You can always expect a hint of magic at maison Van Cleef & Arpels – delicate fairies, stellar constellations and fluttering butterflies.

At this year’s SIHH, Van Cleef & Arpels raised its poetic complications to a new level with the Automate Fee Ondine Extraordinary Object.

The magnificent clock – featuring an automaton mechanism of a fairy admiring a water lily blossom – took eight years of planning and brought together artisans from about 20 ateliers in France and Switzerland to work on it.

“The idea of poetic complications was really how to tell a story with mechanical movement,” says Nicolas Bos, CEO of Van Cleef & Arpels. “We thought it was also interesting to work on a larger scale to see if we can develop full-scale automaton using the same inspiration to create more detailed and complex animations.”

Bos reached out to famous automaton maker François Junod, based in Sainte-Croix in Switzerland, for the 50-second animation which starts with a rippling water lily leaf, followed by the blossoming of a water lily and the fairy’s awakening.

A tremendous amount of work goes into the creation. The fairy’s translucent wings, for example, were rendered with plique-à-jour enamelling to create different shades of blue.

We wanted to capture nature’s whimsy as much as possible. The more the wearer moves, the more active the butterfly is going to be
 

The three-dimensional masterpiece, though not for sale, has inspired the design of the new Lady Arpels Papillon Automate watch.

“In watchmaking, we usually think horizontal animation, but working on Fee Ondine triggered the idea of the Papillon watch – that we shouldn’t limit the automaton to the horizontal level,” Bos says.

“Now you can see the butterfly starting to flap its wings in the watch on a vertical level.”

The sophisticated automaton depicts the random fluttering of a butterfly inside the watch’s slightly domed glass. The frequency of the movement of the butterfly is associated with the power reserve of the watch – the butterfly beats its wings one to four times in a row, depending on the power reserve.

“We wanted to capture nature’s whimsy as much as possible,” Bos says. “The more the wearer moves, the more active the butterfly is going to be.”

The automaton can be triggered on demand with a push piece.

The craftsmanship that goes into the dial is undeniably Van Cleef & Arpels. Its 40mm-diameter white gold case features a diamond-encrusted bezel, a crown and a dial rendered in mother-of-pearl, exquisite enamel, miniature painting and is embellished with diamonds and sapphires. The piece runs on a self-winding mechanical movement and is a numbered edition.

Known for its high jewellery secret watches, Van Cleef & Arpels unveils a new line-up this year. Inspired by haute couture, the Ruban Secret Watch features a glittering bow fully paved with diamonds and can be turned to reveal the watch dial. The versatile piece is available in white gold case with round diamonds or pink gold case with pink sapphires – both featuring a quartz movement.

Two unique high jewellery watches launched at this year’s SIHH include the Heure Marine watch and the Cerf-Volant long necklace watch – both are secret watches.

The Heure Marine – inspired by sea creatures from the Seven Seas collection – features two sugar loaf-cut sapphires from Sri Lanka weighing 27.34 ct. The distinctive cut is a variation of the traditional cabochon cut with an additional four ridges.

The jewellery bracelet, rendered in white gold, yellow gold, diamonds, onyx and sapphires, hides a manual-wound secret watch.

The Cerf-Volant long necklace secret watch offers an unusual way to tell the time.

After the lid of the pendant is opened, a mirror concealed inside will reflect the watch’s dial.

The necklace – rendered in white gold, diamonds, rubies, spinels, onyx beads and pearls – features a quartz movement.

“The main directions of our watches, which are mostly feminine pieces, include high jewellery watches – which are as much a piece of jewellery with watch functionality – and narrative watches, such as our poetic complications,” Bos says.