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Van Cleef & Arpels - Poetry of Time

Van Cleef & Arpels Poetry of Time

Watchmaking Dreams

To mark its return to the Watches & Wonders fair in 2022, the Maison has drawn enchanted new stories from its emblematic sources of inspiration, reflecting its unique Poetry of Time. Imbued with dream and emotion, this vision of watchmaking is brought to life through the exhibition display, offering an immersive journey at the heart of the Enchanting Nature up to the heavenly vault. Van Cleef & Arpels is pursuing its tradition of automata with three exclusive pieces, which combine watchmaking expertise and jewelry savoir-faire. An invitation to live in time with the cosmos, Poetic Astronomy presents the ballet of the planets in the form of a virtuoso automaton, while two other objects express the vitality of nature with extreme finesse. In the garden of Van Cleef & Arpels, two new watches take up their places in the Poetic Complications collection. On their dials, flowers seize the secret of time beneath precious petals, their corollas blooming throughout the day. This journey to the heart of the Maison’s imagination continues with a dream of opera, while the art of dance instills new style into one of its signature creations: the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch. Time flows by peacefully, opening the door to a world of wonder and harmony. 

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Detail of the Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watch’s dial © Van Cleef & Arpels

Extraordinary Objects

Renowned for its High Jewelry savoir-faire, Van Cleef & Arpels has been prominent in a lesser-known field since its foundation in 1906: objects that create a sense of enchantment and surprise. One emblematic example is the scale model of the yacht Varuna. Ordered by Eugene Higgins, a well-known figure in New York high society of the era, this boat in enameled gold rests on a sculpted jasper sea, mounted on an ebony base. Originally electrified, its funnel acted as a bell to call the butler. The objects created by Van Cleef & Arpels have also been an opportunity to fulfill unusual special orders, like the Maison d’Hortense: a vivarium in yellow gold, lapis lazuli and coral intended to house a Maharaja’s frog. The animal was known to behave differently as the temperature changed, and was used to forecast the weather. 

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Model of the Varuna yacht, circa 1906 Van Cleef & Arpels Collection © Van Cleef & Arpels

The Maison’s watchmaking objects accompany the passage of time with elegance and ingenuity. The mysterious clocks of the 1920s, followed by the more contemporary versions of the 1990s, portray a menagerie inspired by far-off horizons: monkeys carved in intense amethyst, pandas in contrasting ornamental stones, and bears paved with diamonds. In the 1970s, the taste for rough minerals and organic materials such as wood gave rise to paperweights incrusted with watch dials, surrounded by braided threads of yellow gold. 

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Bird cage, circa 1935 Van Cleef & Arpels Collection © Van Cleef & Arpels

From office and decorative ware to beauty or smoking accessories, the techniques and stones used for Van Cleef & Arpels’ objects bear witness to the customs of their time and the Maison’s savoir-faire. Remarkable for their associations of materials, each piece is the theater for a dialogue, at the crossroads of jewelry, watchmaking and traditional craft skills. The Fée Ondine automaton – created in 2017 – is now joined by three new Extraordinary Objects, which alternately offer an immersion in the cosmos and a dreamlike voyage to the heart of the Enchanting Nature. Designed in a variety of sizes, they are testimony to the Maison’s spirit of innovation, its constant quest for excellence, and its attachment to sustaining rare savoir-faire. These collective creations – whose development calls for several years of work and research – offer a skillful blend of music and movement to tell new stories. 

Planétarium Automaton: The Planetarium Tradition

Figurative reproductions of the heavens are a long-standing tradition. The term “planetarium” came into being in ancient times, referring to models representing the Sun, the Moon, and the planets closest to Earth. The oldest example of these representations is the Antikythera mechanism, from the 2nd century BC. Over the years, these objects depicting the celestial vault coexisted with measuring instruments of great precision: sextants, armillary spheres, astronomical and planetary clocks enabled the movements of the planets around a fixed Sun to be modeled. In the course of time, Galilean planetariums replaced the Copernican models, of which the giant Eise Eisinga Planetarium – founded in Waadhoeke, Holland in 1781 – is the final example.

