Pierre Jaquet-Droz was born in 1721 on a small farm (La Ferme de Sur le Pont) in La Chaux-de-Fonds. He began to take a serious interest in clockmaking and precision mechanics under the tutelage of older relatives from the Brandt-di-Grieurin, Sandoz and Robert families. It proved to be a true revelation for him
Firmly established in his profession, he married Marianne Sandoz in 1750. Soon after the birth of his two children, Julie in 1751 and Henri-Louis in 1752, Pierre Jaquet-Droz lost his wife and then his daughter in 1755. He never remarried, devoting himself entirely to clockmaking.
In an encounter that would change the course of his life and prove decisive to his international career, he met George Keith, Lord Marischal, Governor of the principality of Neuchâtel, who advised him to present his creations abroad, especially in Spain where he could help introduce him to the court. With this support, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his father-in-law and a young hired hand named Jaques Gevril, built a special carriage designed to carry six clocks and left for Spain in 1758.
Upon his return to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1759, the large sum of money brought back from Spain enabled Pierre Jaquet-Droz to concentrate exclusively on making watches,
clocks and automata destined to become famous. He set to work, assisted by his son Henri-Louis and a neighbor’s son, Jean-Frédéric Leschot, whom he took in after the boy’s mother died
and thought of as his own. This was the beginning of a close and fruitful partnership.
In 1774, Pierre Jaquet-Droz decided to set up a workshop in London, a hub for industry and trade, under the management of his son Henri-Louis. Obliged to travel extensively, the latter was compelled to delegate some of his duties and entrusted management of the London operation to Jean-Frédéric Leschot. One of Leschot’s responsibilities was to oversee the business relationship with the prominent trading company James Cox London, whose agents in Canton opened up the Far Eastern market for the Jaquet Droz Company and for many years represented it in China, India and Japan. In the heart of 18th-century Beijing, the emperor himself and the Mandarins at the Imperial Court collected masterpieces by Pierre Jaquet-Droz. Qianlong, the fifth emperor of the Qing Dinasty, was engrossed by his interest in European mechanical clocks and automata. He set up his own national office with hundreds of employees to import and trade these watches and automata from Europe.
For some ten years, the company continued to expand. It sold clocks, automata, watches and singing birds all over the world, especially in China. But the harsh climate of La Chaux-de-Fonds and the insidious London fog was detrimental to Henri-Louis’ precarious state of health.
In 1784, he decided to move to Geneva, finding its artistic and literary life to his taste. Jean-Frédéric Leschot soon joined him and they decided to open the city’s first clockmaking manufacture, one year before Vacheron Constantin set up shop, simultaneously introducing the production of timekeepers with major complications. The talent and interest shown by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz and Jean-Frédéric Leschot in the civic life of Geneva was quickly noted and approved. The City of Geneva presented both of them with the coveted Bourgeois d’Honneur Award, and welcomed their involvement in municipal activities. Jaquet-Droz was admitted to the newly reinstated Société des Arts, which was very active in the advancement of technical training.
He helped set up a factory-school in Geneva to make cadratures for repeater watches, developed many projects bearing on watchmaking technique and was an advocate for the professions associated with watchmaking. Pierre Jaquet-Droz moved into the house of a clockmaker named Dental, at the corner of rue Molard and rue du Rhône, which housed the workshops and his son’s apartment.
In 1784, Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz headed three production and profit centers: one in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a second in London as well as a third in Geneva dedicated to low-volume horological production. After moving to Geneva, Jaquet-Droz & Leschot specialized in the manufacture and export of luxury watches featuring automata, musical mechanisms or other complications, in the meantime developing their production of singing birds. Sales were handled by agents in France for the most part, but also in London and Canton.
In 1788, the success and prosperity of Jaquet-Droz & Leschot peaked, but this period was of short duration. In 1790, drafts made on their principal correspondent in China came back unpaid and their principal client in London failed, putting the company in the red. The partnership with Henri Maillardet had to be liquidated.
Since the brand was acquired in 2000 by the Swatch Group, it has returned to its town of origin, La Chaux-de-Fonds and moved into its new Atelier de Haute Horlogerie in the summer of 2010.
The new premises, occupying 2,500 m2, will provide further incentive to grow and succeed. Like Jaquet-Droz timepieces, they reflect consummate expertise and craftsmanship enriched by the distinctive spirit of the house. Today, the brand is well equipped to respond to strong market demand and the aspirations of its clientele.
For more detailed reference, please visit Jaquet Droz’s official website
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