Van Cleef & Arpels’ new Lady Arpels Papillon Automate is a glittering example of how the Maison has mastered the ability to produce watches that offer a delightful mix of evocative beauty and technological innovation. The watch features an incredible multi-layered dial decorated in a myriad of traditional watchmaking crafts executed at the Maison’s watchmaking workshops in Meyrin, Switzerland; at 9 o’clock, a three-dimensional butterfly flutters its wings at a speed that is in sync with its owner.
Determining the number of times and frequency with which the butterfly flutters its wings is a differential that links a 19-teeth wheel to the oscillating weight of the self-winding mechanical movement developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels. The result is an automaton whose movements appear random, but is in fact controlled by the power reserve and the rate at which the oscillating rotor is moving. A pusher at 8 o’clock can also be triggered so that the butterfly beats its wings on demand. Four pending patents protect this 437-part complication.
Complementing this enigmatic complication is a dial that brings together the traditional skills of gem-setting, lapidary, plique-à-jour enamel, champlevé enamel, paillonné enamel and curved plique-à-jour enamel. The last craft is a new technique that was developed by the Maison: An adaptation of the time-honoured craft of plique-à-jour enamel, a vitreous enamelling technique reminiscent of the stained-glass effect, it now assumes a three-dimensional form that adds volume and emphasis to the dial. Rounding out the artwork on the 38mm watch is an elaborately decorated case back and micro rotor, which may be viewed through a decorated sapphire glass.
Demanding all of 12 months to produce is Van Cleef & Arpels’ first extraordinary object, the Automate Fee Ondine. Presented like a table centrepiece, it is a collaboration with automaton maker François Junod and some 20 other craftsmen who each left their mark on this incredible work of art. Everything on this tableau, from the enamelled lotus leaf that appears to undulate ac\cording to the lazy ripples of an invisible body of water, to the blooming lotus that reveals a dancing butterfly, is a fascinating discovery that can be enjoyed for 90 seconds at the quarter of every hour. Although time plays a secondary role here, it is still displayed poetically: A Mystery Set ladybug indicates the hours on a retrograde display.
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