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Van Cleef & Arpels - Lady Arpels Papillon Automate

Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Papillon Automate

The Lady Arpels Papillon Automate has emerged from its chrysalis after three years’ gestation.

Last week, the watchmaking workshops of Van Cleef & Arpels, based at the Campus de la Haute Horlogerie in Meyrin (Geneva) were in a ferment: company CEO Nicolas Bos had arrived from Paris, accompanied by his entire management team, to unveil two big new launches for 2017 and confirm the company’s watch strategy for the coming year, to an expectant audience of journalists. Van Cleef & Arpels will continue to make jewellery that tells the time, as well as narrative pieces driven by mechanical movements, based on its preferred themes of dance, enchanted nature and astronomy.
Two of these themes come together in one particularly breathtaking creation: an impressive piece that took almost six years’ research and development involving a number of craftsmen and technicians from a range of fields, which is imprinted with the Van Cleef & Arpels DNA. The first privileged witnesses of the piece, which is as inspiring as it is exceptional, had to promise not to give anything away before the first day of the SIHH in January 2017. Magic demands patience. And patience was also a requirement for the creators behind another ambitious project, presented officially at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie at the beginning of this year, and now available to the WorldTempus community, through several exclusive short films illustrating the complexity and beauty of this wrist-mounted automaton.

van cleef & arpels Papillon automate

The butterfly effect
What is not obvious from a still image is that the gold and enamel butterfly resting on the flower actually flutters its wings. The aesthetic and technical achievements are all the more remarkable when one learns that the wings beat both randomly, depending on the wearer’s activity, as well as on demand. Every hour, while the watch is stationary, Van Cleef & Arpels’ iconic butterfly will flutter its wings 19 times, at irregular intervals, making a total of around a hundred beats. This number is doubled if the watch is in active use. The number of successive beats of the wings is governed by the status of the power reserve. If power is low, the wings will flutter somewhere between one and two hundred times, in a maximum of five bursts. If you just want some amusement, or a little stress relief, one press of the pusher activates five successive wing beats. By keeping the pusher depressed, the spectacle can last up to 40 minutes, until the barrel dedicated to the automaton has released all its energy. The butterfly also flutters its wings while the watch is being wound via the crown, then, when the barrel has been fully charged, it rests to indicate that no more winding is necessary.

See the video 1
See the video 2



One week to assemble one movement
The head of the R&D department explains that it took three years’ work to perfect the ingenious mechanism, which is the subject of four separate patents. Under a loupe, the movement’s cranks look like something from a steam locomotive. The baseplate of the dial is extremely complex, since many components had to be moved to one side in order to make room for the automaton. The teams responsible for the dial, the case and the movement worked in parallel to ensure they were perfectly integrated. Interaction between the dial and the bezel was optimised to give the illusion of maximum space for a minimal diameter, despite the crown. The degree to which the wings would open was also studied minutely with models, in order to evaluate the impact on energy consumption, before they were inserted under the glass.


The automatic movement is so complex that it takes an entire week for the Van Cleef & Arpels watchmakers to assemble just one. In total, between twenty and thirty will be made. The stunningly ornamented dial enhances the motion with colour: champlevé and paillonné enamel, mother-of-pearl, plique-à-jour, and a cascade of round and pear-cut diamonds, and blue and mauve sapphires. Perhaps the butterfly effect will help to trigger Van Cleef & Arpels’ return to the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève.

Lady Arpels Papillon Automate
Case: 18K white gold set with diamonds, crown set with one diamond, engraved white gold and sapphire crystal caseback giving a view of the rotor, water resistant 30 metres
Diameter: 38 mm
Movement: self-winding mechanical movement (developed exclusively for VCA with randomising module), twin barrels (one for the automaton)
Dial: gold set with round and pear-cut diamonds, blue and mauve sapphires, champlevé and paillonné enamel, mother-of-pearl, plique-à-jour
Strap: blue alligator, white gold pin buckle set with diamonds
Bracelet : alligator bleu, boucle ardillon en or blanc serti de diamants

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