Objects with musical mechanism and automaton

Chinese silkworm automaton

    Chinese silkworm automaton


    Circa 1820

    Maillardet Henry

    Gold, diamonds, pearls, rubies, turquoise, steel; engraving, enamel, gem stones setting

    Length 7.0 cm


    A silkworm is one of a group of small automata animals made in the early 19th century in Switzerland. This group includes lizards, mice and frogs. Unsigned, these amusing objects are attributed to the products of Henri Maillardet’s workshop, who worked in Fontaines, Switzerland. The automaton body consists of eleven hinged gold round segments, decorated with engraving and coloured transparent enamel. Each segment is decorated with three round nests with coloured gemstones in different combinations - diamonds and rubies-cabochons, emeralds and turquoise. A chain of small half pearls is on the rear edge of each segment. A spring mechanism, which drives the automaton into motion, is mounted inside the fifth and sixth segments that are connected fixedly. The front and rear parts move up and down alternately, imitating the undulating movements of the live silkworm. At the same time, three small wheels transmit motion to the automaton. Nowadays, only six automated caterpillars or silkworms are known, each with slight decorative variations. Two from this group are studded solely with turquoise and seed pearls