Lot 134
  • 134

Frères Rochat

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • 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


Both boxes are in very good external, aesthetic and mechanical condition, apart from wear consistent with age. The gold details remain fine and crisp overall. Both boxes were serviced ten years ago, at which time the bellows in each were replaced. #428 – Case with patina overall, notably on the edges of the engine turned panels. Patina around the flowers to the top panel and borders of the engine turning, corners and the lid. Minimal dent to the right engine turned panel. Compartment to back closes securely, light denting to the interior of panel and light scratches. Bird rises correctly and sings after a moment of hesitation. Bird in excellent working condition, bill, head and wings work and move with crisp motion. #429 – Case with patina to the floral scroll borders, edges, and borders to the panels. Lid with patina around the bouquet, light scratches to the base texture. Engine turned panels in good condition, light denting to the front, right side, and bottom panels. Slide for activation with some movement before catching the interior activation slide. Two screws to the sides replaced. Compartment to the back closes securely, light scratching and denting on inside of panel. Bird movement in working condition with good movement of the bill, head and wings. Tonality of bird song is slightly muted.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. All dimensions in catalogue descriptions are approximate. Condition reports may not specify mechanical replacements or imperfections to the movement, case, dial, pendulum, separate base(s) or dome. Watches in water-resistant cases have been opened to examine movements but no warranties are made that the watches are currently water-resistant. Please note that we do not guarantee the authenticity of any individual component parts, such as wheels, hands, crowns, crystals, screws, bracelets and leather bands, since subsequent repairs and restoration work may have resulted in the replacement of original parts. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. In particular, please note it is the purchaser's responsibility to comply with any applicable import and export matters, particularly in relation to lots incorporating materials from endangered species.NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

**Please be advised that bands made of materials derived from endangered or otherwise protected species (i.e. alligator and crocodile) are not sold with the watches and are for display purposes only. We reserve the right to remove these bands prior to shipping."

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.