Van Cleef & Arpels began as a love story when the daughter of a precious stone dealer, Estelle Arpels, married the son of a lapidary, Alfred Van Cleef, in 1895. Even today, their pioneering spirit and shared passion for jewellery making resonate in complex pieces inspired by butterflies, fairies, and nature.
To mark the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie 2017, the Maison released the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate watch. A moon rises over a pastoral landscape as a butterfly sits perched on a bloom. Through a sophisticated automaton module, the butterfly flaps its wings. As though alive, the fluttering alternates in moments of calm and activity. The entire tableau reflects a wide range of traditional decorative techniques, adding aesthetic refinement to the technical marvel.
The butterfly motif appears again in the Lady Arpels Papillon Extraordinaire timepiece. This time, the Maison paints the wings with the colours of an awakening spring using a palette of shimmering pinks and blues. The dial combines various techniques, including gemstone sculpture and marquetry, enamelling and stone setting.
In another stunning interpretation, butterflies glitter in the moonlight on the face of the Lady Nuit des Papillons watch. This remarkable timepiece blends High Jewellery with the spirit of Poetic Complications. Expertly set with a serti neige style setting, the white gold dial arranges round and rose-cut diamonds and sapphires of varying diameters in a miniature painting. Carefully selected stones form a subtle gradation, evoking a night sky.
While butterflies were present in Van Cleef & Arpels’ imagination in the 1920s, the jewellery maker’s connection to ballerinas runs just as deep. Estelle Arpels’ brother, Louis Arpels, was a passionate devotee of dance – a passion he shared with his nephew Claude. It was at Louis’ prompting that the Maison first created a plethora of ballerinas in the 1940s. Inspired by living legends of the day like Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, graceful dancers were soon signature to the French luxury jeweller.
The Lady Arpels Ballerine Enchantée perpetuates the tradition of ballerinas and fairies to which the Maison is so attached. A white gold ballerina sculpted in relief and set with diamonds is half-dancer, half-butterfly. The layered veils of her tutu are light and transparent, creating the magic of the piece. While an inner corolla of champlevé enamel clothes the dancer, the outer skirt – like a pair of openwork wings – come to life to display the time.
Van Cleef & Arpels emphasises a romantic vision of time within this garden of winged masterpieces. Armed with boundless imagination, mastery of technical complications and traditional art forms, the Maison is ready to take flight into a captivating future that exceeds the boundaries of expectations.
(All images: Van Cleef & Arpels)
This story first appeared in Prestige Online – Malaysia