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Musicbox Infos

Musicbox Repair

We repair or maintenance Swiss musicboxes (shipping only within Switzerland!). First, please purchase the service "musicbox inspection" in our webshop:  >purchase

Value of Musical Boxes

As a paid service, we offer value estimation and other infos concerning your Swiss musicbox (song names, maker, date of production etc). First, purchase the musicbox service "musicbox estimation" in our webshop:  >purchase

We'll contact you by e-mail after receiving the payment. Prepare to provide us detailed pictures of the box, especially movement details like texts and numbers.

Musicbox History

Ste-Croix, Switzerland

The origin of Musical Boxes can be traced back to 1796, to Antoine Favre, the watchmaker from Geneva. At first merely a gadget incorporated in watches, perfume bottles, pendants, etc., the musical movement was the glory of the village of Sainte-Croix (Jura region, Switzerland) during the second half of the 19th century.

At the time this industrial activity represented 10% of the total volume of Swiss exports and was a source of delight to the high and mighty of this world, from Europe to China.

Edison and his phonograph, the First World War, as well as the crisis of 1928, hit the music box industry very badly, so much that it nearly disappeared. After the Second World War, thanks to the American army stationed in Europe, Swiss music boxes got popular again as souvenir or present for loved ones.

In 1960, a Japanese company started mass-producing small movements, competing with the thirty or so Swiss manufacturers. Later, chinese makers entered the market.

As a result, most of the Swiss companies stopped business, as labor costs in Asia are a fraction of those in Switzerland. Unfortunately, this also resulted in a much narrower range of available tunes for the customers.

Today, the Swiss musical box manufacture "Reuge" offers the widest range of musical movements, from small 17-note movements used in Musical Watches to the exquisite Musicboxes with interchangeable rolls, and a tonal range of up to 144 notes.

Musicbox Types - Disc Music Boxes

Disc Musical Box

This invention dates back to the end of the 19th century and heralded the advent of the phonograph.

The disc movements are very easy to use and facilitate the setting up of a library of tunes, so that it is easy to complete one's collection at all times. This is the advantage compared to the Cylinder boxes.

In 1986, Reuge (Switzerland) took over production of this particular product from Thorens, a name well-known worldwide for its disc movements. In 2010, Reuge discontinued the production of disc musicboxes.

Our shop still sells discs and a disc musicbox of the most common size - AD30 - which is displayed on the bottom of >this page.

Musicbox Types - Cylinder Music Boxes

Musicboxes with a barrel (cylinder) are more common than the disc musicboxes.

In the following text as well as on our Web pages we use abbreviations for describing the movements. A movement with 1 song and 36 notes is abbreviated 1.36.

Basic movements

1.17 movement

The smallest movements with 1 song 17 notes (1.17) on a cylinder are used for Musical Pocket Watches and Miniature Musicboxes.

The next size is 1.18, which is used often in small Music Boxes and in Jewellery Boxes. Although it has only one note more than the movement designed for Clocks, it is considerably bigger but much cheaper, as the miniaturisation of the smallest movement is difficult to achieve.

There are other movement sizes like the 1.28, which is also mostly used in Jewellery Boxes.

1.36 movements are used in "better" Jewellery Boxes as well as in Music Boxes without Jewellery compartment.

1.50 movements are available mostly in Music Boxes.

Changing movements:

3.72 movement

On the changing movement, a terrific technology, a mechanism moves the cylinder laterally, allowing others pins to be in front of the teeth comb in order to play the next tune. When every tunes played, the cylinder comes automatically back at the beginning. Most common is the 3.72 movement, which is adored by Music Box lovers all over the world. 3.144 movements contain two specially tuned 3.72 combs assembled side by side.

Cartels

cartel movement

Cartel Music Boxes are more complicated in their construction than the above mentioned movements. Medium and big sized antique musicboxes often have this Cartel mechanism to wind up the movement. Cartel Boxes do not have a key underneath to wind up the spring, but a ratchet wind lever. The mainspring is not housed in a static springmotor, but in a rotating, cylinder-shaped spring barrel housing. The "butterfly" air brake is more intricate than those used in other movements.

Interchangeable Cylinder Movements

interchangeable cylinders

Interchangeable movements are constructed so that you can change between the five rolls that come with the box. It is not possible to buy later additional rolls. As with the other cylinder musicboxes, one has to decide before the purchase of the box what songs should come with the box (often 2 different sets are available).

Common sizes are 5.50 (5 cylinders with 1 song each) and 15.72 (5 cylinders with 3 songs each). Very extraordinary boxes, for example with 20 tunes 144 notes, are also available, but will cost accordingly and are often produced in a Limited Edition.

Manufacturing stages of a Musicbox

The Musical Movement

Arranging the tune(s): This step is only necessary when a new tune/tuneset is created for a musical movmenet. Each tune has to be condensed to its most characteristic part, so that it can be played and identified in 17, 24, 36 or 50 seconds, depending on the dimensions of the movement. The arrangement is made by a professional musician.

