Van Cleef & Arpels didn’t so much enter the world of complications as slip quietly in, bringing stories whose mechanical foundations often escape the public. Since 2006, the seasons, ballerinas, Parisian landmarks, ladybugs and birds of paradise have passed before our eyes. We have seen a fairy wave her magic wand and the tip of a wing, lovers kiss on the Pont des Arts or send messages between the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, and butterflies flutter round a tree.
Now a new butterfly joins the parade; a blue butterfly which has alighted on a flower where it flutters on the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate, a preview from SIHH 2017. As they beat, its wings graze a specially hollowed portion of the sapphire crystal, to the left of the hour and minute display.
Caught in flight
The butterfly automaton has been developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels and has four patents pending. It beats its wings in random sequences, spontaneously or on demand:
• When the watch is stationary, the butterfly flutters its wings at irregular intervals, between two and five times depending how much power is in reserve, for a total of nineteen times in one hour.
• When the watch is worn, the number of wing beats increases and is linked to the movement of the oscillating weight, which is in turn dependent on wrist movement. In half an hour, the butterfly can flutter its wings nineteen times.
• The automaton can also be brought to life on request by pressing the pusher on the side of the case at 8 o’clock.
• As an added bonus, the butterfly also controls power reserve. When the watch is manually wound by the crown, it flutters its wings in a continuous movement, stopping only at full wind.
The Lady Arpels Papillon Automate is part of the Nature Enchantée™ collection. Its decoration calls on a palette of artistic crafts, all mastered in Van Cleef & Arpels workshop in Meyrin, in the Swiss canton of Geneva. Creating the watch required an unprecedented degree of collaboration between craftsmen and watchmakers, so as to respect the construction and weight limits which are inherent to an automaton watch.
The butterfly’s wings are in plique-à-jour enamel for a transparent effect. It sits on a sculpted mother-of-pearl flower. In the background, a paillonné enamel moon shimmers thanks to an insert of silver leaf, reflected in water composed of blue, mauve and violet sapphires. The grains that secure the different sized stones are coloured with a ceramic paint, thus blending into the whole. Leaves and flowers are depicted in diamonds, champlevé enamel, applied in cells carved into the surface, and a particularly sophisticated plique-à-jour enamel. A special technique had to be developed for the curving leaves that form graceful arches in the foreground. Turning the case over reveals engraved embellishments on the gold, the sapphire crystal and the oscillating weight.