A Closer Look at Van Cleef & Arpels’ Celestial New Watch Collection


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lady arpels jour nuit watch van cleef arpels

Guillaume Blondiau

Lady Arpels Jour Nuit watch, Van Cleef & Arpels.

Just as a couture gown is more than simply a dress, the watches in the Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Complications collection are about more than just telling time. In the brand’s romantic interpretation, technical timekeeping elements are secondary to the drama that unfolds on the dial. Signature motifs include starry skies, the sun and moon, summer flowers, and, on some styles, a touch of magic in the form of a sprightly fairy to cast a spell over the scene. The real-life magic, however, happens at Van Cleef & Arpels’ Geneva-based atelier, where savvy craftspeople apply their skills to the precision finishes that bring the narratives to life.

The “complication” in the Lady Arpels Jour Nuit and Lady Jour Nuit styles is a day/night function that unfolds in real time. On more prosaic watches, the day/night indicator often consists of a tiny needle pointing to either a nearly imperceptible D or N. Van Cleef & Arpels uses the entire dial to tell the story. An aventurine disc represents the sky, which rotates gradually once every 24 hours, like the earth. As it does, a diamond-studded moon at one end and a golden sun at the other gradually appear and disappear under a cap of mother-of-pearl on the lower dial. You can catch glimpses of both at 6 A.M. and 6 P.M.

lady jour nuit watch van cleef arpels

Guillaume Blondiau

Lady Jour Nuit watch, Van Cleef & Arpels.

The moon is surrounded by white gold stars with diamond accents, and the sun is a golden orb: On the large (38mm) Lady Arpels Jour Nuit, it’s set with brilliant yellow sapphires, and on the 33mm Lady Jour Nuit, it appears as a ball of yellow gold with a guilloché effect. The mother-of-pearl cap on the large model is engraved in a horizon pattern; on the smaller piece, it’s given an ombré blue tint over an engraved geometric motif.

Given the fragility of mother-of-pearl, a silvery layer found inside some seashells, putting the finish on these caps is harder than it looks—as is setting gems into the aventurine, for that matter—but creating drama is never easy. “We do not seek technical breakthroughs for the sake of it,” says Van Cleef & Arpels Timepieces Director Pascal Narbeburu.
“It is sublimated to the story.”

an illustration of a building at night with a tower in the background

Courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

A 1944 Van Cleef & Arpels advertisement depicting the Place Vendôme under a starry sky.

That philosophy also applies to the gem setting, a métier that is often treated as an afterthought, with diamonds lined up on the bezel like the obligatory icing on a cake. On these Van Cleef & Arpels timepieces, they serve the narrative. Diamonds illuminate the white gold stars in the sky, each with a single large gem or a series of smaller ones. To make the moon glow, they are custom cut and tightly arranged to perfectly fill the circular space. And while setting diamonds along the edge or lugs on a ladies’ watch is routine, few brands take the trouble to set the case side, another tricky endeavor involving fine-tolerance cutting and expert placement. All in the service of poetry.

While it may have the one-of-a-kind aura of a couture dress, this watch remains subtle enough to qualify as quiet luxury, appropriate anywhere. Though it is perhaps best worn while in repose, like the fairy etched into the case-back crystal, who reclines with her back to us, gazing at the moon.

Set design by Pierre Vaillant at Kaptive; produced by Concrete Rep.

This story appears in the May 2024 issue of ELLE.


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