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THE SINGING BIRD COFFRET
A SUPERB GOLD, ENAMEL AND PEARL OVAL COFFRET ENCLOSING A SINGING BIRD MADE FOR THE TURKISH MARKET ATTRIBUTED TO JACOB FRISARD BOX BY MOULINIÉ BAUTTE CIE GENEVA CIRCA 1800
• in the form of an oval coffret, the hinged cover finely enameled with an elaborate display of flowers and fruit within a border of running grapevine, executed in graduated split pearls, translucent green leaves entwining a red band all on blue ground, this border repeated on the base, the pearls replaced by white enamel, the sides with four further vignettes of flowers and fruit on pink ground, surfaces of translucent green enamel on engine-turned ground, the cover opening to reveal a brightly feathered singing bird with swiveling body, moving wings, tail and beak on a free standing spray of green enamel leaves above the top plate which is finely enameled with a bird's nest within a bower of roses, tulips, wisteria and other spring flowers • the bird playing on demand, its song released by pulling a cord mounted at the front • the oval movement carrying the circular bellows, piston, whistle and fly, wheels mounted on a half plate • the lid stamped three times with the goldsmith's maker’s mark MB&C incuse in lozenge for Moulinié Bautte & Cie., • contemporary red leather case
length 78 mm
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Provenance

Prominent American Family until present

Catalogue Note

This lot is one of five known similarly shaped boxes, the nearly identical piece to the current lot is cited by Alfred Chapuis, ‘Une oeuvre inédite de Jacob Frisard’, Revue suisse d’art et archéologie, vol. 11, 1950, pp. 244/5, ill. pl. 86, and was formerly in the collection of A La Vielle Russie, Paris.. The others now reside in notable collections.  Patek Philippe Museum has one of a pair, see Peter Friess, Patek Philippe Museum, The Emergence of the Portable Watch, 2015, vol. IV, pp. 124-125, while its pair is in the Sandoz Collection, see Bernard Pin, The Maurice Sandoz Collection vol. II  pp. 138-143 and vol. III p. 126. Another of basket form, is in the Musee du Louvre, inv. no. 0A2343.  Bernard Pin notes that the enamel work may be by the Geneva enameler, Abraham Lissignol.

Jacob Frisard (1753-1810), an inventive mechanical genius, is credited with many of the advances which brought Swiss automata and singing bird boxes to their highest peak at the beginning of the 19th century. Jacob, son of Louis Frisard and his wife, Marie-Madelaine Bourquin, was born in January 1753, in the village of Villeret, near Berne, in the Swiss Jura. Following family tradition, he served his apprenticeship as a clockmaker in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

According to Christian & Sharon Bailly, Oiseaux de Bonheur, (Geneva, 2001), he then worked for clock makers in Turin for around 12 years from 1772, where he married Catherine Vastapani in 1778. The couple were to produce at least 14 children and concern for his numerous progeny seems to have influenced many of Frisard's work decisions, leading him to flee Geneva for Bienne in 1792, under the threat of the French invasion of Savoy. Earlier the couple had moved to Carouge, outside the city of Geneva, around 1784. Frisard was making watches at this time as well as working closely on mechanical inventions with the Jaquet-Droz and their associate Frédéric Leschot. The Frisard family apparently did not return to Geneva until the turn of the century and it is from the surviving letters Leschot wrote to Frisard during the Bienne years that much of the information we have about Jacob's working life, skills and character has been gleaned. There is no doubt that he was a mécanicien of paramount ability and he has been credited with inventing the mechanism that enabled the lids of singing bird boxes to close smoothly after the bird itself has slipped back into its nest. He himself felt that his talents had been somewhat over shadowed by the fame of the Jaquet-Droz and Leschot name, endeavoring in later years to promote his own more elaborate creations by travelling to the same extent they had. Indeed, it was on the return from a visit to Constantinople that Frisard died in a small town in Bulgaria in 1810.

Due to the long association with the Jaquet-Droz & Leschot partners, surviving singing bird boxes or automata with Frisard's signature on the mechanism are extremely rare.

Best-known of the Geneva bijoutiers horlogers in the first half of the 19th century was Jean-François Bautte (1772-1837), whose reputation became almost legendary. Jean-François was the son of Abraham Bautte, an enameler, and his wife Marie Anne Mare. On 19 May 1789, he was formally apprenticed to Moulinié & Blanchot, watchcase makers, both of whom had been received as masters the previous year. Jean-François is said to have been first apprenticed at the age of 12, so presumably his first master had died or he felt in need of a second term of apprenticeship. Jacques-Dauphin Moulinié (1761-1838) and Jean-François Bautte registered a company together in 1796, stating that it had been in existence since 1 August 1793, with a nine year contract. On 1 October 1804, a new company, Moulinié, Bautte & Co., was created for four years with the addition of Jean-Gabriel Moynier (1772-1840), previously working in the partnership of Mestral, Cellier & Moynier. The new partnership was registered not just as watch case makers but more generally 'pour la commerce d'horlogerie et bijouterie'. From 1808 until 1821 when Moulinié retired, the firm was known as Moulinié, Bautte & Moynier, subsequently as Bautte & Moynier until 1826. The business was continued as J.F. Bautte & Cie., even after Jean-François's death in 1837, by his son Jacques and son-in-law Jean Samuel Rossel, until 1855 when it became Rossel-Bautte & Cie. The firm had grown rapidly in size and importance, already employing 60 in-house and 30 external workers by 1810. As with the firm of Jean-George Rémond, it is evident that a large part of Bautte's success came from energetic trade abroad, with China and the Middle East and particularly in their case in Italy and Paris, where Bautte had first entered a goldsmith’s mark in 1808.

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