A couple of years ago, I received quite a whimsical gift from a dear friend of mine. A gift that over the years became much appreciated, and admittedly even used! The gift reminded me of finding my own way in life, following my dreams, doing things the way I want them to be done, obviously within the boundaries of the law and such. It became, if you will, somewhat of a personal mantra. It was a simple little hand cranked music box, playing the legendary song “I did it my way” by the one and only Frank Sinatra. To be honest, I appreciate the Dutch version by artist Herman Brood a tiny bit more being Dutch and all. How nice is this personal story, it makes the link with the beauty of music boxes, and in this exclusive field, one stands out of the crowd for its longevity and the superb creations. It’s called Reuge and this year the brand celebrates its 150th anniversary.
Although this little hand cranked music box is a very low-tech gadget, and likely not to stand the test of time (it died within 2 years) there is a very big historical background to it that is almost identical to watchmaking. As watchmaking did, it flourished in the 1800’s and gained a lot of interest from the aristocracy in France and Switzerland, and later throughout the world.
Even the techniques used by some of the best in the business shares traditions and techniques with the oldest brands of our beloved business. One of these companies is now celebrating their 150th anniversary: Reuge. Founded in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland in 1865 by Charles Reuge, the company first created pocket watches with mechanical movements incorporating a musical complication. A pocket watch allows for more room inside the case and a better resonance within the case. Of course, wrist watches wouldn’t be introduced before 1868 and still were far from a common thing.
Similar to watchmaking, turning a meticulously composed melody into a recognizable play of pins and forks in a music box comes with a number of challenges. Precision is key, as is clarity of the sound, and the necessary dexterity by artisans to achieve perfection. Power has to stored somehow, in order to play the melody when requested so a barrel with a spring, wound by a key, is a common demeanor between watches and music boxes. Reuge can now be considered a leading, if not the only, manufacturer in the mechanical music boxes.
A piece of music, played on a 6- or 7-octave piano, as to be transcribed into a system of gears, cogs, cylinders, pins and forks. Each cylinder consists of up to 5,500 pins striking 36, 72 or 144 teeth. Each pin is placed with the greatest care, and strikes a tooth in perfect order to give a clear, single note. Combine these in a sequence lasting up to 40 seconds for the most advanced models, and you end up with music. Depending on the number of teeth, up to 4 musical compositions could be played on one cylinder, but some models come with interchangeable cylinders to expand your collection of melodies.
While tradition is a trademark in watchmaking, the same goes for mechanical music boxes and Reuge. This historical company is founded upon traditional values, crafts and techniques. This doesn’t mean that the Swiss manufacture, the only one in high-end music boxes and singing birds, is not resting on its laurels. They are very much working in the present and even future, and pushing boundaries where they can. Modernist casings, popular tunes, contemporary designs, and new concepts and materials keep Reuge relevant in present day.
The hardcore watch-nut will recognize this iconic brand from their recent collaborations with MB&F, which resulted in three Music Machines (#1, #2 and #3). Music Machine One managed to shut up the Monochrome-team while it played in a tent during heavy rain in Basel a few years back. It was a stellar experience to say the least, listening to Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and John Lennon on the first cylinder and the two tunes from Star Wars and one from Star Trek on the second cylinder.
The second installment of the Music Machine featured the same sci-fi approach and kind off resembled the Starship Enterprise. It played Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Clash on 1 cylinder, and the same three Star Wars and Star Trek tunes as Music Machine #1. The final collaboration became even bolder in design, shaped like a Tie-fighter from Star Wars (Hey Devon, you’re not the only one!) and played tunes from Star Wars, James Bond, Mission Impossible, The Godfather, The Persuaders and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
To celebrate their 150th anniversary, a special edition music box has been created. It receives a plaque commemorating 150 years of crafts by the Swiss company, and comes in a walnut box. The movement CH 3.72 holds 72 notes, spread across a single cylinder in three groups, thus playing three melodies. Only 15 pieces will be made, all on order. If you are interested to purchase one, or find out more about Reuge, we suggest you visit their website.