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Planétarium automaton © Van Cleef & Arpels

In 2014, Van Cleef & Arpels set to work on reducing the dimensions of the planetarium, adapting them to the scale of the wrist. This gave rise to the Midnight Planétarium watch, which depicts the trajectories of the planets in the Solar System on a timepiece of great complexity. The masculine model was complemented by a feminine version in 2018, and by a High Jewelry version in 2021. Eight years after the revelation of its Planétarium collection, Van Cleef & Arpels revisits what has become an emblematic concept, and presents a new Extraordinary Object to enrich its universe of Poetic Astronomy.

The Ballet of the Planets

Distinguished by its impressive dimensions (50cm high and 66.5cm diameter), the Planétarium automaton presents the Sun and many of the planets of its system visible from the Earth: Mercury, Venus, the Earth – accompanied by its satellite, the Moon –, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Each heavenly body moves at its genuine speed of rotation, carrying out a complete orbit in 88 days for Mercury, 224 days for Venus, 365 days for the Earth, 687 days for Mars, 11.86 years for Jupiter, and 29.5 years for Saturn. As it does on the collection’s feminine creations, the Moon circles the Earth in 29.5 days, animating the object with perceptible movement day after day. 

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Planétarium automaton - Saturn, in white gold, sapphires, diamonds and jasper © Van Cleef & Arpels

When the animation is engaged, a shooting star appears from a small door and circles the dial to indicate the hours. It sweeps the planets along in a veritable ballet – accompanied by a melody specially created in partnership with Michel Tirabosco, Swiss musician and concert artist. Every second planet moves in the opposite direction to their natural orbit, bringing a fairy-tale poetry to the ensemble. 

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Assembling the Sun’s outer structure on its core © Van Cleef & Arpels

Watchmaking expertise dedicated to the Poetry of Time

To faithfully reproduce the movement of six planets around the Sun along with their positions at a given time, this decorative object employs a mechanical movement of great complexity. It is fitted with a planétarium module, along with an on-demand animation allowing the dance of the orbs to be replayed at will, developed specifically for Van Cleef & Arpels in collaboration with the CompliTime team. Beneath the automaton’s glass case – blown specially for the object at the Fluid workshop in France’s Belle-Île – a shooting star in gold, diamonds and Mystery Set rubies indicates the time on a 24-hour dial. On the base of the object, several windows follow one another: hours/minutes, day/night, perpetual calendar indicating the day, month and year, and finally power reserve. A door also allows to observe the automaton’s musical box and chimes.

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Assembling the perpetual calender module © Van Cleef & Arpels

The Magic of Materials

To recreate the wonder inspired by gazing at the heavens, Van Cleef & Arpels has paid particular attention to selecting and working the materials; derived from traditional jewelry making, they combine precious and ornamental stones. The Sun, encircled by a structure in yellow gold, yellow sapphires and spessartite garnets, displays a core of diamonds set on over 500 gold stems. When the automaton comes to life, it quivers as a result of a trembleur in the mechanism. This jewelry technique enables the motif to vibrate at the slightest movement, accentuating the sparkle of the stones. 

Different three-dimensional planets are arranged around the Sun. Mercury is represented by a moonstone surrounded by white gold, sapphires and diamonds, while Venus offsets the shades of agate with those of rose gold and purple and yellow sapphires. Earth gives pride of place to a stone making a first appearance in the Maison’s creations: chrysocolla, here enhanced with white gold, emeralds and Paraíba-like tourmalines. The familiar glow of the Moon, in orbit round the Earth, is evoked by an opal surrounded by white gold, yellow gold and diamonds, which contrast with the midnight blue of the object. Carnelian lends its warm tones to Mars, its red glow accentuated by the association with rose gold, pink sapphires and diamonds. Lastly, Jupiter is adorned with a heart in chalcedony and a border in yellow gold, spessartite garnets and diamonds, while Saturn showcases jasper, its rings blending white gold with sapphires and diamonds.

