- A RARE YELLOW GOLD OPEN-FACED QUARTER REPEATING AUTOMATON MAGICIAN WATCH
- DIAMETER 57 MM
Accompanied by a fitted leather box with slots to hold each of the tablets.
The questions and their answers are as follows:
Q: Qui a plus de sens que de raison? (Who has more feeling than reason?)
A: Un viellard amoureux (An old man in love)
Q: Quel est le plus grand flatteur? (What is the greatest flatterer?)
A: L'amour propre (Love of self)
Q: Qui brise les liens du sang? (Who breaks the bonds of blood?)
A: L'Intéret (Selfishness)
Q: Quel est le fruit de labeur? (What is the fruit of labor?)
A: Le Repos (Rest)
Q: Où court l'homme egaré? (Where does the lost man run?)
A: Nulle part (Nowhere)
Q: Qui se thrahit pour se rester fidèle? (Who betrays himself in order to stay true to himself?)
A: La Mode (Fashion)
To operate the automaton function, one of the six tablets is placed in a tray, which is then inserted into a drawer fitted in the band of the case. The seventh blank tablet remains in the drawer when the automaton is at rest.
The mechanical principles upon which an automaton magician replies to the questions were established in the 18th century. Few examples survived, but the fascination was such that a few rare examples continued to be built in the 19th century. The operating principle of the movement is that each silver tablet has small holes at the end which, when inserted into the watch, are measured for depth by a feeler pin, which rotates the answer wheel by means of a cam to the correct position.
Given the fragility of the functions, the maker incorporated a separate failsafe, should the automaton stop functioning in mid-cycle. The corrector feature acts to reset the automaton work to bring it back to the beginning of its cycle should it stop.
For a magician clock also formerly in the Time Museum Collection, see Sotheby's, New York, December 2nd, 1999, Masterpieces from the Time Museum, lot 58.
Chapuis and Droz in their 1958 book "Automata" write of the questions and answers, "...these answers were so vague that they would apply to everybody. As to the questions put to the Soothsayer.." they were "...absurd eternal questions which the public always asks about future joys and hopes." (see pp. 246-247.)
Other examples of objects with a variation of a magician automaton include a walnut-form object, as well as several gold boxes. To the best of our knowledge, the present example appears to be the only known watch with magician automaton ever to be offered at auction.