The Parisian jewellery house Van Cleef & Arpels has made 'jewels that tell the time' for almost a century. This year's collection of new watches for women takes the idea of a jewel one step further and presents watches decorated with both precious stones as well as equally precious, and rare, rare crafts and skills. The diamonds and gemstones are there, but it is the hand of the artist that really stands out in the Lady Arpels new collections that include the 'Ballerine Enchantée Poetic Complication', 'Charmes Extraordinaires', 'Papillon Extraordinaires' and 'Cerfs Volantes' watches.
Each of these dials is inspired by a classic Van Cleef & Arpels motif, such as the ballerina, butterflies and, of course, the famous good-luck charms. The ballerina was first seen in brooches created by the house in the 1940s, when Louis Arpels, who was living in New York, captured the grace of his beloved ballet dancers in brooches featuring slender-limbed golden dancers with rose-cut diamonds for their heads. The charms relate back to the famous four-leaf clover shape of the Alhambra jewels back in the 1950s, when the long chains and bracelets were first created, often in hard stone such as onyx or tiger's eye, framed in gold and favoured by the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco and Jackie Onassis. Butterflies have fluttered through the house of Van Cleef & Arpels since the 1920s, its form lending itself to brooches and earrings.
Taking on a new life, the art of the miniature painter, enameller, stone carver, gem-setter and watchmaker come together in the reduced dimensions of a watch case. The star piece is the 'Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée Poetic Complication' watch. Using a double retrograde movement, this watch has no need for hands. Instead, pushing the button on the side of the case will rise to indicate the hours and minutes of the two arcs on either side of the dial. Half butterfly, half ballerina, the tiny golden figurine is sculpted in relief and set with diamonds. The veils of her tutu rise over her shimmering champlevé enamel clothes, all set against an eye-catching guilloché and enamel background. Few of these watches will be produced, and each is numbered as befits this collector's item.
The 'Charms Extraordinaires' combine whimsical scenes of more of Van Cleef & Arpels favourite creatures, including fairies, flowers and swallows. The dials are brought to life with enamel painting of varying techniques, and around the outside of each case spins a bejewelled charm. Only 22 will be made of each model.
'Lady Arpels Extraordinaire' finds new ways to bring the colour and grace of butterflies and kites to watches. Butterflies float with the lightness of nature thanks to the sophisticated use of crafts such as plique á jour, champlevé, pailloné and grand feu enamelling. The kites are something of a first for Van Cleef & Arpels as, for the first time, the house employs the technique of miniature painting on sculpted mother-of-pearl, which blends volume and creates lustrous iridescent nuances. Only 22 pieces will be made of each butterfly and kite watch.