BEIJING: It may be 200 years old, but this beautiful automaton silkworm still runs like clockwork.

The jewel-covered ‘Ethiopian Caterpillar’ was made for Chinese aristocracy in the early 19th century and is one of just six or seven in existence. Now it is expected to fetch up to £200,000 when it is sold at auction by Sotheby’s on Wednesday.

Made around 1810 by Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet, the silkworm uses a hidden clockwork mechanism to crawl and mimics the undulating movement of real-life caterpillars.

Its 7cm-long body is made of gold, decorated with coloured enamel and studded with seed pearls, rose diamonds and rubies.

The extravagant decoration is carefully coloured to make this example the most life-like of all the automated silkworms known to exist. 

Five of the others are held in European collections, including one at the Patek Phillippe museum and two in the Sandoz collection. The others are in private hands.–GN