There’s an entire, booming segment of the gadget business catering to the wealthy, building ever more elaborate Bluetooth-enabled designer kitchen appliances or whatever. But it’s certainly not a new phenomenon, as this circa-early 1800s jeweled silkworm/still-functional automaton attests.

This video comes via Digg. The little trinket was last sold by Sotheby’s in 2010—for a cool $415,215—but it’s making the rounds yet again thanks to its being picked up by the Daily Mail. Made of gold and enamel, it’s decorated with rubies, pearls, and diamonds. From another angle:

The piece was likely crafted by Henri Maillardet, along with numerous others that were exported to China and/or exhibited in England as part of a collection of mechanical marvels. The Sotheby’s catalog explains:

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The first mention of one of the group of small animals appears to have been when he showed ‘a Siberian mouse’ among his ‘wonderful Automatons’ at the same venue two years later in June 1800. ‘An Ethiopian chenille d’or’, in company with the mouse and a mechanical tarantula, does not appear until an advertisement of 1811 when Maillardet was touring England and exhibiting his automata in partnership with a certain Philippstal (pseudonym of Paul Philidor), a pioneer of the magic lantern and phantasmagoria shows.

But its creation came at the closing days of the automaton fad, the history of which you can read about here. Please also enjoy this terrifying dulcimer-playing miniature, made for Marie Antoinette in 1784. Nobody’s Apple Watch is going to look this impressive in a couple of centuries.


Contact the author at kelly@jezebel.com.

Photo via AP Images.