I have had the recent privilege of working on a very peculiar singing bird box by Rochat. So far my inquiries have not revealed any knowledge of this particular Rochat box.
The 18k vari-coloured gold engine turned diamond adorned box houses three gilt mechanisms, including chain fusée and cylindrical bellows for the singing bird automaton, controlled by a stack of 8 cams, separate watch movement with centre-seconds, cylinder escapement, plain three arm balance, and musical pin barrel with a stack of seven vibrating steel plates, each with three tuned teeth. The front of the box displays the petite enamel watch dial enclosed by mineral glass and a split pearl bezel. The proper left side of the box opens to reveal the snuff compartment. A hinged panel located on the front of the box, when lifted reveals the watch face and five square arbors. A small pictorial engraving designates the function of each arbor. Levers on the front and back panels activate the singing bird and musical mechanisms. The box is complete with two gold engraved keys for operating and setting the complications. The lid bears the monogram of the 19th century Ottoman Prince Shehzade Mahmud Celaleddin Efendi (d. 1888), son of the Turkish Sultan Abdul Aziz.
The case was made by Jean Georges Rémond, an important case maker in Geneva, who supplied cases for Jaquet Droz, Rochat, and many other prominent automata makers of the period.
It seems possible to date the case based on the stamp of Rémond, as we know he was active from 1783 to 1815-20. He became a Master goldsmith on 22 December 1783, the first year during which he struck his Master mark. Seven years after, he appears to have formed a company: Georges Rémond & Cie., which eventually became Rémond, Mercier, Lamy & Cie. During the French occupation of Switzerland (1798-1815) by Napoléon, J.-G. Rémond’s recorded marks were in accordance with the laws of the newly formed Département of Léman. During this time his initials appear within a lozenge. From 1815 to 1820, the firm Lamy, Rémond, Mercier, Daniel Berton, used a similar mark, but no longer enclosed within a lozenge. It seems that Rémond must have either retired or died during this partnership, since in 1820 a new firm of Mercier, Blondel and Berton was formed. However this new company only lasted a further seven years, until 14 April 1827.
The stamp on this particular box is the four letters “GRCI” enclosed in a lozenge. Dating the box some time after 1798, but before 1815. Left of Rémond’s stamp appears the oval stamp of Freres Rochat “FR”.
Rochat box number “1.” is dated 1804 and there is some discrepancy about when exactly the Rochat family relocated to Geneva. Some sources maintain it was as early as 1803, others, as late as 1813. Either way, Rémond was supplying boxes to Jaquet Droz while the Rochats were under Droz’s employ. It is possible that even if the Rochat family were not yet in Geneva, a Rémond box could have been supplied for an early Rochat movement.
The serial number on this box is found on the top plate. It is a singular “7.” unaccompanied by the Rochat stamp. It is very similar to other serial numbers by Rochat. If indeed this is number 7, the difference in style of the number could be accounted for as well as the missing Rochat stamp.
Other characteristics of the mechanism, box, bird and layout lend themselves to the idea. The bird is oddly shaped when compared with other Rochat birds. He is quite plump, with a small short head, petite beak, and full chest. Don’t get me wrong, I find him to be truly lovely – one of the sweetest birds I have ever worked with, but he is certainly different.
Here are some other Rochat birds in cases made by Rémond. In my estimation, most of the Rochat birds look like these – slimmer body, longer beak, longer head, thinner chest….
I have found one other bird that is very close in style and appearance to Pan. The bird of Rochat box number “339.” The description of this box, written by the auction house that sold it, maintains that it is a very early Rochat, made sometime around 1810, but we know from the research of Sharon & Christian Bailly and Geoffrey Mayson, that box “339.” had to have been made after 1826. So if box number “7.” was made between 1789 and 1815, why are these birds so similar?
In addition to these other oddities, the layout of the mechanism seems quite early compared with other Rochat boxes of equal complexity.
Other Rochat boxes with the same complications display a more elegant layout with a more robust musical barrel and striking watch work housed separately, the music in the main compartment and the watch under the front panel.
You can also observe the difference here between Pan and these birds, though they are all three in cases by Rémond and have the same complications. These boxes are vaguely dated as well, circa 1810 or 1820. Unfortunately, there were no photographs posted of their serial number or makers marks for comparison with number “7.”
This is just a summary of a few facets of a truly complicated and rich story behind box number “7.” If it truly is box number “7.” it was made between 1804 and 1805. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to know. You can always reach me via email at email@example.com
Now for your viewing pleasure – here is box number “7.” running after a long three weeks worth of work – don’t be fooled though, there is still more work to be done. And a lucky someone will have the privilege of listening to little Pan every day if they want to – as he will soon be up for sale in the upcoming December auction at Bonhams in New York.