Written in the stars
Combining state-of-the-art creations with forward-thinking designs, French maison Van Cleef & Arpels journeys into the past with its latest line of luxury watches, to a time when mankind looked to the cosmos for answers. For luxury watch and jewellery brand Van Cleef & Arpels, the measurement of time is not limited to the seconds, minutes and hours a timepiece represents. It goes beyond the imaginable, embracing the change in seasons, the movement of the stars, the dance of the planets and the evolution of art and science through the centuries. The poetic interpretation of time has, for decades, remained the maison’s true signature and the guiding philosophy behind each of its splendid creations. Once again the brand looks to the stars for inspiration, unveiling an impressive new line of horological masterpieces. And as global president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels, Nicolas Bos, rightly puts it, “The Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux brings the night sky to life on your wrist.”
No ordinary collection, the Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux line is part of the larger Poetic Complications collection and has been introduced exclusively for its female patrons. It follows, and perfectly complements, its masculine version – the Midnight Zodiac Lumineux – which was introduced earlier this year at SIHH. Just like its male counterpart, the Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux line features a set of 12 models, one representing each of the 12 symbols of the western zodiac.
While for most watchmakers, the traditional approach to watchmaking starts from function, Van Cleef & Arpels narrates a different tale, tossing aside all conventional notions of timekeeping. Bos explains: “It’s always the story that comes first and it then drives the design. Once you have your concept in place, it allows you to interpret it the way you want. That’s how the technical development follows.”
This philosophy is clearly reflected in the Poetic Astronomy collections. Sharing the story behind the exquisite new line, he says: “Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences and it expresses mankind’s eternal fascination with the skies. For years, we’ve sought answers to the origins of the cosmos. This is no new information but a simple reminder that timekeeping and watchmaking have as much to do with astronomy as the movement of the stars and planets because, when it comes to the art of horology, all we do is seek to reproduce the passage of time.
“If you study 17th or 18th-century artistic interpretations of the skies, you’ll find a connection between two disciplines, that in the view of scientists, can never be associated with one another – astronomy and astrology. But interestingly, when you take a closer look, astronomy is about understanding the skies whereas astrology seeks to understand how the skies influence our lives, choices and destinies. The western zodiac beautifully explores this connection and with our new collection, we seek to narrate it in the most poetic of forms.”
Although both collections nod to the spellbinding movement of the stars and planets, on the men’s side, the watches feature white gold cases and rich blue enamel dials with intricate white gold details forming the shape of the zodiac sign. While, the women’s line champions an ornate look and feel with white gold cases fully set with diamonds varying in size. The deep blue dial evokes the night sky as the elaborate multi-coloured enamel work on it corresponds to the specific zodiac sign with the constellation composed of delicate, translucent blue enamel beads. There’s something innately charming about each piece, you’ll instantly fall in love with the intricate creativity displayed in each of the unique elements like the lion’s head in yellow gold and yellow sapphires for Leo, the Taurus bull modelled out of emerald-hued enamel and the Sagittarius bow set in spessartite garnets with a pink gold arrow.
Yet these imaginative pieces are more than just a visual delight. They are also a feat of watchmaking. A closer look at the dial reveals the principle of piezoelectricity at work, for which Van Cleef & Arpels holds a patent. If you press the pusher on the left-hand side of the watch case, you’ll feel a subtle vibration before the enamel beads on the dial, which represent the constellation, light up for a few seconds. And there you have the night sky! Crafted at Van Cleef & Arpels’s Meyrin workshops, these automatic wristwatches are powered by the movement of one’s hand. There is no battery or capacitor at work and the constellation is powered purely from the pressing of a button.
As simple as this complication may seem on the surface, there’s clearly magnificence at play, underpinned by technical engineering that sets this collection apart from the brand’s previous efforts in trying to tap into the cosmos. Bos says: “The Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux was quite a long project. It involved a lot of research and technological development to enable the creation of light in the very limited space of a watch case with mechanical movements. It took a lot of fine tuning but the results have thrilled us all.”
With all the work that goes on behind the scenes, being the man running the show is no easy feat, although Bos makes it seem effortless. “We are quite lucky to be in an environment where the cycles are longer compared to some other industries. It doesn’t mean that we work slowly. It’s just that it takes time to build a collection and develop technique. “We work on plans that will only come to fruition in the next three, five or six years and the best part about staying with a brand for years is that you get to create connections between different projects and therefore, bring a bit of you into the collection. It’s exciting.”
The new pieces are all set to hit the region this month and Bos says: “We have big plans for Dubai and the region. We recently opened a new store at The Dubai Mall and are looking to further improve our network in the best possible locations. Today, the Middle Eastern market is as important to us as traditional markets in the United States, Europe and Japan. We look at it in the same way.”
But the most significant aspect of it all is the impact the brand has made in the watchmaking industry. Traditionally, men have always been perceived as watch collectors, but Van Cleef & Arpels’ collections have always appealed more to women. Bos concludes: “When we first launched the Poetic Complications collection, everybody thought we were stupid because women were not interested in complicated watches and movements. But now I see pretty much all the other brands following suit as there seems to be a rebalance in what was previously perceived as a predominantly masculine world. I think we’ve played our part in helping shift this perspective and put the focus on female collectors.”