In a Snail Shell

Hello Dear Readers!

I hope this finds you well. It’s hard to believe fall is already here. The summer seems to have passed in a blink. I love fall though – pumpkins and autumnal foliage abound, hence it’s that special time of year when we gather around to watch Over the Garden Wall.

Things at the workshop have been busy as usual with conservation work, guilloché commissions, and new making!

Following Segolene’s visit and work on Alphonsine, I found myself attempting to finish a project two years in the making! My first automaton.

I just returned from New York where I introduced the first automaton in my Medieval Bestiary series, Cochlea (Snail), as part of an exhibition on Craft at the Museum of Arts & Design. It will be on display there until March of 2019 – so if you’re in the New York area stop by! Here are a few photos and videos of it, as well as a short video from the opening night (I was pretty stoked!).

Thanks so much to the Horological Society of New York for their coverage of the exhibition!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Mechanical Mysteries | The Maillardet Automaton : Andrew Baron

I hope I’ve sparked your interest in learning more about automata. You won’t want to miss the final lecture in the Horological Lecture Series coming up on November 13th. Also held at the beautiful Stimson Green Mansion, this lecture promises to entertain adults and youngsters alike.

Clockmaker and paper engineer Andrew Baron will be discussing his work on the Maillardet writing and drafting automaton at the Franklin Institute. This iconic machine was the inspiration behind the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the Oscar winning motion picture Hugo.  Tickets and sponsorship available here.

 

Join us for an evening of horological enchantment, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and petit fours.

 

Tickets available here. 

 

Mechanical Mysteries | The Maillardet Automaton : Andrew Baron

 


New Horology Pins in the Memoria Technica Pin Line!

Two new enamel pins are coming to the shop soon, as well as the next edition of the workshop zine! For those of you subscribers, keep an eye on your post box in the following weeks.

To commemorate the first automaton in the bestiary series, I decided to make a limited run hard enamel pin of Cochlea.


snail

 

 

This pin is 35mm across and comes in nickel with white enamel and screen printed detail.

 

 


 

Pre-Order Cochlea Pin | USA

This limited edition nickel and white hard enamel pin with screen printed detail comes in at 35mm across and is finished with two pin backs and the Memoria Technica logo on the back. A celebration of the first automaton by Brittany N Cox, she is super proud of it and basically couldn’t stop herself from making a super cute pin version. Pin: $10 + $3 shipping

$13.00

Pre-Order Cochlea Pin | International

This limited edition nickel and white hard enamel pin with screen printed detail comes in at 35mm across and is finished with two pin backs and the Memoria Technica logo on the back. A celebration of the first automaton by Brittany N Cox, she is super proud of it and basically couldn’t stop herself from making a super cute pin version. Pin: $10 + $8 shipping

$18.00

The second pin has been in the works for some time and celebrates Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin’s marvelous mechanical orange tree trick. This soft enamel pin with green glitter detail has all the action of the original trick with vanishing and appearing handkerchief to boot!

 

 

 

Clockmaker & Magician Robert Houdin’s Orange Tree Pin | USA

This limited edition hard enamel pin with green glitter detail comes in at 62mm tall, as the handkerchief emerges. Just as in real life, as Houdin’s tree would produce a handkerchief carried by two butterflies, the pin features a movable component that conjures the past in the same fashion. As if appearing from the tree itself, the handkerchief rises to reveal the ring (or other article) vanished by the famous magician. The handkerchief can be worn in the up or down position. Pin $15 + $3 shipping

$18.00

Clockmaker & Magician Robert Houdin’s Orange Tree Pin | International

This limited edition hard enamel pin with green glitter detail comes in at 62mm tall, as the handkerchief emerges. Just as in real life, as Houdin’s tree would produce a handkerchief carried by two butterflies, the pin features a movable component that conjures the past in the same fashion. As if appearing from the tree itself, the handkerchief rises to reveal the ring (or other article) vanished by the famous magician. The handkerchief can be worn in the up or down position. Pin $15 + $8 shipping

$23.00


 

Sacred Geometry – Second Edition!

Al Collins and I went back to the drawing machine to add 17 patterns to the original book, making a total of 88 unique patterns. This is another limited run of 300. Now available for purchase here.

