Caterpillar luxurious jewellery
This so called Ethiopian Caterpillar is a unique work of Swiss jeweler and watch maker Henri Maillardet. 200-year-old masterpiece of high jewellery, the caterpillar is still in excellent working condition. The realistic automaton was created for some wealthy Chinese aristocrat. When the Ethiopian Caterpillar was sold at auction in 2010, it fetched a price of more than $415,000. It joins five other such caterpillars known to exist, all of which reside in prestigious art collections. At one time, robots were meant for the amusement of wealthy collectors and art enthusiasts. This stunning caterpillar automaton from approximately 1820 is a wonder of both artistry and workmanship. The Ethiopian Caterpillar is made of rubies, diamonds, emeralds, pearls, and turquoise all set in gold. The caterpillar’s eleven jointed ring segments combine to form a “body” that undulates like a real caterpillar, crawling realistically. Its body moves up and down simulating the undulations of a caterpillar by means of a set of gilt-metal knurled wheels.
It was titled ‘the Ethiopian caterpillar’ when Maillardet, in partnership with legendary watchmaker Jaquet Droz, organized an exhibition to show off his menagerie of miniaturized automata in London, which dazzled the public. Sold at 2010 Sotheby’s auction gold and diamond-studded caterpillar, known also as the ‘Vers de soie’ (silkworm) – and very likely may have been destined for the court of Qianlong.
Of Maillardet’s caterpillar robots only six are known to exist and five are in prestigious collections in Europe, including one in the Patek Philippe museum and another two in the Sandoz collection.
Born 1745, Maillardet was a Swiss mechanic who worked in London producing clocks and other mechanisms, including various automata, including a famous set depicting magicians and others which could write in French and English.
The underside is decorated with champlevé black enamel. When the automaton movement is engaged, the caterpillar crawls realistically, its body moving up and down simulating the undulations of a caterpillar by means of a set of gilt-metal knurled wheels.
Again, the ability of crawling caterpillar to turn into a flying butterfly is considered a magical miracle. Many people are in awe of this metamorphosis, and believe that such miracles without God’s intervention do not happen.