Monday, February 1, 2016
Gaudy 200-year-old pistol hides a beautiful secret
Written by Amanda Kooser
A masterpiece of delicate mechanical design lies inside a pistol covered in jewels and gold filigree. The surprise will make your heart sing.
Parmigiani Fleurier is a noted high-end watchmaker. It also runs a restoration shop to bring old watches back to life. Not content with just timepieces, the company took on the unusual project of restoring a crazy-ornate 200-year-old pistol. Parmigiani Fleurier describes this process as "setting [the pistol] free from the torments of time."
The pistol is nothing like we normally imagine such a gun to look. It's not a big hunk of silver iron. It's a delicate two-barreled device coated in jewels and gold. The watchmaker traces the gun's origin to around 1815 and to well-known automata maker Freres Rochat.
Automata are moving mechanical devices, often taking the shapes of humans or animals. You might remember the 2011 Martin Scorsese movie "Hugo" about a broken automaton in the form of a man that writes with a pen.
Rochat specialized in bird automata that flap their wings, move their heads and chirp, and this is the secret hidden inside the ornate pistol restored by Parmigiani Fleurier. You pull the hammer and squeeze the trigger. Instead of releasing a bullet, it frees a tiny beautiful songbird painstakingly covered in colorful feathers. It tweets and sings before disappearing back into the barrel.
The pistol arrived at the watchmaker in very poor condition in early 2014, which gives you an idea of just how challenging the restoration was to complete. "Over the decades, no less than six interventions had been carried out on the artifact, most of which were rash, faulty and had ended up distorting the artifact as a whole," the company reports.
Parmigiani Fleurier released a video of the pistol in action last week, giving a lovely close-up look at the fluttering automaton along with a peek at the delicate mechanisms inside that make the wonder possible.
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