This musical automation watch by Henri Capt is a fantastic example of the highly complicated musical and automation timepieces being manufactured in Geneva in the early 19th century.
While watchmaking and erotica would seem to be worlds apart, examples like this show that the two could be inextricably linked. For centuries watchmakers have created timepieces that portray couples in the throes of physical love. In a time before glossy publications or the internet, these objects, part art and part smut, offered their owners a titillating view of the ‘obscene’. These scenes were usually concealed behind a false caseback, but occasionally featured on dials as well. During the 17th century, watches were luxury items of status, and as so, many were specially commissioned. Clients could be offered the option of having a dial or caseback customised with a painting or engraving of their choice. While portraiture and mythological scenes were common, erotic scenes were also commissioned, as with this watch by Henri Capt. These timepieces worked not only to entertain, but also as a 17th century hook-up tool for the upper classes. A gentleman would reveal the concealed scene to an amorous lover to signal his intentions, if only just for the night. Of course, like all erotica, these objects were not tolerated by the church, so much so that religious authorities in Geneva and Neuchatel outlawed, seized and destroyed these types of objects based on their moral beliefs. While authorities tried to thwart the creation of these titillating objects, they did not succeed, with makers producing watches with false case backs to hide their illicit creations. By the time watches transitioned from the pocket to the wrist, erotic watches had become a social taboo and soon fell into the recesses of the public imagination.
Henri Daniel Capt was born in Chenin, Switzerland in 1773. He was renowned for his snuff boxes and watch cases which had musical and automation scenes. Capt was one of the first to make objects which combined musical and automation into everyday luxury objects, such as watches, snuff boxes and jewellery and. Capt was well known for his production of complicated watches and automata for various boxes and objects, many with music. He was among the first in Geneva to use a musical mechanism with a pinned cylinder and tuned teeth comb. He was one of the foremost makers of small musical automata in the late 18th and early 19th century. While most of his work was left unsigned, Capt would occasionally engrave their names on their movements. The design and artistry of his work coincided with an equivalent peak in artistic skill of a small group of Genevan case makers and enamel artists who together produced some of the most spectacular watches, snuff boxes and automata ever made.