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Van Cleef & Arpels, the story-teller

Van Cleef & Arpels, the story-teller

Monday, 27 January 2014
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

As always, at the 2014 Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, Van Cleef & Arpels demonstrates its command of the métiers d’art in a dazzling display of “extraordinary” dials, and offers an impressive interpretation of horological complications. An interview with Denis Giguet, director of the Maison’s watch workshops.

Van Cleef & Arpels is no stranger to the arts, something it again amply demonstrates at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie with no fewer than eighteen new renditions of its Midnight and Lady Arpels watches, alongside two original interpretations of its Pierre Arpels. The métiers d’art, horology’s decorative arts, take pride of place at the brand which, year after year, returns to these age-old techniques for its timepieces’ dials. Among the models unveiled this year are two complicated watches, both of which fit perfectly with the Maison’s poetic concept of time: Midnight Planetarium and Pierre Arpels Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs.

Pierre Arpels Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs © Van Cleef & Arpels
A new way to read time

Midnight Planetarium offers a wrist-borne view of six planets – Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – and their movement around the sun. This complication is brought to life by a mechanical movement which Van Cleef & Arpels developed in collaboration with Christiaan van der Klaauw. The planets are set on concentric aventurine discs. Each makes one revolution around the dial in the same time their heavenly counterparts take to orbit the sun:  over 29 years for Saturn, close to 12 years for Jupiter, 687 days for Mars… Time is given by a shooting star which circles the edge of the 24-hour dial. Day, month and year are shown in two apertures on the back of the case. In a whimsical touch, the wearer can rotate the bezel to align a red triangle with their chosen lucky day on a graduated calendar. On that day, the Earth will position itself underneath the star that is engraved on the sapphire crystal.

The Pierre Arpels Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs (“time here and time elsewhere”) contains an automatic movement, developed with Atelier Genevois d’Horlogerie Agenhor, with a double jumping hour display (corresponding to two time zones) and retrograde minutes. “Both these timepieces are characteristic of how we at Van Cleef & Arpels approach complications,” explains Denis Giguet who heads the Maison’s watchmaking workshops. “We begin not with a concept for a mechanism but with an idea, a story we want to tell. This idea then winds its way between Nicolas Bos, the CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, the marketing department in Paris, and the design office in Geneva. After these initial considerations, and if the idea makes sense in watchmaking terms, then the first sketches are produced. These must confirm that the watch as we imagine it is fully in keeping with the Maison’s tradition. In which case a more traditional development process begins.”

We allow nothing to compromise the aesthetic of our watches.
Denis Giguet
Finished to Fine Watch standards

Watchmaking by Van Cleef & Arpels is also distinguished by the fact that “We allow nothing to compromise the aesthetic of our watches. Take the example of the Pierre Arpels Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs. We insisted on a complication that would be simple to use so as to preserve the original aspect of the dial. Furthermore, while we aren’t yet up to Poinçon de Genève criteria, the finish of our watches clearly tends towards the requirements of a Fine Watch. We are gradually bringing the necessary competencies into our workshop even if, when developing one or other product, we will also seek out the skills of people who are able to bring our stories to life.”

Both these models perfectly illustrate Van Cleef & Arpels’ strategy in the watch sector, which two years ago included the revival of the Pierre Arpels. “This classically elegant timepiece helps us to stand out from the competition in the men’s watch segment,” notes Denis Giguet. “We will gradually enrich it with our own style of complications. However, let’s not overlook the fact that we are still associated first and foremost with women’s and jewellery watches. We don’t want to push too far, too fast. The idea is to establish the Pierre Arpels for the long term. Even so, in view of the level of finish we offer and the new skills recruited in-house, we have already reached an important threshold.” Through its 102 points of sale, more than 60 of which belong to the brand, Van Cleef & Arpels’ story-telling skills are attuned to success.

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