of rotation and fluttering
- Bird: 165°
- Head: 120°
- Wings: 40°
- Beak: 23°
- Tail: 5°

Velocity of movement
- Wings: up to 3 per second
- Beak: up to 9 per second
Length of performance: 25 seconds

Special Finishing
Nest plate and nest cover in 18 kt pink gold 4N or 18 kt grey gold PD150
Hand engraved Arabesque pattern, called “Florisane”

98 components
0,07 mm gut skin

Up to 4 different melodies
4 air cams and 4 song cams
Bird songs

Special Fittings
Cams nr. 3 and 4: birdsong (wood warbler)
Cams nr. 5 to 8: an extract from Mozart’s Symphony nr. 40 in G minor, KV.550

Technical Constraints
1 octave, 12 semitones, starting from C sharp, octave 6th, 2’221 Hz to C, octave 7th, 4’193 Hz
Value of the melody per cam: 6.35 seconds including 5.5 seconds for the melody, then a rest of 0.85 seconds, giving a total value of ca. 25 seconds for a melody per cycle.


Available in two versions: red gold or white gold
18 kt red gold 5N or 18 kt white gold PD210

Special Finishing
External decoration with “Ruby-Throated Hummingbird” theme grand-feu cloisonné enamelling, 16 different enamels
Illustration realized with 1 metre of gold wire
Cutting and fitting of gold foil
Inside covered with translucent enamel

Babylone Case
Available In Two Versions: Gold Plated Silver or Rhodium Plated Silver
102 components
Dimensions (in mm): length 139.29 x width 101.52 x height 40.60 (closed cover) and 65.60 (open cover)
4 spiral pillars
Glass plate made of mineral glass

Special Finishing
Precious metals: gold plated 925 silver G + 10 microns or rhodium plated plated 925 silver Hallmarks
- Balance
-  St-Bernard Head
-  Frères Rochat
Polished and graining matt pillars
Engraving under lower plate, the Frères Rochat logo and article reference number

Intemporis Case
Available In Two Versions: Gold Plated Silver or Rhodium Plated Silver
22 components
Dimensions (in mm): length 94.50 x width 66.26 x height 31.89 (closed cover) and 60.60 (open cover)

Special Finishing
Precious metals: gold plated 925 silver G + 10 microns or rhodium plated 925 silver

- Balance
- St-Bernard Head
- Frères Rochat
Polished and graining matt pillars
Engraving under lower plate, the Frères Rochat logo and article reference number

Jewel Case
Dimensions (in mm): length 352 x width 274 x height 200
Lacquered wood with Frères Rochat logo
Transparent mineral glass on top
Lacquered wood tray, leather-covered with hot stamped golden logo

Unique Pieces and Customisation
Non-Exhaustive List
Colouring work for the bridges, gears and cams
Custom-made plate and support pillar finishing
Custom-made engraving of the bellows plate, the whistle unit and the upper plate
“Pièce unique” (Unique piece) inscription on the bellows plate, guarantee of the uniqueness of the piece

Precious stones for the eyes
Colouring work for the wings, bird body, head and tail
Hand-engraving of the bird’s wings, bird body, head and tail

Enamelled Lid
Reproduction of chosen illustration
Original unique artistic creation

Choice of melody, within the technical constraints

Babylone Case
Setting of pillars with diamonds or coloured precious stones
Gem-setting of the ellipsis (lid rim)
Gold lower plate and pillars
Glass plate made of sapphire or “cristal de baccarat” or “lalique”
Inferior part of lower plate custom-engraved, with the “pièce unique” engraving

Intemporis Case
Lower and upper parts made of gold or other precious metals
Gem-setting of the ellipsis (lid rim)
Decoration of the upper part: hand-engraving, guilloché work, enamelling, gem-setting
and other decorative arts and crafts
Gem-setting decoration on the front
Inferior part of lower plate custom-engraved, with the “pièce unique” engraving

Contact details
Frères Rochat SA
Route du Campe 15
1348 Le Brassus

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