The best automaton watches showing off the most romantic idea of a complication

The best automaton watches showing off the most romantic idea of a complication

Buffy Acacia

Ever since humans have been able to make three-dimensional figures, we’ve wanted them to move. Historical accounts of man-made automata go back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, and were developed throughout the world as religious icons, tools, and toys. Mechanical engineering reached a soaring height during the medieval period, especially during the Islamic Golden Age with the likes of Al-Jazari designing huge, complex clocks with swarms of automata. We’re now at the point where you can view such marvels on your wrist and experience the same wonder that our ancestors did, if you’ve got the budget of course.

Andersen Genève x Konstantin Chaykin Joker Automaton

Andersen:Chaykin Joker Automaton

Even the standard Konstantin Chaykin Joker has an animated quality to it, but replacing the hands with eyes and the moonphase with a tongue isn’t enough to be considered an automaton. For that, Andersen Genève was brought in for a limited-edition collaboration full of high-watchmaking whimsy. There’s a classic Chaykin Joker smile on the dial side of the watch, while the reverse reveals a cartoonish take on the famous Dogs Playing Poker series by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. One dog is still present, but others have been replaced by a rather scrawled-looking depiction of the Joker, the Penguin, and Poison Ivy, although she looks a little bit more like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Hitting the pusher sends their poker game into action. It also happens to be the most (relatively) affordable automaton watch currently available by a considerable margin. Price: US$96,489

Jaquet Droz The Rolling Stones Automaton

Jaquet Droz The Rolling Stones Automaton

Maybe it’s cheating to include Jaquet Droz twice on this list (spoilers), but I couldn’t ignore this limited edition collaboration with one of the greatest rock bands of all time. There’s something so surreal about the marriage of centuries-old, traditional watchmaking and a sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll attitude. And yet it works. Following on from an initial Only Watch collection, The Rolling Stones Automaton is limited to just 23 unique pieces which are customised to order, according to the buyer’s favourite albums, posters, tours, or whatever else. The elements which don’t change are the makeshift stage with tiny models of the band’s gear in excruciating detail, a rotating perimeter with vinyl-like grooves, and a wagging tongue which surfs around it at the push of the button. Price: US$250,000

Chanel J12 Automaton Caliber 6

Chanel J12 Automaton Caliber 6

Despite being one of the most respected brands in fashion, Chanel rarely gets days in the sun for its watchmaking prowess. The J12 is a serious icon, and watches like the Automaton Caliber 6 prove that Chanel isn’t pulling any punches from its ceramic crusade. The in-house Caliber 6 is cased in black ceramic with a galvanic coating, plus an 18k white gold caseback. Activating the pusher brings the dial’s depiction of Coco Chanel herself to life, brandishing scissors towards a jiggling mannequin. The monochromatic effect of the dial as well as the black case set with white diamonds is striking, and marks itself out as unique among an otherwise colourful list of peers. Price: US$337,100

Louis Vuitton Tambour Fiery Heart Automata

Louis Vuitton Tambour Fiery Heart Automata 2

Louis Vuitton’s move towards high-complication watchmaking began before it had even purged all of its lower-end catalogue, due to the ingenuity of La Fabrique du Temps. Its style may not be for everyone, but the Tambour Fiery Heart Automata is a glorious display of artistic virtuosity and classical romantic connotations. The roses of course have their thorns, both of which become animated once the automaton mechanism is activated via the pusher. There’s also a bright red flaming heart which opens to reveal the message “sweet, but fierce.” The calibre LFT 325 is actually a simplified version of the LV 525 which helped Louis Vuitton win the Audacity Prize at 2021’s GPHG awards, but simplified doesn’t mean it’s simple. There are still a total of 325 components supporting seven animations with a 65-hour power reserve and a 4Hz beat rate. Price: US$370,000

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater Alpine View

Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater Alpine View

Birds and clocks have been inextricably linked for thousands of years. Even Archimedes designed a cuckoo clock. The original Pierre Jaquet-Droz was a watchmaker in the mid 1700s, and he was known for his automata, especially songbirds. The Jaquet Droz Bird Repeater has now been the pinnacle of this concept in wristwatch form for over a decade since its release. As the sonorous chimes of the minute repeater sing out, you witness the birth of a baby bird from its nest. It cracks the egg open surrounded by siblings, as one of the parents bends down to present it with a worm, and the other parent proudly displays its wings. The latest version is titled Alpine View, cased in 18k white gold with hand-engraved lugs and a beautifully hand-painted, mother-of-pearl dial depicting evergreen trees, a lake, and snow-capped mountains. Price: US$525,000

T+T Timeless Pick: Mr Jones The Indefatigable Sphinx

Mr Jones The Indefatigable Sphinx

To be clear, The Indefatigable Sphinx by Mr Jones doesn’t meet any of the automation characteristics to qualify under normal circumstances. However, automaton clocks were once reserved for royalty, and the wristwatch versions aren’t any cheaper. If you want some of the playful aspects of an animated dial without paying real estate prices, Mr Jones is a great starting point. The Indefatigable Sphinx uses a cryptic series of symbols replacing the sphinx’s head, which you can eventually figure out how to read for the hours. Otherwise, the minutes and seconds work as standard. It uses an automatic SW200-1 with a jump-hours module, offering a surprisingly high-quality movement with a niche complication for quite a reasonable price. If US$2,995 is still out of your price range (and I don’t blame you) then I’d highly encourage checking out some of their quartz watches. Price: US$2,995