Last week, at the global launch of the Van Cleef & Arpels second Poetry of Time collection (collection, not just a one-off series), the brand presented a total of 9 references to the Lovers on a Bridge, and additional dial executions for a follow-up series on the Extraordinary Dials (more to come).

The story goes according to Nicolas Luchsinger, president of Van Cleef & Arpels APAC, that the Lovers on a Bridge was the single most subscribed Poetic Complication in the brand’s history, and one that surprised the brand. “After all, this is a watch that costs over 130,000 euros,” he pointed out. “But we still have people asking for the watch, and the long waiting list convinced us that we needed to go further with the product and really tell a compelling story through a more complete collection, one that integrated our savoir faire in jewelry with watchmaking.”

The original Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux in 18K white gold on auction at Christie's. Image by Christie's.
The original Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux in 18K white gold on auction at Christie's. Image by Christie's.

Over the years, much of Van Cleef & Arpels’s Poetic Complications have been fueled by one important partnership: Agenhor, whose founder Jean-Marc Wiederrecht is regarded by many as the master of memory modules and retrograde displays. As the head of Van Cleef & Arpels’s R&D workshop explained, “we’ve been working with Jean-Marc since the start of Poetic Complications, and it’d be a pity if we didn’t continue this relationship. Of course, now, we’re working with his sons, who helped us to develop this new movement.”

The brilliant Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, founder of Agenhor. Today, his sons Nicolas and Laurent lead the firm. Image courtesy of Revolution.
The brilliant Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, founder of Agenhor. Today, his sons Nicolas and Laurent lead the firm. Image courtesy of Revolution.
Lovers Refined

With a new Pont des Amoureux, the brand wanted to build on the original and enhance it further. Building on what they had made at first, they planned to enhance it with a completely new module, thus transforming the lovers’ kiss from a simple animation to an automaton operation. The first important difference is the 3-minute kiss at midday and midnight, when the two lovers meet on the bridge.

The two arms under the hands that manage the retrograde motion of the Pont des Amoureux. The meshing of these arms allow the hands to sync up before the lovers kiss. Image by Johann Sauty.
The two arms under the hands that manage the retrograde motion of the Pont des Amoureux. The meshing of these arms allow the hands to sync up before the lovers kiss. Image by Johann Sauty.

Within the movements and under the hands, a snail cam connected with the pinion of the respective hour and minute wheels help to control the retrograde operation. The toothed arms are carefully decorated with the two lovers engaged in flirtatious encounters (hidden under the dial), and the time jumps to 12:03 when the encounter finishes. It’s not purely decorative, however; the arms need to mesh in order for the hands to sync up on the dial before the lovers meet.

The Agenhor AGH3052 module is fitted over a base movement, a ValFleurier Q020 caliber. If you recall, the base module has been used multiple times in other Van Cleef & Arpels such as the Lady Arpels Planétarium, Ronde de Papillon and Midnight Nuit Lumineuse. The movement itself has a micro-rotor which makes the watch a self-winding piece, versus the original which bore a JLC 846 caliber. The micro-rotor itself is decorated with the brand’s logo and a fairy sitting on the edge. It’s a unidirectional full rotor, so you never see it spinning even under the sapphire crystal.

The micro-rotor on the back sits under the sapphire crystal with an enamel tracing image of the lovers meeting on a bridge. The case back is also engraved with an image of the scene on the case. Image by Toh Si Jia / Revolution.
The micro-rotor on the back sits under the sapphire crystal with an enamel tracing image of the lovers meeting on a bridge. The case back is also engraved with an image of the scene on the case. Image by Toh Si Jia / Revolution.

The addition of the micro-rotor adds some slight girth to the movement and the watch as a result, but not really significant in any way. The wheels that drive the on-demand function are cut and finished in an intricate manner, and the brand’s signature fairy also sits on the baseplate. A pusher at 7 o’clock drives the first wheel of a set of four and winds a tension spring in an all-or-nothing manner.

A weighted wheel at the end acts as a regulator, controlling the rate at which the gear operates. They drive another set of three wheels with two heart cams that control the hands’ motion. The rate of spin on the regulator causes the heart cams to complete their operation in around 10 seconds, but on the standard movement, takes 3 minutes to complete.

The Agenhor module developed for Pont des Amoureux 2019. The heart cams in the center of the movement under the bridge control the kiss, while the gear train in gold near the top drives the on-demand pusher. Image by Johann Sauty.
The Agenhor module developed for Pont des Amoureux 2019. The heart cams in the center of the movement under the bridge control the kiss, while the gear train in gold near the top drives the on-demand pusher. Image by Johann Sauty.

Because the three gear systems are separate, it means that you can trigger the on-demand function pretty much anytime you want, even during winding or adjusting the time, with the crown out, et cetera. Triggering it multiple times will simply set the operation off once. It’s meant to be child-proof.

The gear train for the on-demand operation of the Pont des Amoureux 2019 features a column-wheel like all-or-nothing wheel and a lever and spring (not pictured) which controls the motion of the two hands. The regulator wheel is shown at the top of the gear train in gold. Image by Johann Sauty.
The gear train for the on-demand operation of the Pont des Amoureux 2019 features a column-wheel like all-or-nothing wheel and a lever and spring (not pictured) which controls the motion of the two hands. The regulator wheel is shown at the top of the gear train in gold. Image by Johann Sauty.
A World of Enamel

At the workshop, which sits over two floors where the original Roger Dubuis workshop existed before Richemont acquired the brand, the lower level is dedicated to enameling and movement design, both for decoration and function, and this is where the brand’s new/old grisaille technique has been developed. In the past Van Cleef worked with the late artist Dominique Baron, but after her passing, the brand acquired her studio and integrated the craftsmen from her firm into their workshop.

Miniature painting on the Pont des Amoureux Autumn dial. Image by Johann Sauty.
Miniature painting on the Pont des Amoureux Autumn dial. Image by Johann Sauty.

Here, artists work on micro-painting and various enameling techniques, both for Van Cleef and allegedly some other brands in the Richemont family (which makes perfect sense). Van Cleef & Arpels has some 20 enamellers in its studio, one of the largest we’ve seen. The studio itself produces a large number of the different enamel arts from micro-painting to grisaille, paillonné, cloisonné, champlevé and plique-à-jour. Each dial takes between 40-150 hours to produce.

But on the upper floor, watchmakers are putting together both watches from the Poetic Complications series. Here, they showed us a small testing facility along with quality control requirements and how the brand develops watches in a non-sequential way.

From the process of imagining the watch and story, to its final development, it develops the dials, cases and movements all at once, which ensures that the watches are properly formulated in its final outcome. While this is a slower process, taking around 5-6 years to develop a watch, it’s a formula that has yielded excellent outcomes for the brand. Something that’s evident in the new Pont des Amoureux series.