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Adjusting Saturn’s gold, sapphire and diamond ring on its jasper core © Van Cleef & Arpels

Suggesting the depth of the heavens, nine aventurine glass discs are positioned concentrically within the dial, half of them individually animated by the mechanism. The planets and the shooting star thus move at their own rhythms within a glittering setting. The ensemble inspires a dual emotion, suspended between immersion in the universe and the beauty of the craftsmanship.

Fontaine aux Oiseaux Automaton: Time for love 

Combining on-demand animation and a retrograde time display, this creation offers a double spectacle. On the side of the base, a feather moves progressively along the time scale. Once it reaches 12 o’clock, it returns to its point of departure to repeat its journey for the next half-day. When activated – up to five times in a row – the automaton comes to life for about a minute, revealing a tender scene. Thanks to the movement of its various elements, the water in the basin starts to ripple, as if in a light breeze. A water lily slowly blooms while a dragonfly rises into the air, beating its wings and slightly whirling about. The birds at the edge of the basin wake, their song ringing out – thanks to an assembly that includes a bellows and a clicking box, imitating chirping and beak sounds respectively. They raise their heads and move their wings to begin their courtship display. As they move closer together, their articulated legs rise one after the other in a strikingly realistic movement. When the scene is finished, the dragonfly returns to its hideaway, the birds take up their original positions, and the water lily gracefully closes.

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Fontaine aux Oiseaux automaton © Van Cleef & Arpels

A Collective Work

Creating the Fontaine aux Oiseaux automaton called for the excellence of craftsmen who are accomplished experts in their domains. After designing its first Extraordinary Object, the Fée Ondine automaton presented in 2017, Van Cleef & Arpels has once again collaborated with exceptional workshops, in France and Switzerland, including Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best French Craftsman) and Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company). The experience of automaton-maker François Junod, based in Sainte-Croix in Switzerland, has once again been combined with that of lapidaries, jewelers, stone setters, enamelers and cabinet-makers: all these virtuosos have communicated and shared their savoir-faire, pushing back their own limits to bring a poetic story to life. Breaking down and articulating the movement of the birds, shaping wings and wavelets sufficiently fine and light to be carried along by the movement… The challenges were never-ending, implying a constant process of research, from design through to the final stages of finishing. The Maison is deeply moved to be able to bring these rare and precious skills together, to accomplish new feats. This brand new Extraordinary Object – which called for over 4,300 hours of work in Van Cleef & Arpels’ workshops and more than 25,200 hours overall – encapsulates a collective human adventure, under the benevolent auspices of the Maison’s emblematic birds. 

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Openwork on a birds’ body © Van Cleef & Arpels

“This kind of projects pushes us to constantly expand the limits of our savoir-faire. Its various technical challenges require a constant calling into question, and the acquisition of new skills. These experiences are enriching on both the technical and human levels, since they bring about numerous interactions between new fields of expertise. When the object comes to life, the pleasure and satisfaction are immense: nothing is more magical than nature in movement.” Gregory Weinstock, Director of Van Cleef & Arpels’ High Jewelry Workshops.

“This extraordinary project is first and foremost a daydream that brings together artisans at the forefront of their art. It is also for me a leap into the magic of contemporary automata, as well as colossal challenges in the research and development of every detail of the different animations. I felt a lot of emotions during the first tests on the waves and the dragonfly. The marvelous aspect of the object and the impression of life aroused by the birds’ movements take us into a magical spectacle.” François Junod, automaton maker.

“We all depend on each other. It’s marvelous to see how each person’s work highlights the work of all the other crafts. It’s very rewarding.” Catherine Nicolas, lacquer craftswoman and Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

“It’s a great source of pride to produce objects of such rare complexity, to meet such huge technical challenges, and to work hand-in-hand with such inspirational crafts.” Nathalie Muller, Joaillerie Parisienne Workshop.

