Events: Brittany Nicole Cox Lecture at The Horological Society Of New York

Events: Brittany Nicole Cox Lecture at The Horological Society Of New York

On March 5, 2018, Seattle-based Antiquarian Horologist Brittany Nicole Cox will present “Horological Conservation: A Preliminary Study of Bellows Materials in Smoking Automata” here’s all the details.

By Jérôme Meier
Special Guest Contributor

HS-NY’s special guest at their March 5 meeting will be Brittany Nicole Cox. Cox will present her research and observations on the conservation and restoration of bellows materials that bring so much realism to dynamic objects. In this lecture, Nicole will – among other topics, demonstrate the difficult necessity of using the appropriate materials for mechanisms as complex as the ones inside the smoking automata from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Brittany Nicole Cox is an antiquarian horologist based in Seattle, Washington

About automata

The first mechanized objects were conceived as early as Antiquity. They were inventions of ingenious mathematicians and engineers, most were outstanding practical applications of physics. Among the most remarkable pieces of the era are the conceptions of Philo of Byzantium, a Greek engineer, physicist and writer on mechanics. The automatic “Servant of Philon” is probably the first operating robot of our time. It is a highly complex human-like automaton in the form of a maid which holds a jug of wine in her right hand. When a cup is placed in the palm of her left hand, the laid automatically pours wine initially and then mixes it with water when desired.

The Automata “Servant of Philon”

Another example is the hydraulic automaton of the chirping birds and returning owl which depicts two birds that start chirping when the owl turns away from them and instantly stops when the same owl turns towards them. The spectacle is continuously operated by an exceptional mechanism using water as energy source and allowing the birds to move and sing at different frequencies.

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci not only designed ingenious flying machines and war machines, he also imagined automatic objects, frequent results of his observation of the human body or nature. Thus, he invented a mechanical lion that could walk to entertain the King of France.

The 18th century is often considered as the golden age of automata. Back then, some of the most sophisticated and realistic animated objects imitating living beings were created. Jacques de Vaucanson (1709-1782) was a French inventor and artist who was responsible for the creation of the impressive Digesting Duck, a mechanical figurine provided with an incredibly detailed complete digestive system.


The Automata “Servant of Philon”

On the Swiss side, when it comes to automata, the more frequently cited name is Jaquet-Droz. Pierre Jaquet-Droz, together with his son Henri-Louis and Jean-Frédéric Leschot, made numerous anthropomorphic dolls of which “The Musician”, “The Draughtsman” and “The Writer”. The later, made from 6,000 individual parts, is the most impressive and complex of the three. By means of programmable cams and cam followers (feeler spindles) that translate the shaped edges into movements, the figure is capable of writing any custom text up to 40 letters long. The writer uses a goose feather that he inks from time to time and shakes his wrist to prevent ink from spilling. His head shakes while his eyes follow the text being written.

A few years ago, Brittany Nicole Cox had the opportunity to entirely restore a huntsman smoking automaton made by renowned French maker Gustave Vichy in the late 19th century (when operated, the clockwork figure smokes real cigarettes!).

Brittany Nicole Cox in her workshop

The delicate choice of the right materials on which the Antiquarian Horologist conducted her researches will be the main topic of her lecture. The evening promises to be fascinating, evolving between technique and enchantment. Get prepared for an immersion into the world of the doctor bringing inanimate objects to life!


Monday, March 5, 2018

6:00 PM - 9:00 PM

HSNY at the General Society Library (map)

20 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036

Doors open at 6:00pm, lecture begins promptly at 7:00pm. Q&A to follow

About Brittany Nicole Cox

Brittany Nicole Cox is an antiquarian horologist and conservator based in Seattle, Washington. She was trained both as a watchmaker and a clockmaker before she specialized in the conservation and restoration of automata and mechanical musical objects with a MA in conservation studies.

In 2015, she opened her own workshop, Memoria Technica, where she brings antique pieces (from monumental clock tower carillons to tiny animated mechanisms) back to life and teaches guilloche (engine turning) to beginners and advanced students. Nico, as people call her, not only masters these traditional techniques but also transmits them, which is truly admirable.

You can find Brittany Nicole Cox on Instagram under: @nicocurio and on the internet at:

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