Blending high-level technical expertise with a poetic rendering of timekeeping, Van Cleef & Arpels is known for creating theatres for the wrist. Lovers meeting for a kiss on a bridge, dancing ballerinas and orbiting planets have been utilized to mark time at the French maison. But its latest, the 38mm Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier (prices upon request), stage a horological first with its most complicated dials to date.
The watches show the passing of time via the opening and closing of flowers. Instead of operating around the circumference of the dial, they bloom in a seemingly random pattern in a series of three different cycles. The hours are counted by the number of flowers that unfurl at each hour, while the minutes are read on a horizontal rotating disc, viewed via an opening on the side of the case.
It may look like a simple performance, but the complex movement involved about five years of research and development. A system, which is currently pending a patent, sets the flowers in motion via a wheel that charges a spring in the barrel that feeds the power to trigger the animation. The barrel uses a centrifugal regulator that controls the speed of the flowers’ movement. They are slow to close and quick to pop open—a cycle that takes up to four seconds.
Surrounded by hand-painted butterflies, golden branches, diamonds and gems set in mother-of-pearl, the flowers take inspiration from Carl Von Linné’s 1751 book, Philosophia Botanica. In it, the Swedish botanist envisioned a hypothetical garden with blossoms that opened and closed to tell the time. More than two and a half centuries later, Van Cleef & Arpels realized his dream in miniature, creating the concept for the wrist.
A watchmaker carefully assembles the movement. Each watch is composed of 533 components, 166 of which are for the dial alone.
One of the golden wheels, used to set the animation of the flowers in motion, is carefully placed into the movement with tweezers.
Movers and Shakers
The assembly of these four bridges—used as building blocks for the flowers—is a critical step, allowing for the opening and closing of the flowers. There are 13 bridges total in each piece.
Each dial is hand-painted, including its 3-D petals and butterflies, using a tiny brush. The Heures Florales is decorated in four shades of blue and four shades of green, while the Heures Florales Cerisier has four shades of pink and three shades of blue. The colours are lifted from a wall of enamel colours in Van Cleef & Arpels’s workshop in Meyrin, Switzerland.
Through the Looking Glass
To create the burst of colour in this visual wonderland, artisans use microscopes while painting the features of the dial. Only a digital blueprint and the craftsperson’s own hands serve as guides in the delicate process.
The dial is set within an 18-carat rose- or white-gold case set with 244 diamonds weighing approximately 1.90 carats. The complicated snow setting arranges the stones with a minimum distance of 0.05mm between one another—a space two times thinner than a sheet of paper.
The Flip Side
Even the casebacks are alive with detail: A sapphire-crystal glass circle is engraved and enamelled to depict a butterfly for the Heures Florales Cerisier and a dragonfly for the Heures Florales. The drawings are created on the inside of the glass, so they never actually touch the wearer’s skin.
Each engraved and enamelled crystal covers a decorated gold oscillating weight, the only technical component visible on the caseback. The surrounding gold is engraved in flowers and branches, artfully mimicking the theme of the dial.
Since the dial is devoted entirely to the reading of the hours, a lateral glass window is placed on the side of the case to read the minutes. The numbers are engraved directly into the sapphire-crystal glass. A red line indicator on a rotating wheel moves between 0 and 60 before returning to 0 at the start of a new hour.