Merveilleux mouvements…surprenantes mécaniques
Musée international d'horlogerie,
Rue des Musées 29, 2300 La Chaux-de-Fonds
Du mardi au dimanche, de 10h00 à 17h00


Automates & merveilles à la Chaux-de-Fonds :
Merveilleux mouvements… surprenantes mécaniques

Le Grand Magicen, Maillardet, coll. MIH
Coll. Museum für Musikautomaten, Seewen

Automata and marvels
Marvellous movements… amazing mechanisms

Automata are often designed as display and demonstration pieces, intended to surprise, astound and amaze the public.

In fact, surprise, astound and amaze will be the theme behind the temporary exhibition on display at the Musée international d'horlogerie.

The key piece in this exhibition will be "La Musicienne" (The Lady Musician) by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, which illustrates one of the major points of this theme, the automated production of music, represented by music boxes and musical automata, barrel organs, mechanical musical instruments, and all sorts of chimes and sets of bells.

To amaze and astound the public, mysterious clocks, perpetual movement mechanisms, "celestial" automata, such as orreries and clocks with complex astronomical indications will be on display, providing another highlight of the exhibition. A collection of objects selected to show that the ability of the 18th century mechanical engineers and watchmakers to invent and create these kinds of instruments continues to this day.

By way of 34 stopping points, from the pool at the entrance to the museum to the Carillon sculpture in the Parc des musées, the visitor is able to discover the movement of automata and the sounds of musical clocks. Keys are used as the symbol for the suggested stops, with each one displaying information on the subject in question:

  • the surprisings movements Geiser "perpetual movement" clock mechanisms or Vachey's monumental clock  
  • the marvellous movements of the two large pairs of elephants or Malliardet's magicians
  • the music of the heavens in the Ducommun or Janvier orreries
  • light-hearted music in the creations of the Basel artist Martin Müller or alarm clocks with automata
  • the music in the Fox and the Stork or Jaquet-Droz' "La Musicienne" clock room
  • the music of the pocket bird snuff box or jacquemart and musical watches
  • the contemporary music of the Carillon sculpture.

This is a living, interactive exhibition: Every day, the sound of the barrel organ or the "Railway Station" automaton can be heard at regular intervals, while major automaton pieces from the 18th century to modern times will be on display at the Théâtre des automates (Automaton theatre), honouring their original use: these types of pieces were often on show at annual fairs, which visitors paid to enter, and were originally designed for this kind of theatrical set-up. "La Musicienne" (The Lady Musician) will accompany a precious birdcage, Maillardet's magician or even the Flying carpet, a contemporary work by François Junod, at demonstrations which take place to a set timetable:

One of the most fascinating stops in the tour is the Robosphère [a future park which uses the fascinating world of robots to persuade us to think about our relationship with technology]. This section gives a glimpse into the world of robots, the high-tech descendants of the mechanical automata. The spring is replaced as an energy source by electricity, and role of the cams, the driving forces in automata, is played by computer programmes.

The museum's cafeteria houses the Robot Snack, the first robot able to serve coffee, soft drinks, an apple or even make candy floss!

While in the Pas Perdus, Gilberto, a charming robot standing at 2 m and weighing 100 kg will introduce visitors to the mysteries of the robot world which awaits us! Robot workshops are on offer throughout the duration of the exhibition.