The Birds

Driven by a particularly realistic movement, the birds were designed in yellow gold before being adorned with brightly colored stones. The male, recognizable for his crest that unfurls during the animation, also stands out for his back incrusted with lapis lazuli, his chest set with a gradation of blue and purple sapphires, emeralds and tsavorite garnets, and his wings punctuated by pear-shaped sapphires. His gaze is depicted by sapphire cabochons set in white gold and surrounded by diamonds. The female is recognizable for her turquoise plumage and her chest adorned with the gentle shades of purple and pink sapphires, mandarin garnets and rubies. Her wings – also punctuated by pear-shaped sapphires – echo these delicate hues. During the animation, she mischievously blinks her purple amethyst-bead eyes, as she moves towards her companion. Carefully hidden in the base of the object, the mechanism endows the movement of the birds with great fluidity. Subtle details – such as a slight fluttering of the wings, the beat of an eyelid or a raised foot – have been made possible by mechanical expertise of great precision. Each quiver contributes to the magic of the scene, drawing the spectator into a gentle state of contemplation. 

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Assembling the mechanical skeleton of a bird on the automaton’s structure © Van Cleef & Arpels

The Water in the Basin

The water in the basin – which provides an enchanting frame for the Fontaine aux Oiseaux automaton – is made up of fifty slices of ornamental stones, which undulate during the animation. A blend of chalcedony and rock crystal, they convey the shifting tones of the wave and its translucent shimmer. They are integrated into the mechanism one-by-one using a system of rails inspired by the Mystery Set technique. Imitating wavelets, their movement is the result of detailed research, which ensured its gentle fluidity. The leaves and flowers of the water lily are fixed using hinges, enabling them to rise flexibly with each undulation of the water.

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Positioning the chalcedony and rock crystal pieces on the aluminum rails © Van Cleef & Arpels

The Dragonfly

Opening the dance for the object’s animation, this piece’s ascent into the air required extensive research. Its body is made up of three sections in white gold, set with diamonds: the head, the thorax – carrying the wings and legs and harboring a miniature mechanism –, and the abdomen mounted on a spring. Its two pairs of wings, each beating at a different rhythm, can be admired from different angles as the creature whirls about. They are adorned with white mother-of-pearl inlaid with fine gold threads and plique-à-jour enamel, presenting subtle gradations of color embellished with delicate iridescence. Diamonds are interposed between the enamel and mother-of-pearl, dazzlingly accentuating the materials’ translucency. The dragonfly’s gaze is represented by two sapphire cabochons, offering a final touch to this precious creature.

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Placing the gold-inlaid mother-of-pearl on the dragonfly’s wings © Van Cleef & Arpels

“This creation presented a real technical challenge: the difficulty involved both the dimensions of the dragonfly – which had to retain a fluttering quality despite its small size – and the extensive use of such fragile materials as enamel and gold inlaid mother-of-pearl. By observing nature attentively, we tried to imitate it as accurately as possible, and depict a real dragonfly as faithfully as we could, both in its appearance and its movement.” Nathalie Muller, Joaillerie Parisienne Workshop.

The Water Lily Flowers and Leaves

The ethereal petals of the water lily flowers were entirely shaped by hand before being enameled. Because of their generously sized corollas and the risk of deforming the metal in repeated firings, this final stage was particularly delicate. Coloring the enamel called for a specially adapted technique, to create subtle gradations from pastel pink to mauve. Each element was made as light as possible, so as to be animated by the mechanism.

The water lily leaves that punctuate the basin were also the objects of special attention. Each one exhibits cloisonné lacquer work, a blend of gold sculpture and meticulous coloration. The lacquer craftsmanship is carried out entirely by hand using traditional savoir-faire, from mixing the pigments to placing the material on the base, sanding the various layers, and the final polish. Here, it was confronted with a specific challenge: incorporating the veins of the leaves, represented by partitions of yellow gold. The lacquer was worked with an airbrush, with numerous layers applied successively to create subtle variations of green. A final transparent layer called the glacis is applied at the end, completing the color work and adding a touch of brilliance to the ensemble.

