Jonathan Betts, a renowned horologist, has recently completed the intricate task of dismantling and reassembling the Waddesdon elephant. The toy had been out of commission for fifty years, and the restoration saw Betts painstakingly reconstructing thousands of moving parts. The elephant is a marvel of craftsmanship, adorned with tiny oriental figures, crocodiles, gryphons, mermaids, beetles, and a diamond-studded lily. It also features a music box that plays tunes while the intricate figures move dramatically. Situated at Waddesdon Manor, the elephant is one of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s many treasures which include European royal artifacts.
The elephant is a gilded toy, as opposed to the other invaluable pieces at Waddesdon Manor. This unique piece was found in London and made in 1772, adorned with fake diamonds rather than the real jewels seen on other antique pieces. The Shah of Persia, Naser al-Din Qajar, showed admiration for the piece and attempted to purchase it from Ferdinand but was ultimately unsuccessful. His pursuit led him to acquire a similar automaton with a clock instead of a music box, later selling the piece for a substantial sum. The restoration of the Waddesdon elephant serves as a significant feat for Betts, given his accomplished background in horology.
The elephant has a storied history, having journeyed across Europe as a traveling spectacle in the following century. It has been subject to discussion and scrutiny over the years as Betts endeavors to fill the gaps in its historical record. Despite needing repair and restoration in the 1920s, the elephant remained at Waddesdon Manor, often bringing joy to visitors and still has traces of its years spent traveling around Europe attached to it. Betts has been instrumental in reviving its mechanics and functions by cleaning, replacing worn-out parts and adding precious oil to ensure its continued operation.
The expertise of Betts has allowed the Waddesdon elephant to once again display its visual and mechanical wonder. The toy, no less than 250 years old, has sparkled in its appearance and was well-loved by visitors. Its music box played new melodies different from the original after Betts meticulously reconstructed it. As the elephant surpassed 200 years of age, Jane Finch discovered that the last piece had been reinstated perfectly by Betts. Although serviceable for the time being, the elephant may require further attention in the future. Betts, however, is hopeful he has more restoration efforts in him, allowing the magnificent piece to remain a cherished attraction at Waddesdon Manor for years to come.