Van Cleef & Arpels’s Poetic Complications has always had a whimsical bent. That attribute of its Poetry of Time series is a combination of the brand’s own flair for telling stories, coupled with the inventive Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s ability to turn those stories into retrograde complications and the maison’s skill at artistic dials. From enamel displays to precious material marquetry, there has been no lack of creativity in the Poetic Complications to date.
But more recently, the Poetry of Time has taken a slightly different detour in production. That’s thanks to the original Midnight Nuit Lumineuse and the following Midnight Zodiac Lumineux collection. The former, you may recall, was introduced in 2016 at SIHH by the brand and combined technology with Van Cleef’s artistry in a new way. Piezoelectricity (a way of generating an electric charge by driving a sliver of ceramic into motion) and a silver coated base connected with LEDs on which pearls or enamel beads sat, brought the watch to luminous life without the use of SuperLuminova or other material. It was brilliant and elegant.
The popularity of that timepiece convinced the brand to turn that one product into a continuing series and given that lit-up pearls look just like the glowing balls of gas we see in the night sky, the Zodiac Lumineux series was born. Combining that technology with marquetry and jewelry with classic depictions of the astrological star signs, the collection was unveiled last year to great popularity. According to Van Cleef, the timepieces have been snapped up.
The Lovers Reunite
This may be what prompted the brand to consider how to best revive some of its most popular Poetry of Time watches, and naturally, Lovers on a Bridge emerged as a forerunner. According to Nicolas Bos, president of Van Cleef & Arpels, “It’s probably the most popular, along with the Féerie Watch. It’s a story that’s universal, that connects with people from all backgrounds and cultures. This idea of lovers meeting on a bridge is a romanticised idea, but one that’s a heightened reality and therefore more emotional. It’s something you can relate to.”
The Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux, introduced in 2010, featured two retrograde displays that had the lovers meeting at 11:59 twice a day for a brief minute. The original movement was a manual winding Jaeger-LeCoultre 846 caliber with a module designed by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor. Now combining the watch with a range of Extraordinary Dials, a complete collection sees the couples meeting in daytime and nighttime variations on the dial, as well as varying seasons. The Extraordinary Dials also tell the story of other legendary couples, from Tristan and Isolde to Ulysses and Penelope.
The Pont de Amoureux retrograde pieces come in daytime and nighttime depictions, housed in 38mm white gold cases with diamond-set bezels and crowns. The nighttime dial is crafted in classic grisaille enamel, which uses white “blanc de Limoges” enamel powder on a dark dial to illustrate the story. The bridge and lovers are crafted in white gold and applied on the dial, but it’s in the daytime dial where Van Cleef has revived a classic grisaille form, while modernizing it thoroughly.
On the dial, colored grisaille enamel in shades of pink and blue against a white background to depict the image of a false dawn brings the same illustrative contrasts as grisaille does, but in soft color. Some traditionalists will cry foul and say it’s no longer grisaille (which literally means ‘grayness’ in French). However, Van Cleef & Arpels reminds us that Lila Munoz’s painting of Red Flower, did in fact feature colored grisaille in a way.
The style in fact refers to any painting technique where translucent colors are overlaid on a monotone underpainting. In which case, Van Cleef isn’t contravening rules, just bending it slightly. (It’s worth noting that the brand is one of the first to use colored grisaille enamel in a long time.)
The classic version of the watches also come in fully jeweled variants, with a diamond-set, chain link strap, and added versions for all four seasons. Those variations bear an enameled dial that’s further livened up with sculpted gold details and miniature painting to illustrate the colors often associated with the seasons, and the bracelets of those watches are equally dazzling, with the same floral patterns that follow the watch dials.
In each seasonal watch, which bears a fully gemset link bracelet that’s hollow but also flexible in the way it’s hinged, with a beam-like hinge at each joint that sits from the bottom rather than the top of the bracelet so it doesn’t catch onto hair or skin. The hollow links allow light to pass through the gemstones from both sides, and each half-bracelet has 877 parts, with 734 stones and 143 gold elements.
The seasonal watches come in a specially designed sycamore box, depicting the Pont Neuf upon which they meet. (For those buying the full set of four seasons, a four-piece box is provided.) Additional details here: every depiction takes place on a different bridge setting in Paris, and on each dial variation, the couple is dressed differently.
3 Minutes in Heaven
But it’s not just in the dials that things have changed. For those lamenting the lovers meeting just twice a day for a brief minute-long encounter, the brand’s further improved the complication with the addition of cams to record the time, while a pusher on the left of the case allows you to trigger the lovers to meet for 10 seconds whenever you wish.
To add to the romance of the French kiss, the midnight and midday meets are now extended to a 3-minute French kiss, instead of a brief 60-second rendezvous. (The watch resets to 12:03 when the kiss ends.) For the amorous, this is a sweet addition. Why 3 minutes? According to some relationship experts like Susan Winter, it’s between 30 seconds to 3 minutes, at least in public. (We kid. It’s due to the movement design.)
In fact, according to the brand, the movement has been redeveloped with a new base in order to incorporate these functions, as well as a full micro-rotor which is deftly hidden under the sapphire crystal, which features the two lovers in enamel tracing under the crystal a new technique developed from its dial printing methods. The new movement, which has an Agenhor-partnered module on a ValFieurier Q020 base, comprises 339 components, versus the original movement which had 171.
In addition, the brand presented in Paris at the premiere of the new Pont des Amoureux series, a gentleman’s version, in a 42mm Midnight case, bereft of diamonds, but styled with a masculine touch thanks to careful micro-sculpting of the lovers. The watch will be available to collectors who wish a touch of Van Cleef & Arpels’s whimsy without the bling. However, it’s only produced on a Made to Order basis, and will only be available from next June onwards.
All of these watches are in a numbered series and are seriously limited. If you’ve been hoping for a revival of the watch, now’s your chance to get your hands on one. We’ll be going into more detail on the movement in a separate article.