Jaquet-Droz pieces from the Forbidden City’s imperial collection on display in a unique exhibition in Hong Kong
Until April 10, 2019, The Hong Kong Jockey Club Series: Treasures of Time exhibition is running at the Hong Kong Science Museum. On display there are Jaquet-Droz clocks and automatons on loan from the private collections of the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City – an exceedingly rare move for an institution usually reluctant to allow such precious works beyond its walls. Treasures of Time is running in conjunction with the brand’s 280th anniversary celebrated throughout 2018.
The exhibition, organized with the support of the London Science Museum as well as the Palace Museum, gives visitors the chance to discover exceptional pieces, including the unique Jaquet-Droz creations that were the jewels of the Qing dynasty’s imperial collections. Essential components of life at the 18th century Imperial Court, these clocks and automatons bear witness to a fruitful relationship that dates back centuries. Incidentally, Emperor Qianlong himself was the first to translate the name "Jaquet-Droz" into Mandarin Chinese, and his translation remains in use to this day.
The Jaquet-Droz workshop in London established ties with Canton as early as 1774. Its agents there quickly won the favor of the Imperial Court of China. As such, Jaquet-Droz became the first Swiss clockmaking brand to be imported into the Forbidden City. The emperors of the Qing dynasty amassed an exceptional collection of original Jaquet-Droz creations. They were charmed by the naturalist aesthetic of the pieces and the art of astonishment exhibited by automatons in the form of clocks, snuffboxes and pocket watches. Infusing its work with poetry and the art of watchmaking, Jaquet-Droz brought to life singing bird cages and automatons that enchanted the Emperor and his subjects. This long-standing friendship between Jaquet-Droz and China saw the export of more than 600 pieces over a single decade in the time of Pierre Jaquet-Droz.
Treasures of Time also offers new perspectives on the pioneering developments to be found in these early automatons. It is their mechanical genius from three centuries ago that warranted the attention of the Hong Kong Science Museum, the London Science Museum and the Palace Museum. These watches, clocks and automatons were ahead of their time, exhibiting a rare degree of creativity and technical skill. They animated for the first time the relationship between nature, man and, later, humanoid automatons. Each of these pieces brings to the present day a legacy of Jaquet-Droz craftsmanship that dates back to the 18th century; miniature painting, engraving, enameling and gem-setting are techniques that keep the Art of Astonishment alive today.