The Incredible Mechanical Artistry Of François Junod

The art of building purely mechanical automatons has dramatically declined with the arrival of electronics over the past century, but there are still a few craftsmen who keep the art form alive. [François Junod] is one of these masters, and the craftsmanship and intricacy on display in his automata is absolutely amazing.

[François]’ creations are all completely devoid of electronics, and are powered either by wound-up springs or weights. The mechanics of the automata are part of the display, and contain a vast array of gears, linkages, belts and tracks. Many of them also include their own soundtrack, which range from simple bells and chimes to complete melodies from mechanized wind instruments, as demonstrated in Le Champignonneur below. He also collaborates with craftsman like jewelers on works like La Fée Ondine, which we thought was CGI when we first saw it in the video after the break.

Very few people have the time, skill and patience to make these creations, but we are glad there are still a few around. Some builds, like [Patelo]’s flightless drone aren’t quite as complex, but are no less inspiring. If you don’t quite have the time and fabrication skills, you can still create mesmerizing automatons with 3D printing like [gzumwalt].

16 thoughts on “The Incredible Mechanical Artistry Of François Junod

  1. I think in many ways the most impressive bit is how well it was all presented, the creations are a marvel, but getting such good results filming highly polished surfaces is a black art type skill, and then the pacing and mechanical details being revealed great work.

    Really really cool stuff, I’d have liked to see a little more of the fabrication – Clickspring style perhaps. But still wonderful to watch, and probably even more impressive in person.

  2. “[François]’ creations are all completely devoid of electronics, and are powered either by wound-up springs or weights. ”

    The kind of thing that would fit into a steampunk world.

    1. I have a bird cage like that which has two birds. It doesn’t have the start and stop functionality that this one does. I wonder how they accomplish that. It doesn’t look like the gears are turning at all when it pauses.

  3. Stunning. It reminded me of a BBC Four programme a few years ago about the history of automata. The Silver Swan at the Bowes Museum, England was unforgettable, sitting on ‘water’ which is in fact spinning rods of twisted glass, and bending its head down to catch a fish in its beak.

  4. The first video is from the Audemars Piaget museum in Switzerland. I thought it was that company, but if you are somewhere safe and interested in what is probably the real history of these types of things, go ahead and look up the Ulysse Nardin erotic collection. Basically wrist-watch sized incredibly animated watches of, well, a VERY erotic nature. The amount of craft that goes into making such things is boggling.

    1. The real real history of such things is not with Nardin. Many companies have done similar erotic automata, even going back several hundred years. It’s actually a pretty common theme.

      The oldest automata that have a good tracable lineage are singing bird boxes. There are a couple books written on their history and makers. Best one of the history is published by Bonhams, it has a CD in the back of the book. The book itself is rare though.

      When it comes to complex automata, the company that really specializes in them currently in watchmaking is really well known- Jaquet Droz. The original Droz is famed for making the Draughtsman automata, a writing boy. They do the really elaborate automata pieces in watches.

      There have been many in history who have made elaborate mechanical automata, especially in Japan. Masahiro Kikuno is a current Japanese horologist in the ACHI who makes Orizuru, a paper crane automata wristwatch. There are a couple people who specialize in automata fabrication and repair in the US- look up the Memoria Technica workshop.

      There’s tons out there- and I absolutely love this artcle’s subject’s work. The most affordable serious automata you are likely to afford and find would be a singing bird box. But be willing to shell out a couple thousand USD.

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