MB&F co-creations with esteemed Swiss music-box maker Reuge are typically out-of-this galaxy. All three earlier MB&F/Reuge MusicMachines were collaborations that triggered our collective love of science fiction and space travel, and then applied beautiful music.
Today however MB&F, Reuge and a third collaborator, automaton specialist Nicolas Court, launch what may be MB&F’s most down-to-earth creation: A 9.4-inch-long walking mechanical turtle named Kelys with a colorful shell that houses his friend Chirp – a singing bird.
Named from the Greek word chelone or chelys (turtle, tortoise), Kelys walks across any smooth surface while Chirp pops out of Kelys’ shell to treat us to twelve seconds of pre-internet tweets while also flapping its wings and moving its beak.
While Chirp is clearly musically talented, Kelys is strong, and relies on his wits. If Kelys carries his 1.4 kilogram rhodium-plated brass body and shell too close to the edge of a table, he will stop walking.
For additional security, Reuge has re-created its own system for the bird’s movement. If Chirp or her cover are accidently pushed down while she is singing, she stops and instantly retreats to her nest.
All this movement, music and apparent thinking is built in to a complex 480-component creation. Nicolas Court (who has worked with Reuge in the past) developed an automaton capable moving the relatively heavy turtle at the appropriately leisurely speed of 0.06 mph with only the power available from the small mainspring of the Singing Bird movement. And he did so while also ensuring that the turtle moved realistically.
The turtle’s movements are synchronized with the bird’s own movements and singing. MB&F explains that Court used a very low ratio gear setup and, for the legs, created elliptical gearing in the power train. Carefully calculated cams, which move the legs, were developed to mimic a real tortoise’s forward-pushing gait.
If you prefer Kelys to stay in one place, simply pushing his tail up and Chirp will sing while Kelys remains still. With his tail down, he will walk again while Chirp sings. This may be the first ever tail-indicated switch.
While it’s true that Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721–1790) first devised the idea of the modern Singing Bird complication, Reuge has long mastered the art. Reuge, founded in 1865, is positioned as the only premier producer of music boxes in the world today. In re-joining on another project with MB&F (and Nicolas Court) the firm continues to re-define the old-world craft of musical machines.
As is expected from MB&F, these very cute animatronic devices are also beautifully finished and proportioned. The scales on Kelys’ shell are individually hand made from high quality leather in four different colors, adding a textural dimension that seems more natural than painted or bare metal. His rhodium-plated brass body is grained with satin and polish finishing, and his eyes are black onyx gems.
Kelys & Chirp is available in four limited editions of eighteen pieces each in blue, green, yellow or ochre. Price: CHF 49,000, or about $49,300.
To more directly appreciate this new co-creation from MB&F, watch this video: https://youtu.be/dGGguGpa70M.
Specifications: MB&F Kelys & Chirp
The tortoise walks, the bird opens from back, moves and sings.
For 10-12 seconds, the bird flaps its wings, moves its tail, opens its beak in time to the bird song, then as if magically disappears.
The tortoise moves its legs in a realistically intermittent gait, its head moves.
Average tortoise speed: 0.03 m/s (0.06 mph).
Generally rhodium plated brass, stainless steel and white gold for the bird.
Tortoise scales: handmade leathering with colored calfskin.
Number of components: 480
100% hand assembled
Materials: 18-karat polished white gold, eyes in sapphire
Number of components (bird alone): 30
Number of components (bellows): 90
Mainspring: twin-cam spring barrel
Power reserve: Three cycles of turtle walking and bird singing
Bellows: double bellows system (bi-directional air pushing)
Security mechanism: if the bird or cover is pushed down while the bird is singing, the bird automatically retreats
Material: grained, satin and polish finishing, rhodium-plated brass, eyes in black onyx gems
Shell: 12 leather scales with individual polished edges
Mechanism for turtle automaton is driven by the Singing Bird movement
Number of components: 100, all rhodium or satin finished
Gear train: elliptical gearing with max/min 1.3/0.8 ratio enables the turtle to advance with a realistically non-regular gait.
Security friction clutch; Circular stainless steel winding key located on tortoise’s belly.
Dimensions and weight:
Weight: approx. 1.4 kg
Dimensions: 24 cm (length) x 16 cm (width) x 8 cm (high without bird open)