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The boîte à oiseau chanteur features a clockwork bird that rises out of a silver and blue enamel box and ‘sings’ a tune before singing back down, the lid closing behind it.

“You want a well-decorated bird,” David Elstob, Thomas Watson auctioneer who will lead the sale this autumn, tells the ATG. He has seen other examples come up before and recalls two that recently went under the hammer in his Darlington saleroom. Neither, he says, as fine as the current example.

Boxes like these were produced as luxury items during the 19th century. They have their origins in Geneva and their creation is attributed to Pierre Jacuet-Droz, a Swiss watchmaker.

Today, they remain popular particularly for collectors of automata (and among that group, in the Asian market) and different models can command prices from the low thousands to £20,000 or more for high-quality Swiss pieces.

This example is estimated at £5000-7000.

The box is of rectangular cushioned shape, is marked J Kurz & Co and stamped 925.

But Elstob adds it’s wonderful and “that’s all you need to know.”

All things bright and beautiful

The singing bird box is not the only animal-related lot at the sale nor is it the only bird-themed lot. A coral turquoise and gold brooch modelled as a bird in flight which is valued between £300-500.

There is also a novelty cat-shaped brooch with four articulated limbs, moulded whiskers and ears and two sapphire highlights for eyes. It is guided at £1000-1500.

Among the other animal lots available at the sale are an unusual silver continental snuff box in the shape of a dog’s head estimated £500-700.  

The sale takes place on Tuesday September 27 at Thomas Watson’s Darlington saleroom.