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Detail of the water lily flowers and leaves on the Fontaine aux Oiseaux automaton © Van Cleef & Arpels

“When I’m working with lacquer on a piece with so much relief and details, I need to get a sense of the object in my mind as precisely as in my gestures, because there is no way of starting over.” Catherine Nicolas, lacquer craftswoman and Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

The Feather

Watching over the time, the delicate feather stands out for the lightness of its slender silhouette, and its association of colors. On sculpted yellow gold, the soft shades of purple sapphires combine with vivid tsavorite garnets and emeralds, in a gradation that recalls the plumage of birds.

The Fountain Basin

The base of the object, in the form of a basin, is made up of a wooden chest, its upper portion covered with eggshell marquetry. This technique, known as Rankaku in Japan, was in vogue during the Art Deco era, and is featured on many objects from the 1920s. It calls for highly intricate work, since each element is positioned by hand on the base. 

“I discovered the eggshell technique in Asia, especially Vietnam where it is used a lot. The result is like marquetry, a mosaic: you play with the piece, its dimensions and the way it is positioned. In my work, I try to achieve a fine, regular positioning, using small pieces with parallel sections so the result is pleasing to the eye.” Catherine Nicolas, lacquer craftswoman and Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

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Mixing the pigments to preprare the vegetal lacquer © Van Cleef & Arpels

The eggshell technique is complemented by careful work with vegetal lacquer, applied using the traditional Urushi lacquer technique. Vegetal lacquer mainly refers to the exudation of the lacquer tree of South-East Asia: when the bark on the trunk is scratched, a white sap can be collected. To achieve a smooth surface when combined with the eggshell technique, some eight layers of lacquer are required, each one calling for a long drying time and hand-sanding. This final stage is quite complex, since the soft eggshell material can change color in contact with the abrasive.

“To create material effects, you have to imagine the work in three dimensions and think about the order and thickness of the superimposed colored layers. That’s even more true when you combine the eggshell technique with lacquer: the irregularities of the shell have to be taken into account to achieve a smooth final result.” Catherine Nicolas, lacquer craftswoman and Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

Rêveries de Berylline Automaton: Gentle Contemplation

The Rêveries de Berylline automaton is the first in a series of pieces inspired by nature, a cherished theme for the Maison ever since its foundation. Some 30 centimeters high, these automata – produced in partnership with the François Junod workshop – present a flower that blooms to reveal a fine winged creature. Here, a flower born in an imaginary garden animates on demand, opening its petals to unveil a hummingbird ready to take flight. The movement of the bird called for long hours of research and tests: its wings spread realistically to beat for a few instants, at a natural rhythm. The hummingbird then goes back to its place at the center of the corolla, which simultaneously closes all its petals around the bird, gently enveloping it. The music that accompanies this scene has been specially written for this collection. An Acanthus leaf in mirror-polished gold and diamonds adds the finishing touch to the creation, linking the flower to the base of the piece, where a rotating ring enables the time to be read. 

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Rêveries de Berylline automaton © Van Cleef & Arpels

“The main difficulty in creating automata is the weight of the various elements. For the mechanism to engage and for the movement to be fluid, all the elements have to be as light as possible. As jewelers, we are not used to working with this type of constraint. For the Rêveries de Berylline automaton, we worked very closely with the François Junod workshop – renowned as the leading workshop in the field of automata – to successfully design and animate both the hummingbird and the flower.” Allan Passebon, Deputy Director of Van Cleef & Arpels’ High Jewelry Workshops.

Savoir-faire dedicated to enchantment

The scene played out by the Rêveries de Berylline automaton gives pride of place to traditional crafts. Entirely sculpted, the base of the creation is made up of two pieces of red porphyry and a bowl in lapis lazuli. The stones – carefully selected by Van Cleef & Arpels’ gemologists – were intricately carved and polished to bring out all their character and inherent life. Harmoniously sprinkled with inclusions, their material is testimony to the Maison’s expertise in selecting ornamental stones that are rare or unusual in jewelry. Van Cleef & Arpels’ High Jewelry savoir-faire brings the bird to life: its glittering stones captivate the eye as it beats its wings. Special care was taken in selecting these gems, whose shades recall the shimmering plumage of a real hummingbird. In a final detail, a mauve briolette-cut sapphire seems suspended from the bird’s beak like a drop of water, its color subtly varying with the play of the light. 

