Every year, imaginative timepiece designers from across the globe exhibit their most indulgent flights of fancy at SIHH in Geneva. In 2017, Van Cleef & Arpels unveiled an array of enchanting haute-joaillerie watches, as well as the French luxury house’s first “Extraordinary Object”: the Automate Fée Ondine.
Building on the illustrious heritage of carriage clocks, this unique objet d’art is born of an intense collaboration between Van Cleef & Arpels and celebrated Swiss automata-maker François Junod, and draws upon the virtuoso expertise of artisans at some 20 European workshops, including lapidaries, jewellers, stone-setters, enamellers and cabinetmakers. Sculpted from ebony veneer, enamelled silver, and white, pink and yellow gold, as well as diamonds, rubies, pink, yellow and orange sapphires, white Australian opal and milky aquamarine, the highly complex Automate Fée Ondine is a poetic meeting of imagination, whimsy and engineering excellence.
When the timepiece is activated, a theatrical and three-dimensional fairy-tale tableau springs to life. Firstly, a lily leaf begins to ripple as if blown by a gentle breeze, before chimes ring out a crystalline melody and the lily flower slowly blooms to reveal a butterfly at its centre. The fairy Ondine awakens to admire the butterfly, which beats its wings and rises into the air before returning to its shelter, allowing Ondine to resume her slumber.
Van Cleef & Arpels has long been inspired by both the natural and the supernatural worlds, and this year it explores enchanting nature through butterflies as well as fairies, perhaps most vividly in the eye-catching Lady Arpels Papillon Automate watch. The dynamic and colourful face of this high-jewellery marvel sets the scene with the moon rising over a pastoral landscape of flowers and long grasses. A mechanical yet ethereal butterfly beats its wings in a symbiotic relationship with the watch wearer.
Featuring a 40mm white-gold case, diamonds in a serti neige-style setting, and a diamond-set bezel and crown, the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate watch also boasts a multilayered dial of round and pear-shaped diamonds, as well as blue, mauve and violet sapphires, mother-of-pearl, and champlevé, paillonné, plique-à-jour and curved plique-à-jour enamelling. The blue alligator bracelet is set off with a white-gold pin buckle set with diamonds.
Nestled at the crossroads of fine watchmaking and haute joaillerie, Van Cleef & Arpels enjoys a long tradition of creating exquisite jewellery pieces that tell the time, and the brand’s two new Ruban Secret watches, also unveiled at SIHH 2017, are highly flexible creations that gracefully express the fluidity of the humble ribbon.
Each crowned with a glittering bow that opens to reveal the dial, these deceptive timepieces can hide or show the time in keeping with their wearer’s mood. While one – in white gold – is adorned with round diamonds from its dial to the bracelet, the other – in pink gold – is embellished with a harmonious gradation of pink sapphires and diamonds.