Machining: Shaping of the brass base-plates, on numerically controlled machines.

Stamping: Numerous stamping operations create mechanical parts that make up the movement, from materials such as brass or steel.

comb

The comb: The combs are first of all cut rough, and then the teeth are cut by machines which were created, developed and made by Reuge. The comb is then heated and plunged into oil to create a thermal shock; the correct hardness of the comb, and therefore the correct tone is thus obtained. The temperature and the time of heat treatment that make Reuge’s quality and reputation, are kept secret. After that, lead is soldered underneath the teeth for the bass notes.

The comb is then tuned. This is a computerized operation; each tooth has a frequency, and a grinding wheel files them to the correct frequency.

Finally, dampers are glued underneath the teeth which produce the bass notes to act as a damper (to perfect the sound).

cylinder

The cylinder: The brass cylinder is drilled by machines. After that, 0.25 mm diameter steel wire is inserted into the holes by other machines. At the factory "Reuge", each cylinder is visually checked to make sure that all the pins are in place and that they are straight. A small tool called a "poussette" (pusher) is used to insert the missing pins or to straighten ones which are crooked. Plugs are then placed at each end of the cylinder and an axle is placed inside. The next stage is equalizing the pins.

fixing

Fixing: This is the first time in the manufacturing of the musical movement when we can actually hear a tune. The fixer assembles all of the components on to the base-plate and checks the movement. The last step of the process is fixing the comb, so that it is exactly opposite the pins and neither too far nor too close to the cylinder, and checking the quality of the completed movement. This job requires a good musical ear and perfect vision.

The Box

The boxes are not manufactured in the same factories as the musical movements.

The inner sides are often made in elm, a very stable wood. Then the elm is covered with a precious wood: natural, colored or tinted.

The bottom is in a certain way the loudspeaker of the music box. It should be thin enough to vibrate well, as a violin, but thick and solid enough to bear the weight of the musical movement, as well as during the shipment.

The lacquer is made by 1 to 3 layers for 18- and 36-note boxes. For the deluxe boxes, more than 20 layers are applied. Between the layers, 3 to 4 days are necessary for drying. Polishing and cleaning are the last steps before applying the next layer.

There are also boxes made of other materials than wood, such as crystal glass, ceramic, plexiglass, and combinations of it.

inlay work

Inlay boxes: Many musicboxes are decorated with inlaid work, which is mostly hand-made. Sometimes, more than 100 species can be used and a design is made of 500 different pieces of wood. After the cutting, the pieces are assembled together on a sheet of paper, then stuck on the box. The paper is taken off by polishing.

The shadows in the inlays are achieved by burning the wood, piece by piece, in jars filled with hot sand.

Assembly of box and movement

musicbox assembly

The movement is assembled with the case completely by hand.

After the movement is screwed into the box, the starter system is checked and adjusted.

The song label and winding key are added, and finally the finished product undergoes a quality control.

Musicbox Links

Listening the music

To get the best listening experience, keep the music box minimum 30 cm (12 inches) away from the ear and keep the glass lid closed.

You can vary the volume and tone of the sound by opening/closing the lid and the drawer (only some models with interchangeable rolls). Another factor is the surface on which the box is standing. Generally speaking, wood surface is good, but you have to try for yourself in your home where it sounds best.

Musicbox Care

Please do not wind a box while playing, wait till the tune stops.

When you wind the movement, stop as soon as you feel the slightest resistance, never force it.

Do not expose a music box to sunlight, look after your music box as you do with a furniture.

In hot and humid countries, if possible keep your box in an airconditioned room.

Protect the movement from dust by keeping the box closed or by lowering the protective glass cover when you play it.

It is best for the movement when it is stored mostly wound-down. If the musicbox is stored for a longer period fully wound-up, the steel spring that powers the mechanism may loose its tension.

For the carriage of boxes, make sure that the movement has stopped at the end of the tune. This way the pins of the cylinder do not touch the comb, and therefore can not damage anything.

For the box and musical movement, do not use any cleaning product which could damage it.

Do not touch the movement (especially the comb). However, if you do, take care to remove the fingerprints immediately with a dry cloth.

Singing Bird Box History

Singing Bird Box

Approximately 10 years before the birth of mechanical music, Messrs. Jaquet-Droz of La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland), manufacturers of complex clocks, perfected a singing bird automaton and miniaturised its movement, which they subsequently incorporated in their high-class clocks. It is this extraordinary mechanism, with its bellows and piston whistle, which imitates bird-song so beautifully.

In the 19th century, singing birds were very popular in China. It is said that the Chinese lords used them to teach real birds how to sing! At the time, singing bird competitions were a common occurence, even in Europe.

The technique was transferred to Reuge by the Bontems company in Paris, established in 1840, and by Eschle in Germany. These enterprises were purchased by Reuge in the 1960s in order to safeguard the tradition and to be able to offer you exquisite examples of this extraordinary art.