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Detail of the hummingbird inside the Rêveries de Berylline automaton’s open flower © Van Cleef & Arpels

Lastly, a corolla of fine petals crowns the summit of the automaton, adorned with gentle shades created using the exacting skill of lacquer work. Produced in partnership with Catherine Nicolas, Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best French Craftsman), this imaginary flower is the result of particularly intricate work, employing the processes and techniques of traditional Asian lacquer craftsmanship. Painted individually using an airbrush in several successive layers, the 36 petals reveal subtle gradations of color, which are identical from one petal to the next.

“It is a great pleasure to see the piece move, to see the flower open and the hummingbird emerge. As a lacquer specialist, it is very moving to work on an automaton, because the lacquer work takes on its full majesty in movement, when it plays with light.” Catherine Nicolas, lacquer craftswoman and Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

“The exchanges between the different crafts have been particularly stimulating. Once everyone gets to know each other, a bond of trust comes into being, an alchemy takes place, and the work starts to be very exciting! These projects enable us to discover new skills, and as such they are real human adventures. We move forward hand in hand, complementing one another, and we build lasting relationships.” Allan Passebon, Deputy Director of Van Cleef & Arpels’ High Jewelry Workshops.

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From top to bottom: Testing the opening/closing movement of the rose gold petals © Van Cleef & Arpels

Poetic Complications

With the Poetic Complications collection, the marvels of watchmaking join with precious materials and traditional savoir-faire, to bring a story to life on the dial. On each creation, innovation is inseparable from research and wonder. Retrograde movement, flower opening module and minute window enable time to be measured via a stroll in a flower garden or the movements of a ballerina. Beyond their technical prowess, these virtuoso mechanisms provide precious moments of emotion, reflecting the imagination of Van Cleef & Arpels.

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Lady Arpels Heures Florales watch © Van Cleef & Aprels - Clément Rousset

Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier

“When we work on watchmaking projects, our goal is to use mechanisms to capture the poetry of the passage of time. And what could be more poetic than measuring time with the opening and closing of flowers?” Nicolas Bos, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.

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Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watch © Van Cleef & Aprels - Clément Rousset

The Time of Flowers

To pay tribute to the nature that has fascinated it ever since 1906, the Maison has drawn inspiration from the floral clock concept (Horologium Florae), developed by Carl Von Linné, in his 1751 book Philosophia Botanica. In it, the Swedish botanist evokes a hypothetical garden plan made up of a broad variety of plants, whose flowers open and close at specific moments of the day to show the time. Van Cleef & Arpels has taken up this principle to bring two brand-new creations into being: the Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watches. Their three-dimensional dial offers a poetic rendition of the passage of time, thanks to the opening and closing of 12 corollas. Telling the time becomes a spectacle, as the flowers blossom and close, renewing the dial’s scenery every 60 minutes. 

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Detail of a flower on the Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watch’s dial © Van Cleef & Arpels

“The Heures Florales project was born out of the encounter between a very great botanist and a rather unusual watchmaker. The first of them, Carl von Linné – notably renowned for his classification of the animal and plant species – had a highly poetic idea: a garden that would be a clock. The second, Van Cleef & Arpels, is the distinctive watchmaker that took an interest in Linné’s marvelous watch concept, on the boundary of art and science.” Nicolas Bos, President and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels.

The Excellence of Watchmaking Savoir-faire

To bring the dial to life, up to 166 elements are set in motion, thanks to a module entirely developed by the craftsmen of the Maison’s Watchmaking Workshops in Geneva. Each of this garden’s petals is articulated and connected to the watch’s mechanism, calling for intricate assembly. The technical challenge of combining so many elements is supplemented by that of ensuring a flower opening process with three different sequences. With each passing hour, the open flowers close to make way for a new combination. The next day, the sequence of the bouquets that succeed one another from hour to hour will be different. The eye is entertained by new surprises, as it seeks out the measure of time between buds and corollas. Telling the time is completed by a minute display, visible in a window on the side of the case.

