As you may have noticed, it’s auction season. Yesterday we picked our favorite watches from the Christie’s Geneva sale and today I bring you a sneak peek of what Sotheby’s has to offer in New York on June 8th. Along with a fantastic collection of watches for sale (more on those later), the sale focuses on a group of “Mechanical Marvels” – a follow up to last year’s June sale of a similar group of pieces, including a singing bird scent bottle made by Jaquet Droz that sold for approximately $2.5 million.
This sale features 20 mechanical marvels and we were able to take a sneak peek at the top three: The Fire Brigade, the Magician’s Box, and the Singing Bird Coffret. These aren’t watches, but automatons: mobile, mechanical devices made to provide astonishment and amusement. They’re unbelievably ingenious, and have a fascinating history – there are accounts of automata (many in the form of self-propelled robots) throughout history, and they enjoyed enormous popularity during the Renaissance, when some of the period’s greatest artists experimented with them, including Da Vinci.
Lot 86: The Fire Brigade, $300,000-500,000
One of the most complicated automatons to come to market, this snuff box, featuring a scene of villagers putting out a fire, is possibly a unique piece. It is attributed to Piguet & Capt., Geneva, and is from around 1798-1809. It has 12, yes 12, motions – starting with the woman on the right pumping the water, which is made of engraved glass, and ending with the six people rotating within the burning building. To see the piece in action see the video above.
Lot 81: The Magician’s Box, $1,500,000-$2,500,000
The highlight of the sale, this Magician’s Box is incredibly rare and cool. Attributed to Piguet & Meylan, this intricate snuff box, made of yellow gold and enamel, captures the essence of the time with its magician-themed automaton. Here’s how it works: you place one of the 10 tiny enamel questions into the side of the box and after winding it, the box begins to play music while the magician waves his wand. At the end of the song, the tree branch on the left-hand side moves down to reveal the answer. The example we chose was, “What does every 16 year old girl want?” The answer? “A husband.” (Oh how times have changed.) These pieces are incredibly complicated and are best seen in person (though you can get a solid idea in the video above).
This is one of only six known Magician’s Boxes that have come to market. For more information on how it works, click here. It’s, you know, magical.
Lot 82: The Singing Bird Coffret, $400,000-600,000
One of five known similarly shaped boxes, this gold and enamel singing bird box from 1800 exemplifies incredible enamel-work throughout. The main thing to note about this singing bird box is that the bird remains upright even when the box is closed. The mechanism for this is attributed to Jacob Frisard, who back in the day was kind of the Elon Musk of singing bird mechanisms. Additionally, the case enameling is by Moulinié Bautte & Co., who were the best bijoutiers horlogers in town back in the 18th century. Click here for the full catalogue description.
For more of these mechanical marvels, check out the full flippable catalogue online here. In addition to these lovely little pieces there are hundreds of modern and vintage wristwatches to choose from. The sale will take place on June 8th in New York City.