Frères Rochat: Mechanics brought to life

Frères Rochat breathe life into a tiny mechanical bird.

When, in 1813, the Rochat brothers succeeded in developing a miniature mechanical music box which breathed life into a tiny, fully-feathered metal bird, allowing it to move and sing quite naturally it was still possible to believe in magic. Today, 200 years on, the magic has returned.

The entrepreneur Stéphane Velan made a dream come true when he re-vived a 200-year-old tradition of Swiss watchmaking. In 2013 he re-launched the company Frères Rochat, and today, together with the best watchmakers and precision engineers, he constructs a modern interpre-tation of the chirping music box. We met Velan for an interview at the headquarters of Frères Rochat in Le Brassus:

Monsieur Velan, for the last year you have had a product on the market whose seven-figure price tag positions it firmly in the top luxury sector. What makes you certain that Frères Rochat will succeed?
We have already sold a number of them to a clientele for whom only the best is good enough. We have received so many orders that there is now a waiting list of over six months. Our distribution system is so well organised that we are in direct contact with all our customers. I can assure you that when I hand over the box to the customer, regardless of their age, their eyes light up and their jaw drops. The continued success of the mechan-ical clock has proven that electronic gadgets cannot replace emotionally charged objects. The attraction to mechanisms which imitate life is end-less. I only have to remind you of Jaquet Droz or the film 'Hugo Cabret'.

Where is your workshop?
Our atelier is located in Le Brassus in the Vallée de Joux, where the Rochat family began their career over 200 years ago.

Stellen Sie dort alles selbst her?
Unsere Meisteruhrmacher montieren dort die 1227 Komponenten zu fertigen Spieldosen und justieren die 20 Komplikationen ein, eine Arbeit, die so viel Fachverständnis bedingt, dass nur die Besten für uns in Frage kamen. Bei der Konstruktion und für die Herstellung der Komponenten wandten wir uns an einen anerkannten Uhrmacher der Haute Horlogerie.

Is everything made there by hand?
Our master watchmakers assemble the 1227 components in the atelier to produce the music boxes and adjust the 20 complications, a task that requires so much technical understanding that only the very best watchmakers came into consideration. For the construction and manufacture of the components we turned to a renowned watchmaker from Haute Horlogerie.

Can you tell us more?
Christophe Claret in Le Locle is considered to be one of the very best manufacturers of highly complicated wristwatches. He was enthusiastic about our idea from the start and agreed to help us design and manufacture the mechanical components. The production of high-precision micro-components requires not only excellent craftsmen, but also machinery for working metal parts with tolerances in the micrometre range.
 In addition, we need specialists who are familiar with the inner workings of the valuable originals, which can be found in museums and private collections. These are watchmakers who specialise in the restoration of such treasures. With their help it has been possible to reconstruct the features and functions of the Rochat brothers' miracle boxes.

What happens when you press the lever on the side of the box?
The oval lid in the centre of the box springs open and a golden bird, no bigger than a cube of sugar, rises up above a finely engraved gold nest. The little creature, consisting of 101 individual components, immediately starts to chirp while moving its beak. It moves its little head in all directions, turns back and forth, flaps its little wings and bobs its tail feathers up and down as if it were alive. It sings four different melodies and then disappears silently back into its nest.
 With transparent boxes you can see the mechanical operations inside that make the illusion possible: the fusée-barrel micro-chain for transmitting power, the cams to control movement and song, and the bellows and miniature whistle that allow the bird to sing.

How many models are there?
We offer two basic models, Babylone and Intemporis, with virtually limitless possibilities for customisation. We work with the very best craftsmen, including enamel artists, engravers, gem-setters and goldsmiths, who together are able to fulfil every wish.

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