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Assembling the watch’s oscillating weight © Van Cleef & Arpels - Johann Sauty

The Poetry of Craft skills

The Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier watches present a true bejeweled garden inside a 38mm case, in white and rose gold respectively. The first watch evokes summer in gentle blue and green shades, with leaves and flowers offering a delicate contrast with the background in white mother-of-pearl. The second timepiece revisits the same design in a springlike tableau. Ethereal blue butterflies – emblematic of Van Cleef & Arpels – flutter between the pink and red corollas, accentuating the dial’s relief effects.

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From top to bottom: Applying miniature painting on the dial’s flower petals © Van Cleef & Arpels - Johann Sauty

On each dial, no fewer than 226 elements are magnified by the craft skills brought together at the Watchmaking Workshops in Geneva. Petals and butterflies in miniature painting, branches in sculpted gold and clouds in sculpted mother-of-pearl are enhanced by stone setting of extreme finesse, with white and yellow diamonds sparkling alongside one another. The gold back of the case is engraved to echo the dial, while the movement’s oscillating weight – in guilloché gold and miniature painting – is visible beneath a sapphire glass, itself engraved and enameled with a winged creature, in turn a dragonfly or a butterfly. Time thus flows to the rhythm of nature in the garden of Van Cleef & Arpels. 

Lady Arpels Ballerines Enchantées

Born in 2013 and winner of the Lady’s Complication Prize at the Grand Prix de l’Horlogerie de Genève the same year, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch has become one of the Maison’s emblematic watchmaking creations, reflecting one of its major sources of inspiration: dance. This year, Van Cleef & Arpels reinvents it in two new pieces suffused with grace and modernity, one in white and the other in rose gold. The dancer’s graceful silhouette has been revisited, with her posture taking on a slender and dynamic attitude, while the flounces of her tutu unfurl in new materials and colors. When the feminine figure comes to life as if in a dream, different craft skills come together to instill the scene with fluid movement, lightness and refinement.

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Lady Arpels Ballerines Enchantées © Van Cleef & Aprels - Clément Rousset

The Grace of Van Cleef & Arpels’ Ballerinas

Depicting a dancer part woman and part butterfly, these creations follow in the footsteps of the ballerinas and fairies so dear to the Maison. In the 1940s, Van Cleef & Arpels stood out thanks to these playful and graceful clips, which immediately attracted the attention of collectors. At the prompting of Louis Arpels, a ballet enthusiast, the Maison created a host of ballerinas, inspired by such mythic personalities as the 18th century dancer La Camargo, or the famous Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. Their slender silhouettes, captured in an infinite variety of postures, were adorned with costumes and headdresses in precious stones, while a diamond represented their face.

The duet between Van Cleef & Arpels and dance continued thanks to an encounter that has left its mark on the Maison. In New York, Claude Arpels met the well-known choreographer George Balanchine and invited him to the 5th Avenue boutique. Their common passion for stones soon gave rise to an artistic partnership, which resulted in Balanchine’s ballet Jewels. Inspired by emeralds, rubies and diamonds, the trilogy was performed for the first time in New York, in April 1967.

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Chinese Magician pocket watch, 1927 - Fairy clip, 2004 Van Cleef & Arpels Collection © Van Cleef & Arpels

The world of dance continues to influence the Maison. In 2013, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch was inspired by a quote from Anna Pavlova: “I dreamed that I was a ballerina, and that I spent my life dancing as light as a butterfly…”. It also echoes the heritage of Van Cleef & Arpels, and in particular the double retrograde mechanism from the Chinese Magician pocket watch of 1927. On demand, the figure indicates the hours and minutes by raising its arms. The retrograde display, which instills a poetic dimension to telling the time, has today become characteristic of the Poetic Complications collection.

