I recently had the distinct privilege of visiting the Geneva workshops of Van Cleef & Arpels to witness the brand’s incredible Métiers d’Arts workmanship and its in-house watchmaking. That immersive visit was followed by a quick trip to Paris for the unveiling of an entirely new and enchanting series of watch collections for women. We already brought the story of the new Pont des Amoureux watches; now we bring greater insight into the brand and its mastery of poetry and storytelling.
Since its inception in France more than a hundred years ago, Van Cleef & Arpels has been wildly willing to talk about love and romance; to focus on the stories that arise from passion and emotions. Unlike any other watch brand, Van Cleef & Arpels does not begin its watchmaking journey with a sketch. It begins with a concept, a way to tell a wonderfully endearing story, and then develops the watch to follow suit.
In its workshops, master watchmakers sit side by side with master artisans, engravers, enamellers, painters and gem-setters. Together they work to bring concepts to reality – creating some of the most alluring and entrancing watches. In fact, Van Cleef & Arpels has one of the largest hand-painting and enamel departments in the watch industry, with more than 20 artisans working on the ancient grisaille technique, plique-à-jour translucent enamel, and so much more. Some of these artists spend an easy 40 to 50 hours creating a single dial for the artistic watches.
The unveiling of time
This year, the newest watches were showcased in Paris at a gala event held at the historic Garde Républicaine, built just after the French Revolution in 1789 to pay respects to the French state. Today the complex and its inhabitants are in charge of protecting the French president and government. With dozens of fine horses being exercised in the yards, the Garde Républicaine was the perfect backdrop for the event. While Van Cleef & Arpels President and CEO Nicolas Bos welcomed hundreds of visitors to the black-tie gala, nothing prepared us for the transformation we witnessed when we stepped inside the building, or for the wealth of scintillating high-jeweled watches that greeted us. In short, the entire interior of the main hall was like a walk through Paris, with cardboard cutouts replicating the city’s famed monuments.
Room upon room opened up as visitors strolled the building. One room held the complicated Pont des Amoureux watches, while another emulated the city’s gardens and played home to the artistic bird and flower watches. A main square showcased historical watches and curiosities such as perfume-spray watches and snuffbox watches by the brand. Every “street” one turned down was filled with watch wonders. Other than the Pont des Amoureux collection, Van Cleef & Arpels has also released a series of Charms Extraordinaire creations – watches with artistic dials showing lovers in different places throughout the city – and another of Poèmes En Fleurs watches with artistic dials featuring different flowers in bloom. The brand also unveiled a host of stunning secret watches with garden and floral themes.
However, perhaps the most romantic of all are the one-of-a-kind high-jeweled secret watches that dazzlingly relate the stories of legendary couples. Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled eight different ones, each of which tells the story of mythical couples in literature and opera with incredible attention paid to every detail. There are two versions of the Aida & Radames secret watch, recalling the young Egyptian commander who falls in love with an Ethiopian princess. Each features an elaborate bracelet made with hundreds of tiny individual parts to ensure ultimate comfort, and meticulously set with incredible and rare gemstones. Curves of polished gold resemble the sand dunes along the Nile. Surrounding the gold are more curves set with sapphires whose many shades of blue are those of the river itself. A lotus flower in pink or blue sapphire, depending on the version (nearly six carats each), adorns the center of each bracelet. The dial slides in and out beneath the central floral motif. The gold and dark blue version features a marquetry lapis lazuli and mother of pearl dial, while the paler blue version with pink lotus features a dial of turquoise and lapis. There is a single diamond motif at 12:00 as an ode to a secret rendezvous.
Van Cleef & Arpels pays homage in this series to half a dozen other mythical couples, including Aphrodite & Adonis, and Philemon & Baucis who, according to Greek mythology, were rewarded for their kindness and, because they wished never to be separated, were turned into intertwined trees to live forever together. The watch is crafted using diamonds and emeralds in leaf-like motifs. An emerald-set dome lifts to reveal the diamond-set dial beneath. All of the watches are evocative and romantic, and demonstrate the brand’s ability to interpret stories in high-jeweled manifestations for the wrist.