This birdcage-clock belongs to a well-defined group attributed to the Swiss clock and automaton maker Pierre Jacquet-Droz (1721-1790).
Distinctive features common to the group include the use of tapered columns with urn capitals, delicately pierced sides and swagged ormolu mounts often virtually identical to those on the example offered here. The group is discussed by Geoffrey de Bellaigue in The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, Furniture and Gilt Bronzes, Fribourg, 1974, vol. I, pp. 164-9, cat. 34.
The group includes the following examples:
one in the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris; a pair in the Musée du Serail, Istanbul, originally a gift to Sultan Selim II (reigned 1761-1808); one in the British Museum, the gift of E.J. Dingwall, 1968; one in a private collection (illustrated in Connaissance des Arts, Le Dix-Huitième Siècle Français, Paris, 1956, p. 120, fig. A); one formerly in the collection of Madame Hallé, Neuilly-sur-Seine, (illustrated in A. Chapuis and E. Gélis, Le Monde des Automates, Paris, 1928, vol. II, p. 134, fig. 408); one formerly in the collection of Mrs. James A. de Rothschild, sold Christie's London, 20 June 1972, lot 68; one sold from a private collection, Sotheby's Monaco, 26-7 May 1985, lot 1228; and a final example sold anonymously at Christie's New York, 23 October 1998, lot 23 ($36,800).
The concept of an automation imitating live birdsong was evidently popular in fashionable circles and as early as 1754 the duc de Cröy recorded in his diary 'je vis avec plaisir une pendule de la Marquise [de Pompadour] avec un serin sifflant plusieurs airs, faite avec soin'.
The firm of Pierre Jacquet-Droz, which specialized in these charming birdcage clocks, was originally established at La Caux-de-Fonds and later at Geneva. It was continued by his son Henri-Louis (1752-1791) and carried on under various owners until 1835.