MB&F have boldly ventured beyond watches in the past, but Kelys and Chirp marks the disruptive brand’s first automaton.
by James Buttery
MB&F doesn’t just make watches, its machines extend to robot desk clocks (through ‘friend’ L’Epee), a pen fit for space and starship music boxes more likely to play renditions of John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack than the Blue Danube.
Its latest co-creation with music box specialist Reuge (and automata expert Nicolas Court) is not another music box but the brand’s first automaton, those marvelous sculptures brought to life using mechanical means.
Kelys and Chirp is a ‘crawling’ tortoise which hides a secret; its uppermost leather-clad scute pops up to reveal a singing bird automaton with articulated beak, wings and tail that dances around as it ‘chirps’ its tuneful song. Pushing Kelys’ tail down sets it off on a 35cm walk and prepares Chirp for a recital, flipping the tail up sets Chirp off, allowing Kelys to rest.
What is perhaps surprising about Kelys (from the ancient Greek tortoise-based instrument Chelys) and Chirp is that none of the fundamentals are particularly new in themselves, what is new is the combination of those elements.
Watchmaker Raul Pagès’ first professional creation was a white gold diamond and sapphire-set automaton tortoise that appear to crawl by means of a mechanical movement and singing bird automaton were a perennial favourite as far back as the 16th Century when Pierre Jaquet Droz mastered his craft.
What Reuge and Nicolas Court have achieved is bringing together two separate mechanisms and having one control the other, there’s even an onboard sensor to prevent the whole thing tumbling off the edge of a tabletop.
Whilst Chirp is formed of 18ct white gold, Kelys’ shell, legs and head are milled from brass and rhodium-plated before being set with onyx eyes and calfskin leather covering the 12 scutes of its shell. Inside is a movement with an elliptical gear train to present the appearance of a more natural, irregular gait. In reality it’s not the legs that propel Kelys forward but an arrangement of wheels hidden beneath the carapace. Kelys is formed from 100 components but is controlled by the more complex singing bird mechanism of Chirp. The bird consists a 30 separate components alone whilst a further 90 make up the miniature double bellows which give Chirp its, well, chirp.
On a full wind the movement contains sufficient power reserve for three full ‘tail down’ sequences and should anyone attempt to interfere with Chirp whilst in the middle of its routine a security mechanism engages and withdraws the bird, closing the shell behind him.
Kelys and Chirp is priced at £45,600.