Lightness and Depth

On the new models, the ballerina’s body is sculpted in relief in gold, while her headdress, face, bust and waist are suggested by diamonds. She stretches her arms out gracefully, above the veils of her tutu, which are superimposed with an effect of transparency. The dancer is dressed in a first fixed corolla – in champlevé enamel, sapphires and diamonds for the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch, and in plique-à-jour enamel for the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Rose Gold watch. A second set of veils adorned with plique-à-jour enamel forms two translucent wings, which rise delicately to indicate the time. The scene stands out against a background whose radiating guilloché motif adds to the impression of movement. Several layers of translucent violet or pink enamel are then applied to add depth and brilliance to the ensemble. 

A Time-on-demand, Double Retrograde Movement

The Maison once again accentuates its poetic vision of time with a double retrograde time-on-demand movement. On watches with a retrograde movement, the hands trace a half-circle before returning to their initial position, ready to begin a new cycle. Here, when the user presses the button located at 8 o’clock, the ballerina’s tutu comes to life. The petticoat showing the hours rises first, followed by the other one which takes up its position on the minute scale. They remain in place for a few seconds, enabling the time to be told, then return simultaneously to their starting points. Their fluid motion is one of this complication’s technical feats: the ballerina appears to move her wings slowly and gracefully.

Le Temps Poétique

View of the Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée watch’s dial © Van Cleef & Arpels - Clément Rousset

Extraordinary Dials

Two new limited edition models – designed as miniature works of art, and combining several craft skills in the same tableau – are taking their places in the Extraordinary Dials collection. This year, the art of engravers, lapidaries, stone setters and enamelers recounts the poetry of love, in representations of animal couples.

Within a 33mm case, these relief scenes come to life in striking plays of perspective, recreating the depth of far-off landscapes. In the Maison’s well-loved tradition of animal couples, tender duos seem hung on each other’s knowing gaze.

Lady Duo

Inspired by nature ever since its foundation, Van Cleef & Arpels pays a special tribute to fauna – captured in all its wealth and diversity – with the new Lady Duo watches. Emerging from lush forest or the deep savannah, they encapsulate the vitality and enchantment of the natural world in a palette of dazzling materials. Thanks to this universal theme, the Maison expresses the values of love and affection that are its watchwords, while revisiting its animal repertoire – notably illustrated by the African et Polar Landscape watches in 2011, and by the collection of clips L’Arche de Noé racontée par Van Cleef & Arpels, in 2016. A renewed version of the Van Cleef & Arpels menagerie, at the crossroads of creativity, savoir-faire and poetry. 

Lady Duo de Lions watch

On the dial of the Lady Duo de Lions watch, traditional crafts come together to create an in-depth landscape. In the foreground, a couple of lions is intricately sculpted in relief from white and yellow gold, with particular attention to the three-dimensional volume of the silhouettes and their polished coats. At their feet, a surface of diamonds and pink sapphires contrasts with a background of turquoise and onyx marquetry, traversed by round diamonds that suggest the shimmer of water in the sun. Depicted in mirror-polished and guilloché rose gold, the latter emerges from behind clouds of white mother-of-pearl with subtle iridescence. On the back of the case, a scene engraved in the gold continues the love story recounted on the dial.

Le Temps Poétique

View of the Lady Duo de Lions watch’s dial © Van Cleef & Arpels

Lady Duo de Lapins watch

The new Lady Duo de Lapins creation gives pride of place to some of Van Cleef & Arpels’ emblematic craft skills. Sculpture on mother-of-pearl brings to life a pair of rabbits, exchanging tender glances. Around them, a garden of emeralds, tsavorite garnets and pink sapphires is home to vegetation in plique-à-jour enamel. The sun – in guilloché and mirror-polished rose gold – spreads intense reflections, while a cloud in lapis lazuli adds to the tableau’s impression of depth. On the back of the watch, an engraved scene revisits the graphic lines of the dial, prolonging the touching spectacle. 

Le Temps Poétique

Lady Duo de Lapins watch © Van Cleef & Arpels


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