The poet William Blake (he of the tiger-immolating predilections and phobia of symmetry) opened “Auguries of Innocence” with a four-line stanza that all of us are familiar with via the osmotic processes of literature and popular culture: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour”.
You may be (as I am, and quite justifiably) more than a little tired of seeing these lines trotted out every time something vaguely profound about time and the nature of creation needs to be illustrated, but there is no denying that this verse applies closely to each and every timepiece ever made. The telescoping of time and space into a microcosm of ticking wonder is what fascinates every watch lover who has ever existed, and opportunities to rediscover this at leisure come few and far between.
Every watch, by virtue of being able to split time into the units dictated to us by the movement of the earth around the sun, represents astronomical information. The term “astronomical watch”, however, refers to a very specific subset of haute-horlogerie timepieces that take reference from celestial objects beyond the most readily observed phenomena such as civil time or the phase of the moon. Watches that give sidereal time, for example, may be considered astronomical watches because they use the stars as a point of reference instead of the sun. Christiaan van der Klaauw is a Dutch watchmaking company that specializes in a particularly evocative category of astronomical watch that accurately displays the movement of the planets in our solar system — known variously as a planetarium or an orrery. The 2014 watchmaking novelties of Van Cleef & Arpels includes such a watch, made in collaboration with Christiaan van der Klaauw and combining the awe-inspiring choreography of the universe with horology and exceptional lapidary work.
The entire dial of the Midnight Planétarium is taken up by a working model of the solar system, with our sun represented by a sphere of pink gold. The six planets nearest to the sun (executed in various stones from jasper to turquoise) are shown in their orbits — although they are not to scale, their orbital cycles are accurate. A pink-gold shooting star travels around the periphery of the dial once every 24 hours, indicating the time of day. Central to the identity of Van Cleef & Arpels are the symbols of luck, and this is manifested in the “lucky star” date feature in the Midnight Planétarium. The rotating bezel bears a red marker that, when aligned with a particular date, will position the sapphire crystal such that the earth sphere is perfectly framed by an engraved star when the calendar falls on that particular date.
The Midnight Planétarium is the third men’s watch in the Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Complications series, the previous two being the Midnight in Paris and the Five Weeks in a Balloon. With this timepiece, Van Cleef & Arpels have created a complicated wristwatch for those who aspire to hold a piece of the cosmos in their hands.
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