Van Cleef & Arpels (and their 2016 Poetic Complications)
If you want to write about women's watches or jewel watches, you need to be a woman who is able to appreciate both a caliber and fine jewellery-making alike, or else what you are going to write about won't be taken seriously. This is the reason why this article about the Van Cleef & Arpels novelties is being released with a slight delay if compared to all the other ones. The author of this piece dedicated to the Poetic Complications by Van Cleef & Arpels is a female friend of mine and she is also Horbiter's Social Media Manager - GC.
AA - Van Cleef & Arpels is a non-typical brand existing within the multitude of luxury brands, it is a niche manufacturer within the world of luxury items manufacturing. They originally started as jewellers and artisans of luxury accessories and that's the exact impression that you get when you land on the website of this company whose name is automatically associated to the word “creation” rather than to the common words “jewel” or “timepiece”. Van Cleef & Arpels is the only brand taking part to the SIHH whose creations are difficult to collect in one single photographic session (I mean a hands on review) and that's because their pieces are simply too unique or too extremely rare, like the Special Orders that the manufacturer used to craft for their clients at the beginning of the 20th century.
At the beginning of January 2016, the company provided a small digital preview to their most important release; the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons. The video the brand has released is a unique experience, even for those people who have been producing professional videos for years. The footage reveals the hidden secrets of the movement and the skilful craftsmanship that make the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons an exceptional complicated watch with an original mechanical animation consisting of three butterflies flying at different paces and counting the retrograde minutes in conjunction with a swallow that indicates the retrograde hours.
What striked me the most was not the patented complication per se but rather its delicacy and the foothold of the video produced by Van Cleef & Arpels to tell its story, something that I found completely different from any other promotional video ever watched before.
This is the main difference between Van Cleef & Arpels and any other brand. The timepiece's animation is activated by pressing the button located on the white gold case at 8 o'clock, once the button has been pressed down, the three butterflies start flying through the clouds clocking down the time and then, after ten seconds, they fly back to their initial position.
The two timepieces in the pictures above are the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Jour des Fleurs (on the right hand side) and the Van Cleef & Arpels Nuit des Papillons (on the left hand side.) The butterflies pattern is decorated with diamonds and sapphires; there are 4 rose-cut diamonds that represent the butterfly located at 11 o'clock while sapphires and diamonds cover the whole dial. Diamonds have been inserted in the case-middle too.
To craft the multi-coloured dial of their Lady Jour des Fleurs, Van Cleef & Arpels chose spinels, yellow and pink sapphires coupled with spessartite and tsavorite garnets. The name “spessartite” derives from the Bayern city of Spessart where the spessartite garnet was first discovered, beside being a very rare gem the spessartite garnet has a very high refrective index that makes it extremely sparkly.
Tsavorite garnets, on the other hand, are those green precious stones that are set in the dial, they were chosen instead of emeralds for their hardness and they are also extremely rare since they can only be found in Kenya or Tanzania. Both timepieces feature a 33mm-diameter-case made of gold that contains a manual caliber that guarantees up to 40 hours of power reserve. A very particular characteristic of both watches is that the coloured precious stones are actually set in a disc that completes two laps in one day, this is how Van Cleef & Arpels interprets the Poetic Complications on two items that can be considered two examples of fine jewellery-making rather than watch-making.
The last chapter of this article is dedicated to the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Jour Nuit Fée Ondine; Ondine the fairy beholds a water landscape complete with water lillies while sitting on a leaf decorated with green tsavorite garnets. The dial is a mixture between two different types of materials; enamel with champlevé e plique-à-jour and a complex setting of sapphires and garnets that form a motif depicting a sun and a moon that complete a lap in 24 hours.
The final effect is a bright and iridescent dial that, thanks to the presence of the enamel and its plique-à-jour working, gives this timepiece a transparent and lengthening effect that makes the dial appear deeper. Many maisons are able to come up with jewel-watches but none of them can do that with the same delicacy and originality as Van Cleef & Arpels' creations. Their working techniques, their animations, the choice of their precious stones and their setting, even their press-release documentation are clear signs of this manufacturer's extreme care, class, elegance and total originality.
(Photo credit: Horbiter's proprietary photo-shooting)
Alessandra Argentino @Horbiter