Lot 134
  • 134

Frères Rochat

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Frères Rochat
  • yellow gold, pink gold, white gold, pearl, ivory, hummingbird
  • length of boxes 78 mm
• the rectangular cases engine turned and bordered by running four-color gold foliate decoration, rounded corners chased with foliate motif, the top centered by an oval lid chased with four-color burst of flowers and grapes on sablé ground, edged by split pearls, the brightly feathered bird with ivory beak rising from an engraved bird-shaped reserve; when activated, the bird realistically sings, swivels its body, flaps its wings, opens and closes its beak, moves its head and tail • the bird mechanisms with fusee and chain, rectangular bellows, the song produced by a piston whistle, eight stacked cams • the back with hinged compartment • the movements stamped FR in an oval for Frères Rochat and numbered 428 and 429 respectively


No. 428:
Uto Auctions, Zurich, lot 421, November 22-25, 1982

No. 429:
Collection of Angus McCall
Sotheby's London, Collection of Angus McCall, lot 119A, July 8, 1963.
Collection of Henry Ford II
Sotheby's New York, From the Collection of Henry Ford II, lot 25, February 24, 1978

Catalogue Note

Accompanied by an original four-color gold key. The presently offered lot is, to the best of our knowledge, the only known reunited pair of consecutively numbered Four-Colored Gold Frères Rochat Singing Bird Snuff Boxes. 

Miniature marvels, such as the present lot, became exceedingly popular during the late 18thcentury, and appealed greatly to the Chinese Market. The Emperor of China and his court were as fascinated by European mechanical novelties as the Europeans were by Chinese works of art. The Jesuit priest, Matthew Ricci was allowed to enter the forbidden city of Peking with gifts of chiming clocks for the Emperor in 1600 (Alfred Chapuis, La Montre Chinoise, p.23). The Portuguese trading port of Macao (founded in 1514), and later established warehouses by European merchant companies in Hong Kong solidified a strong platform for trade with the Chinese Market through Canton.

It had long been traditional to send objects to China in pairs. According to Alfred Chapuis, Le Miroir de la Séduction, Musée Patek Philippe, Geneva, 2010, pp.28, "the Chinese love symmetry; all gifts to a superior, and above all the Emperor, were given in pairs."  It has been said that many pairs of Chinese Market watches and boxes were split up as a result of looting by the British and French during the raid on the Summer palace in Peking in 1860, when 'every soldier must have his singsong.' It is thus a rare event to present this reunited pair of singing bird boxes.

Pairs of singing bird boxes are virtually unknown, especially in such astounding condition. The Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva houses excellent examples of surviving pairs of Chinese Market pocket watches. Rarer still are pairs of snuff boxes with musical elements. 

To the best of our knowledge, the only other pair of singing bird boxes known was sold with movements by Jaquet–Droz & Leschot, and the cases by Guidon, Rémond, Gide & Co. (see: Sotheby’s London sale of Treasures, Princely Taste, lot 23, July 6, 2011, sold for nearly $1,200,000 USD.) Since then, collectors have not seen another pair of singing bird boxes offered at auction, and further, we do not know of any other pairs owned and exhibited in major museums globally.

The firm of Frères Rochat (1718-1806), began as David Rochat & Son in Le Brassus, and renamed Frères Rochat by the Rochat brothers after their father's passing. Rochat and his sons worked for the firm of Jaquet–Droz & Leschot, famous for its complicated singing bird movements and a variety of complex novelties that included singing birds in mirrors, snuff boxes, needle cases and pistols. 

For illustrations of similar pieces by Frères Rochat as well as further information, see Bailly, Sharon & Christian, Flights of Fancy, Geneva, 2001, pp. 211-260.­­­­­­­­­­­­ 

For another singing bird box by Frères Rochat, but with an enamelled lid see Chapuis et Gélis, Le Monde des Automates, Vol. II, p.117, fig. 395.

For a similar singing bird box by Frères Rochat with an enamelled lid, see Sotheby’s New York sale of Important Watches Including The Collection Of Swiss Mechanical Marvels Part II, lot 87, June 8, 2016. Further illustrated in Alfred Chapuis & Edouard Droz, Automata, p. 198, fig. 240.

Compare also another in Berry-Hill, Antique Gold Boxes, 1953, pl. 166.

Due to the unidentifiable nature of the bird feathers on the present lot, it is not possible to legally export this piece from the United States. The present lot may be shipped or collected domestically.