Van Cleef & Arpels’ trio of Lady Arpels Ballerines Musicales timepieces is an incredible example of the meeting of watchmaking and jewellery-making savoir faire. A haute horlogerie project born 10 years ago, the manual-winding movement and on-demand animation required seven years of development.
The kinship between ballet and the house dates back to the ’20s when its founder and ardent ballet patron, Louis Arpels, often brought his nephew Claude Arpels to performances at Paris’ Opéra Garnier. The bond with the world of ballet deepened in the 1950s, when the younger Arpels met famed choreographer George Balanchine, co-founder of the New York City Ballet. Their shared passion for gems blossomed into an artistic bond that led the choreographer to produce Jewels. First performed in New York in 1967, each act of the non-narrative triptych linked a gemstone to a musical composer: Gabriel Fauré for Emeralds, Igor Stravinsky for Rubies and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for Diamonds.
As a tribute to the production, the maison recreated the three-dimensional tableau of an actual theatre stage. A diamond-set upper dial evokes a sparkling chandelier and plush curtains. And thanks to the fine crafts held dear to the house, sculpted, engraved and hand-painted drapes are awash with colour.
Each 44.5mm white gold Lady Arpels Ballerine Musicale watch represents one of Jewels’ three themes with the corresponding crown-set gemstone, motifs and melody. Displaying rich verdant hues is the Lady Arpels Ballerine Musicale Émeraude, while the Lady Arpels Ballerine Musicale Rubis timepiece shines in elegant crimson tones. Lastly, the Lady Arpels Ballerine Musicale Diamant watch sparkles with intense hues of white, blue and gold. The upper crown of each creation is graced by a precious stone that reflects the colour of the dial.
At the push of a button, the curtains open to reveal five ballerinas dancing to a 20- to 25-second tune from the performance. In an impressive technical achievement, the on-demand melodies associated with the three acts resonate with the crystalline tones of a carillon and a music box. The innovative combination and harmonisation of these two instruments treats the ear to melodies by composers Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky.
The watch case amplifies the melody created by the carillon and music box, transmitting it through a surface set with pavé diamonds. To elevate the audio experience, each watch comes with a birchwood and walnut marquetry case – created in partnership with luthiers and acoustics experts – enriched with an electronic amplifier.
The story continues on the back of the watch, which features an engraved bas-relief illustration of a ballerina dancing in front of the Van Cleef & Arpels’ 5th Avenue boutique in New York, where Arpels hosted Balanchine for a private viewing of the maison’s creations in 1966.
(All images: Van Cleef & Arpels)