 

 


Publications, Print & Media

Keeper of Time Documentary

I’m excited to announce, I’ve been asked to be in a feature length documentary film called Keeper of Time. Documentary filmmaker Michael Culyba sets out to explore the history of horology, mechanical watchmaking, and the very concept of time itself. With interviews by watchmakers Roger W. Smith, Roland Murphy, F. P. Journe, and more! Check out the kickstarter and live events happening tomorrow here! I’ve made a few perks for backers, so if you’ve had your eye on a guilloché pen or pencil set, spinning top or the coloring book, check out the sponsorship packages.

 


Makers & Mystics Podcast

I also recently had the pleasure of discussing a few unique facets of horology with Stephen Roach of the Makers and Mystics podcast. If you’re like me and listen to way too many podcasts and want to learn more about magic, automata and more check out the episode here.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 6.16.45 PM


 

The Naked Watchmaker

People: 12 Questions Interview Series

I was excited to give this interview, as it gave me a chance to talk about a few of the challenges and experiences in my career. It also delved a bit into my childhood, so have a read if you’ve ever been curious to know why I turned out so strange.

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Last, but not least, I am still working on my book for Penguin. I was given the opportunity to expand on the original outline, incorporating a lot more history and esoteric facets of this field I love with all my heart. As always, I can’t wait to share it with you, so I’ll be sure to keep you posted as a publication date nears!

Thank you so much dear readers for your continued support and encouragement. I couldn’t do this work without kind folks like you who share my love for horology.

Mysterious Rochat Box Number “7.”

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.

mechanical singing bird, rochat, brittany cox, nico cox, nicole cox, automata, automaton, clockmaking, watchmaking, bellows, technology, conservation

Box lid closed & open

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.

trade mark under front hinge sm

Trademarks under the front hinged panel

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.

Box number "135."

Box number “135.”

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.

"7."

“7.”

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.

Bird emerges sm

Little Pan (as I call him) emerging from the lid

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….

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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?

Box "339."

Box “339.”

In addition to these other oddities, the layout of the mechanism seems quite early compared with other Rochat boxes of equal complexity.

Box Panel Off sm

The closed front panel contains the watch and music box of box number “7.”

The watch & music mechanism

The watch & music mechanism

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.

Singing_bird_box_by_Frères_Rochat,_circa_1820

A Rochat box with music and striking watch

338_HK_mag_04M

A Rochat box with music

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 bcox@mechanicalcurios.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.

The Silver Case for the Automaton Ship

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Case making is no easy feat! Being a silver-smith is one of the nobler pursuits (in my opinion). John Norgate, my mentor and silver-smith extraordinaire, is one of the most spectacular people I have ever met (but I am probably biased). From the way he shuffles about to the way he always says “Ta!” as an exclamation of thanks.

I am endlessly grateful for his insight and encouragement throughout the making of the silver case.

Original case drawing

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I started out with .80mm silver sheet. The task was to transform this sheet into a case that would fit the automaton ship. Because the mechanism for the ship is an odd shape and as a conservator, modifying the mechanism in any way to fit the case is unacceptable, the case needed a very specific design. I decided to use existing screw holes in the mechanism plates and make a steel former that could be used to shape the silver sheet.

I based the shape of the case around other cases of the 19th century.

Silver lighter case

Silver lighter case

Shagreen compass case

Shagreen compass case

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As this is the only known object of this type, the case could not be based off of other examples. I looked at small silver cases for the pocket. Many of these were covered in shagreen, a material historically used to cover portable compass sets , spectacle cases, and other objects carried by in the pocket. Shagreen is amazingly durable, being made from ray skin, and has been used in a variety of applications, from furniture to decorative objects.

Shagreen

Shagreen

Once I had annealed the silver several times and hammered it into shape, I had two cushioned shaped pieces of silver. These I soldered together and then cut what would be the lid.

Two halves and steel cushion former

Two halves and steel cushion former

Bezel and aperture

Bezel and aperture

I made the bezel for the mechanism in the bottom half of the case and soldered the pieces into place. After which, the aperture for the ship and scenery was soldered to the inside of the lid.

