Delicate timing
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Delicate timing

Van Cleef & Arpels' Poetic Complications delight at Watches And Wonders Geneva

Delicate timing
Lady Arpels Jour Nuit 38mm.

A feast of mechanical marvels, Watches And Wonders Geneva with 54 participating brands ran from April 9-15. For the 2024 edition, Van Cleef & Arpels dreamed up "Wonders" that demonstrate its preservation and transmission of métiers d'art.

"Craftsmanship has lain at the heart of our every initiative for more than a century at Van Cleef & Arpels. It defines our jewellery and high jewellery creations, where we perfect traditional techniques while also incorporating innovations. Likewise, we adapt the savoir-faire to fit the scale and particular function of watches while also developing new approaches," said president and CEO Nicolas Bos.

In 2006, the Lady Arpels Centenaire timepiece marked 100 years of the Paris-based maison as well as the beginning of the Poetic Complications collection.

Three new white gold models were unveiled at the watch industry's biggest showcase.

Van Cleef & Arpels president and CEO Nicolas Bos. (Photo: Pedro Neto)

Firstly, Lady Arpels Brise d'Été celebrates the freshness of a summer morning through a miniature painting, which highlights various enamelling techniques.

The Living Heritage company nurtures a wide range of traditional crafts at its watchmaking facility in Meyrin, Switzerland. For instance, a workshop and training school are dedicated to the art of enamelling.

Under the Enchanted Nature theme, the 38mm Lady Arpels Brise d'Été boasts blooming flowers against a matte mother-of-pearl dial. Created in vallonné enamel, their corollas display azure nuances complemented by spessartite garnet pistils.

This technique involves creating hill-like reliefs within indentations cut into the base, which adds the subtle nuances of colour and depth while enhancing the dial with a sense of movement and vitality.

Lady Jour Nuit 33mm. (Photos © Van Cleef & Arpels)

Lady Arpels Brise d’Été

For champlevé enamelling, hollows cut into a metallic base outlining the motifs are filled with moist powdered enamel before firing. The process is repeated several times, after which a final sanding removes the excess enamel.

As a result, the champlevé enamel leaves stand out with threadlike metal contours on the dial.

Plique-à-jour enamelling is executed on grass blades in tsavorite garnets. Designed with an openwork structure, the motifs are filled with thin coats of translucent enamel and are fired after each layer to bring out the full intensity of the colours.

For this miniature painting, the free-hand drawing calls for accuracy and dexterity from the craftsman, whose palette is an assortment of coloured enamels made up of silica powder, very finely ground pigments and oil.

The artisan, equipped with a binocular loupe, paints with a thin marten-hair brush to create a gradient of hues. The colours are applied one by one, in a highly precise order, from lighter tones to deeper shades. Absolute precision in terms of the exact time and temperature is required for the firing process to masterly achieve each hue.

Miniature painting on top of flowers in vallonné enamel.

"We chose to develop our own enamel workshop, which no doubt ranks among the world's most accomplished. By improving on traditional techniques we have succeeded in creating level surfaces akin to a painter's canvas, while also instituting sculptural forms in spaces as small as a watch case," said Bos.

"Furthermore, having our own workshop enables us to innovate, adapting our techniques to suit new market standards, particularly with regard to materials. For instance, our new formulas no longer use lead, a heretofore standard ingredient in enamel."

Plique-à-jour enamel further plays on light and transparency on the white- and yellow-gold butterflies that flutter off via an on-demand animation module. Moreover, the mechanism makes the flowers and their stems come to life on the dial.

At the end of the animation, the two butterflies return to their initial position indicating the time. The orange and blue butterflies, diametrically opposed, alternate at noon and midnight.

In-house self-winding calibres work their magic in the new Poetic Complications.

Murano aventurine glass disc.

The movement of the Lady Arpels Brise d'Été is equipped with an automaton module and the on-demand animation while the mechanism of the latest 38mm Lady Arpels Jour Nuit and 33mm Lady Jour Nuit differs with a day/night module.

Reinventing the Lady Arpels Jour Nuit watch, introduced in 2008, took three years of development.

Aventurine glass serves as a 24-hour rotating disc that gradually transforms the decor on the dial throughout the day for this expression of the Poetry of Time.

The Murano aventurine glass lends a glittery deep blue background for diamond-paved moon and twinkling stars on both Jour Nuit models.

The sun shines in snow-set yellow sapphires or alternatively guilloché yellow gold on the 38mm and 33mm versions. Another distinction, the horizon-evoking mother-of-pearl shrouds are in white or painted blue with a guilloché effect.

The caseback is as captivating thanks to enamel decal and two new techniques developed for the sapphire crystal.

Enamel decal on the sapphire crystal caseback.

Between 30 and 36 coats of enamel are layered on a single sapphire glass, with the drying period varying between each coat. The complexity of this technique also lies in striking the perfect balance between temperature and firing time.

Van Cleef & Arpels developed the pointillism technique for a colour gradient that infuses the blue background with greater vitality. The second technical approach employs platinum to conjure the fairy silhouette, which watches over an oscillating weight adorned with polished stars.

Besides the Poetic Complications, the maison exhibited two timepieces with extraordinary dials and two automata that further illustrate the maison's métiers d'art.

"Thanks to enamelling, engraving, marquetry, miniature painting and other fields of expertise, we are able to render figurative decors that breathe life into this vision of the Poetry of Time so central to our spirit," said Bos.

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