Like The Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux Watch, Van Cleef & Arpels Is A Watchmaker In A League Of Its Own
Like many other luxury jewellery houses, Van Cleef & Arpels designs and produces watches. But ask its president and CEO Nicolas Bos if he regards the French house as a watchmaker, he will emphasise that the brand is a jeweller by trade. “We are primarily, and we will stay, a jewellery house. We are a jewellery house that expresses itself through jewels and through watches,” he said when we met in October at L’École des Arts Joailliers in Paris.
The maison had invited select international press and top clients to the City of Lights for the global launch of Poetry of Time, its annual collection of watches and bejewelled time-telling devices.
Also the brand’s creative director, Bos highlighted the industry’s perception of a watchmaker being one that owns a full-fledged manufacture. Pointing to its horological facility in Meyrin, Switzerland, he acknowledged that in that sense, the brand has always been a watchmaker. “But we were never and never will be, I believe, a manufacture that develops and produces movements from A to Z.”
The Frenchman thinks that “there is a real legitimacy” in the way Van Cleef & Arpels has approached watchmaking. And it “doesn’t necessarily include producing the movement”. Including exceptional gemstones in the design, partnering the best in the different fields, and creating a compelling story around the final product, he noted, are just as important.
The new Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux watch launched at the event held at the Garde Républicaine training facility is a showcase of Van Cleef & Arpels’ mastery of watchmaking. Similar to what was used on the dial of the original Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux first launched in 2010, the grisaille enamel technique is once again employed on the new version. White enamel powder is placed on a dark background, which renders the light and shade effects of the Parisian night.
But to push the creative envelope, Van Cleef & Arpels used coloured grisaille enamel for Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux Jour, the daytime version of the watch, as well as the four limited-edition Tender Seasons pieces, which feature dials depicting scenes of the four seasons. Its artisans used pink and blue enamels against a white background to evoke the softness of daylight.
We are primarily, and we will stay, a jewellery house. We are a jewellery house that expresses itself through jewels and through watches
— Nicolas Bos, president and CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels
While the new Pont des Amoureux watch looks similar to the original, it is not a like‑for‑like replica. For one, its watch face features minor tweaks such as the crescent moon being shifted closer to the dial peripheral from its original spot near the number 12 of the hour arc. What is also different about the new Pont des Amoureux is the inclusion of an on-demand animation button at 8 o’clock. By pressing the button, the wearer can enjoy the pure bliss of watching the lovers—the lady is the hour hand, while the gentleman the minute hand—walking up the bridge and kissing briefly before they resume telling
A watch with such an animation function requires energy to bring the components to life on the dial. How is energy regulated in this movement then? Van Cleef & Arpels cleverly used its experience in working with automatons such as the Lady Arpels Papillon Automate from 2017 to re-engineer the self-winding calibre. To activate the lovers’ rendezvous, energy is generated by pressing the button, an action that triggers a series of gears to provide a sufficient push to set the entire animation in motion. This way, the watch’s accuracy is not compromised by the lack of energy in the movement.
Besides the Pont des Amoureux line, this year’s Poetry of Time collection also includes the Extraordinary Dials and High Jewelry ranges, both of which are also heavily inspired by love. Couple these with the Romeo & Juliet high jewellery collection launched in July, and one might think that the French house has deliberately selected love to be the central theme for the year. Despite agreeing that 2019 is “the year of love”, Bos insisted that the brand will not always operate on an annual unified theme.
(Related: Van Cleef & Arpels Breathes New Life Into The Iconic Lady Arpels Pont Des Amoureux Watch In Its Poetry Of Time Collection)
“The day these types of creative approach start to become strategies and be systematic, they lose the freshness and spontaneity,” he stressed. “With some themes, they can be universal, while others will only remain with specific projects. I’d like to have us work on universal themes sometimes, and then come back to some that are obscure or specific. We simply just want to talk about watches and the way we express the identity of the house through them.”