The next step was the reeded wire. Cases of this period sometimes had a reeded wire that followed the lid of the case and joined the hinge at the back, making the hinge invisible. While this seemed ambitious, I am always committed to quality and love a good challenge. I took a strip of silver and hammered it into a circular shape, and then soldered the two ends together. This was put on a box wood former and turned on the lathe with a modified file.

Taking an old file, I annealed it, filed out the profile I wanted the wire to have, hardened it again and used it as a graver to cut the silver down. I then soldered the wire in place.

Reeded wire and graver

Reeded wire and graver

Following this I made the hinge from silver tube, drawn down with candle wax and a brass pin, to the appropriate diameter. These were cut into knuckles and soldered on both the top and bottom part of the case and onto the reeded wire.

Silver hinge knuckles

Silver hinge knuckles

The hinge and wire

The hinge and wire

Many hours were then spent on cleaning, polishing, and finishing both the inside and outside of the case.

The case after polishing

The case after polishing

The real challenge now came. I needed to drill blind holes in the case for the winding bezel and start stop buttons. I won’t reveal how I ended up doing this part, but I will say it included lots of double sided tape!

Abby at work

Abby at work

I took the case to the books department at West Dean College and approached my friend and talented colleague Abigail Uhteg. I asked if she wanted to collaborate on the covering of the case. I researched some shagreen distributors in London and chose an appropriate color for covering the case. Abby took it from there. I won’t reveal her secrets, but she does a fantastic job of leading you through the process of how she covered the case in her post Shagreen Covering for a Silver Case.

Once the case was covered I added the winding bezel and start stop button and a hinge safety lock. The winding bezel and safety lock were made to mirror the style of the readed wire.

The reeded wire, winding bezel, and hinge safety lock

The reeded wire, winding bezel, and hinge safety lock

I then finished the case with the addition of some beautifully faded 19th century blue silk provided by the owner.

In went the completed ship and mechanism – and voila!

The completed piece

The completed piece

I will cover the work on the ship and scenery in a later post, but for now I am off to pick up a few treats for my cat Baxter. He’s been pretty good this week 😉

Baxter Sebastian Sterling (aka Mr Moustache Pistachio)

Baxter Sebastian Sterling (aka Mr Moustache Pistachio)

The Automaton Ship

My favorite restoration object came to me in a small metal tobacco tin as a broken mechanism with the promise of great reward. It’s small – about 3 cm across by 4 cm high and 2 cm deep. It’s known as the fairy ship – a miniature ship automaton that plays “God Save the King”.

No one has ever seen anything like it. This includes every restorer, museum, and historian I could find! There are no pictures of relatives or records of its origin. The owner wanted me to restore it to working order and make a case for it. (The owner and his wife are an amazingly talented team and have workshop in Scotland restoring mostly Golden Age French automata. See their website here)

With a background as jeweller and watchmaker, I felt confident that I was the right person for the job! The challenges at first seemed daunting, but rising to meet them made me a better conservator and strengthened my patience and reserve ten fold.

God Save the King the automaton ship and silver shagreen case

The ship as it was received

I have posted and published on this piece before. You can find the article in the AHS (Antiquarian Horological Society Journal) here and the West Dean blog post here, but I thought the piece deserved a bit more explanation. I will elaborate on bits and pieces of the process in a post from time to time.

Pinned musical cylinder in a pocket watch

Pinned musical cylinder in a pocket watch

Restoring the mechanism to working order required hours of problem solving – and a lot of solitary pondering in the West Dean workshops late into the night.

The object has an early type of music mechanism. These were short lived – as they didn’t work very well – and were replaced by the flat disc mechanism and miniature pinned cylinders found in pocket watches.

As the music mechanism used in the fairy ship is very rare, I had not encountered a similar one before. A couple of the comb teeth offered a feeble note at best when plucked by hand and the pinned music barrel didn’t coax a note from the comb at all.

Music comb

Music comb

I wondered –

where do I start? the bearings in the barrel body and cap are both worn – making the barrel run out of true – so both bearings need bushing. The mainspring is slipping inside the barrel. The pins on the comb are all rounded and worn down. The comb doesn’t sit flat, but at an angle. The teeth of the comb are all different lengths and shapes and sit at different angles….and on and on and on….

