One of the lessons I learned early at SIHH in terms of brands was to keep an eye on Van Cleef & Arpels.
Why so? Well it wasn’t about what they do with jewellery or their use of stones and various art forms on watches. It was, and remains, that they have consistently surprised me with watches that like many others, I might say are not historically what I’d broadly refer to as ‘my style’, but which I admire. That they grab my attention and impress me with the watches they’ve made which combine both their artistic skills and horology with something different and interesting.
I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last; even this year at the fair I heard a number of people express similar sentiments – it is your loss if you don’t pay attention to their fair releases. Plus their booths are always interesting; this year a charming natural wonderland with custom-made tapestries adoring the walls and elaborate lighting fixtures.
Although not exclusively so, as they have also done interesting things with male-oriented pieces, it is within the Poetic Complications collection that their flights of fancy occur. In this instance, with a floral theme, one that is a recurring theme within their jewellery (more so) but also, watches.
As we were told during our session, the idea always starts with a story, and then they work on how to tell this on the dial (and perhaps, the back). Also, as they have before, and which we have noted in previous posts (whether they be wristwatches or their automatons), they are quick to acknowledge the importance of finding the right partners to achieve their horological goals, and recognising partners.
What story do the Lady Arpels Heures Florales duo tell?
The ‘poetry of time’ theme realises itself in these watches in the form of capturing the passage of time through flowers opening and closing.
With the use of a retrograde movement and a module that opens the flowers on the dial, you tell the time on these new watches by counting how many flowers are open (the hours) and then looking on the side of the case where there is a lateral window indicating minutes. The flower open and close on the change of the hours.
Their inspiration is in Carl Linnaeus’ ‘Horologium Florae’ or ‘Flower Clock’, an idea which he proposed in his Philosophia Botanica (1751). It was a garden plan (not an actual clock) in which plants would open or close their flowers at particular times to indicate the time, with the theory based on the fact that there are plant species that open or close their flowers at particular times of the day. Arranged in sequential flowering order, they could operate as a floral clock.
Linnaeus differentiated two groups of flowers – those those whose opening and closing times vary either in response to the weather (Meteorici) or the length of the days (Tropici), and those that have fixed times for opening and closing (Aequinoctales) i.e. those which would be suitable for a floral clock.
Many of the plants described by Linnaeus were wildflowers in Sweden, which would make such an endeavour even more difficult in other places, since opening/ closing times depend on such factors as latitude (he was, of course, in Uppsala) and the response of plants to different day lengths (photoperiodism). Many of the plants he selected were long-day species and also plants which produced flowers regardless of the day’s length (e.g. dandelions) and whose opening times were/ are, highly variable.
So now to the specifications about Van Cleef & Arpels’ tribute to this, in their own way.
There are two new models – the Lady Arpels Heures Florales is in a 38mm white gold case, with white gold bezel, and round diamonds. The dial is white gold, with mother-of-pearl marquetry, sculpted white gold, miniature painting, flowers in white gold, yellow gold, round yellow diamonds, round diamonds, and has sculpted rose gold branches.
It comes on a shiny blue interchangeable alligator strap, and has a white gold pin buckle with round diamonds.
There are 424 stones, totalling 5.06 carats.
The Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier is in a 38mm rose gold case with a rose gold bezel, and round diamonds.
Its dial is in rose gold, white gold, yellow gold, has pink sapphires, yellow and white diamonds, white mother-of-pearl, miniature painting, round pink sapphires, mother-of-pearl marquetry, miniature painting; flowers in white gold, yellow gold, round yellow diamonds, with sculpted rose gold branches, butterflies in white gold, and navette and pear-shaped diamonds.
The Cerisier has 430 diamonds totalling 5.1 carats and ten sapphires totalling 0.1 carat.
It comes on a shiny pink alligator strap with a rose gold pin buckle, and has round diamonds.
We mentioned that the opening and closing of the flowers is achieved via a module – it is added to an automatic Valfeurier movement which has a power reserve of 36 hours. It is important and good to know that there’s a solid movement behind it all.
These are watches that are about delight in a myriad of ways. The use of the flowers as an hour indicator is clearly not one for someone who wants and needs to know the time at a glance, as you have to pause and count the flowers, but it is in the combination of this interactivity, the unusual hour telling method, and the underlying story behind it, which makes these worth paying attention to.
So what will they set you back? The price is CHF 243,000 (excluding taxes).
If you are of a botanical inclination and want to read about Linneaus’ floral clock, here is a piece by Brian G. Gardiner written in 2007 on the occasion of the Linnean Tercentenary. It has an appended ‘Horologium Florae’ together with the common English names where relevant.