With origins in Geneva, Switzerland, the Singing bird box first appeared before the close of the 18th century. Pierre Jaquet-Droz is accredited for the invention. Born in 1721, the theology student converted to the study of "horology" or automata. There at Basel University, La Chaux de Fonds in the Swiss Jura, the enterprising young inventor was greatly influenced by the Bernoulli Brothers, professors of math and physics. Soon he was to marry and have a son, Louis, who would later accompany him in his work.
By 1770, it was published in a book Le Monde des Automata that Pierre had produced an early singing bird box in which the birdsong was produced by a pipe organ requiring a separate pipe for each note. In a short while, Jaquet-Droz partnered with Jean Frederic Leschot, Henri Maillardet. A variable pitch whistle replaced the pipe organ voice, and was now able to be miniaturized. By 1785 it was published in a british newspaper that the "snuffbox-sized" musical movements were the invention of this partnership. The warbling music boxes were widely popularized throughout Europe and the reputation of Jaquet-Droz catapulted to distinguished heights. For this reason, the Geneva-based firm established a London office. Though the product was made in Geneva, there has been confusion as to why the earlier coveted antique music boxes bear the name Jaquet-Droz London. Maillardet ran the London office while Leschot, and Jaquet-Droz continued their business in Switzerland.
Pierre Jaquet-Droz died November, 1790 at the age of 69 (his son died a year later at age 39) ending the partnership with Leschot and Maillardet though the latter remained good friends. Leschot continued to produce the music boxes using the name Jaques-Drot & Leschot London until his death in 1824. Maillardet remained in London where he made and repaired singing bird boxes until his death in 1815. He was capable of producing the basic mechanism, but sought help in obtaining the song or "air cam" which he ordered through Leschot from an outstandingly accomplished technician and mechanic named Jacob Frisard.
Frisard is an important name in the early singing bird box industry. A full-time employee of Leschot until 1800, he then initiated his own practice with an expertise in designing and cutting the cam sets used to produce the birdsong. He arranged his cams in a continuous spiral so that the no break occurred from the beginning to the end of the melodic warble. This was his distinctive design and he made many. Sadly, he was less of a businessman than inventor, and he died in 1812 after two unsuccessful exhibitions of his work in Zurich and Constantinople.
In 1814 Blaise Bontems was born in Le Menil, a village of eastern France. He became a master clockmaker, and then started his own singing bird box business in Paris. His designs featured life-sized birds with porcelain Limoges-painted panels on the sides of large cages. These unique singing bird boxes were exhibited at the London exhibition in 1851 and were entirely different than those of Jaquet-Droz. These Victorian models were available in nine varieties and were featured in a catalog dated 1910. Three generations of the Bontems family carried on the tradition of singing bird box manufacture until grandson Lucien's death in 1956. The firm was then purchased by Reuge of St. Croix in Switzerland. (Note: VICTORIAN TRADING COMPANY is a distributor of Reuge products in the U.S. today. They offer a more affordable Limoges-style musicbox as well- available for those wishing to enjoy the concept at a lesser expense.)
Another manufacturer of singing bird boxes is the Rochat family. Pierre Rochat was employed by Jaquet-Droz, and later was joined by his sons in Geneva where they produced the music boxes under the name Fréres Rochat (Rochat Brothers) stamped with FRand a 3-figure number. It was left to this manufacturer to continue the singing bird boxes as Leschot had retired and Frisard had left the country. The family produced high-quality music boxes until 1849.
The last of the great makers of singing bird boxes in the true tradition of Jaquet-Droz is the Bruguier family. Charles was born in Geneva in 1788, and later was employed in London where he worked on music boxes and other automata. His family returned to Geneva in 1823 where he further developed the mechanisms and enabled high-quality singing boxes to come within the reach of many people. His boxes were stamped with C. Bruguier a Geneve followed by a 3-digit number and were produced until 1850. After his death in 1862, the golden era of singing bird boxes came to an end.
Fortunately, the dying art of singing bird boxes has experienced a renaissance. The fact that the the original mechanism is still a standard for the music box production is in itself a sufficient tribute to the originator, Jaquet-Droz. However, the design was perfected by Karl Griesbaum in 1905 in Germany when he added safeguards and devices to include a slow-closing lid and safety device that prevents damage to the mechanism should the lid be closed during its' play. A "Karl Griesbaum Workshop" (meaning that the movements and mechanics are produced in exacting likeness to the originals manufactured in 1905) has been established in which the beloved music boxes are still being hand made in the Black Forest today. Other than the stamped number insignia that represents the registered date of manufacture, these heirloom boxes are indiscernible from the originals and are truly appreciable.
We offer these coveted treasures to you with the happiness that such a delightful invention may prevail into the twenty-first century!
VICTORIAN TRADING COMPANY has aligned themselves with Siegfried Wendel, the only authorized manufacturer of the singing bird box today. For an expense that many easily justify for jewelry, these rare and limited production art pieces are registered for verication as to an assured and increased value in years to come. Each is hand crafted of solid silver with feathered birds while utilizing ornamental motifs and mechanisms that have endured nearly 300 years. Loved ones will enjoy the birdsong along the way!