I finally decided to resolve each of these in turn and go on from there, but these were just a fraction of the problems in need of resolution.

The scenery and the ship were in a state and I needed to make a case from scratch. My previous experience with case making included a single hinged gilt box fabricated from gilding metal. Gilding metal is really difficult to work with – it sticks to files and eats saw blades by the dozen. A bit of bees wax on the blade can reduce casualties – but plan on starting with a full pack and ending up with half when all is said and done when working with gilding metal.

Starting with the mechanism I made a duplicate music barrel with pins varying in height, angle, and shape in order to investigate possible resolutions for the problems in the original barrel.

TDtest barrel

Rough technical drawing test barrel

Test barrel completed

Test barrel completed

nico cox

Test barrel and original

I found that the shape and height of the pins made the greatest difference to resonance of the comb. Once the best pin shape and height had been identified, I altered all the present pins on the original barrel until they produced a sound on the comb. The replacement of a missing pin put the barrel back into operation after resolving the other aforementioned issues.

I will go into the construction of the silver case in a subsequent post, but for now I’m off to my local co-op to get some groceries for dinner. My sister recently relocated to Seattle and is making kale and potato enchiladas!

The Gentleman Smoker- The Mechanism

The mechanism of the Smoker is rather simple.

Automaton Smoker Hugo Clocks watch watchmaking clockmaking

Bellows and mechanism

The train is driven by a single spring driven barrel. Attached to the barrel is a series of cams that control the motions of the Smoker – the movement of the head, the opening and closing of the mouth, and the lifting of the hands. The barrel also drives an intermediate wheel and fly – controlling the speed of the motions, the blinking of the eyes, and the inhalation and exhalation of the smoke into the bellows.

Hugo Cabaret automata michael and maria start

Cams

The mechanism had been worked on before, as someone scratched words onto the components detailing which cam corresponds to which motion. This is not something that as I conservator I would remove – but would preserve as part of the object’s past. It is also something I strongly discourage. A good conservator should not leave their own fingerprints (literally and figuratively), but preserve those of the past.*

Traces of the past

Traces of the past

The largest problem with smoking automata, are the problems that arise with the bellows system and not so much with the mechanism. The bellows coverings are the first thing to break down, as they are made of organic materials that are directly in contact with cigarette smoke – a highly toxic and corrosive substance.

Effects of long term cigarette smoke exposure

Effects of long term smoke exposure

This is a serious issue for this type of automaton as every time the bellows system needs repair, the figure must be undressed and the paper mache body opened. Collateral damage to these materials is inevitable when the mechanism is in need of repair. This was the focus of my MA studies. I wanted to identify a modern material that could stand up to long term exposure to smoke and its effects, while still serving the functions of a bellows covering material.

The functions of the bellows valve system must be checked for proper action before the bellows frame is recovered.

Vichy smoker automaton bellows system

Internal valve system

The valve lever rivet must be free enough on the frame to allow the blued steel spring to move the brass valve disc from the inhalation to the exhalation pipe, but be tight enough to keep the disc in tension against the frame so it doesn’t drop off.

Brittany Cox Nico Cox MA west dean college

Smoking bellows

After preliminary tests were carried out for my MA, I recovered the bellows with Tyvek coated in a pH neutral acrylic medium to ensure airtightness. I talk about recovering bellows here. This material proved to be the most reliable and stable over time.  The tubing for the smoke transference was replaced with a material used in the medical industry, as the original tubing of volcanized rubber had severely degraded, becoming brittle and fractured.

hugo automata michael and maria start

Original smoke transference tubing

After the bellows system was restored, all the proper checks were carried out, and the mechanism was overhauled the Smoker was ready for its first cigarette in a long time. You will be invited to join him in a subsequent post.

Hugo Cabaret Vichy Smoker automaton

Mechanism and bellows after conservation

*not in all cases – for example a carriage clock where the plates are visible and are beautifully bright, but are etched with a dark fingerprint – this is something that would require consideration and likely removal.