One Dangerous Step Away from Watch Collecting

I guess the Omega Constellation collecting fraternity can be divided into three main camps: those who collect timepieces for their aesthetic appeal and external design; those who collect watches for their horology and the joy of knowing just how that miniature engine on their wrists operates, and those who perhaps are motivated to collect by a bit of both. 

Of course, there are those who collect timepieces as objects, acting out strong compulsions to acquire and possess, caring little about aesthetics and horology, but we’ll leave them out of the equation because automata would hardly stoke their curiosity boilers.

My interest in automata, latent though it was for many years, was first triggered as a child spellbound by coin operated slot machine complications. I recall having to be dragged kicking and screaming away from a machine that re-enacted the Battle of Waterloo, complete with waves of lead soldiers dying in battle as the British wiped out Napoleon’s forces! 

There is something deeply entrancing, magical or even spine-chilling about high-end automata, which, essentially, is the forerunner to modern day robotics.  No matter how old you are, the ingeniousness of the clockwork mechanisms, some of which have amazing complexity, can still excite the inner child who was besotted with all things that went click and whirr.  The examples in this CBS report include the famous Maillardet automaton, housed at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

The Getty Centre in Los Angeles mounted a significant exhibition of automata some time ago, and you can take a virtual tour here

French automata, generally, is regarded to have achieved the some of highest levels of sophistication and novelty. The Musée de L'Automate in Souillac features a collection of nineteenth and twentieth century automata, focussing on the creations of Roullet & Decamps.

The Swiss have a rich history of producing automata. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his son Henri-Lois not only produced watches, but created a beguiling array of humanoid and bird automata that can been seen at here at the Musee d'art et d'histoire, in Neuchatel , surely a must for any watch aficionado on a pilgrimage to Switzerland.

The Martin Scorcese movie, Hugo,  based on Brian Selznick's novel ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ has triggered a renewed interest in automata, and blogs, on-line shops and specialised contemporary automata web sites have blossomed. 

For those who enjoy the horological aspects of collecting watches and are mesmerised by the mechanical miracle that powers their vintage or contemporary pieces, automata is but a dangerously expensive baby step away from watch and clock collecting.


  1. Nice post, Desmond. You'd do well to stay away from typewriters. Similar in some ways to wristwatches in that there are an array of parts that all work in harmony to produce the desired result.

    1. Oh, I could go there without too much pushing! I had an old Underwood from my grandfather, now given to a niece, but I've often had to stop myself buying old portables when visiting antique shops and fairs :)