The Ethiopian Caterpillar is a bejeweled automaton from the year 1820. Attributed to Henri Maillardet, only six automaton caterpillars are known to exist and the other five are in prestigious collections in Europe, include one in the Patek Philippe museum and another two in the Sandoz collection. Of these six only two feature diamond, emeralds, rubies, and turquoise, which include the one under Sotheby’s November Geneva sale (November, 14).
Maillardet, it is believed, was the only man creating animal automatons in the early 1800s, and he was doing it in conjunction with Jaquet-Droz. The Ethiopian Caterpillar’s crawling motion is produced by a series of rings, one into the next, the front lifts itself slowly and the rest of the body follows. The movement is initiated by a tiny, hardly visible catch in the middle of the body. Powering the movement is a barrel, a cam, and two leavers.
The automated bejeweled Ethiopian Caterpillar has a pre-sale estimate of roughly $350,000 to $450,000.