What does it take to get a man excited enough to write about a woman’s watch? Something like this new-for-2016 Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons timepiece from French Van Cleef & Arpels does the trick pretty well. This isn’t a watch destined for any time on my own wrist, but I truly appreciate the artistry, design, and technical features which make for a remarkable high complication ladies’ watch.
While highly detailed, hand-made dials mixed with animated complications aren’t new to Van Cleef & Arpels, the company ups the ante a bit with each new model. Each of these watches exists in the brand’s coveted “Poetic Complications” family of products whose aim is it combine traditional watchmaking techniques with emotionally-charged dial displays aimed more at being fun and eye-pleasing as opposed to offering functional enhancements. In other words, Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Complication watches are not trying to be tool watches, but rather beautiful machines (mostly for women).
Recall back to 2012 when I went hands-on with the Van Cleef & Arpels Poetic Wish set that I feel very well exemplifies the Poetic Complication theme that such timepieces are going for. Watches like the Poetic Wish as well as the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons are actually among the most complicated women’s watches you can buy – and Van Cleef & Arpels makes very few of them.
At 38mm wide in 18k white gold, the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons is not what I would call a petite timepiece, but it is smaller than some previous Poetic Complication watches we’ve seen from the brand. This shows a decided effort to make such watches more wearable for more women. A common complaint about timepieces such as this is that, while they are beautiful and impressive, a large size prevents them from being as elegant as they could be.
Use of the single-lug style of the Lady Arpels case helps, and you can see in my photography how the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons looks on a woman’s wrist. The bezel of the watch is set with diamonds, and an additional diamond is set into the crown.
So much of the case and dial are decorated in a beautiful manner that seeing stuff like this in person can be breathtaking. The rear of the case, for example, is engraved, and there is a view through the sapphire crystal caseback window of the enamel-painted automatic rotor with butterflies on it. It all looks very pretty (and poetic).
Before discussing the functionality of the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons movement, I’d like to remind you that the dial and dial elements are done by hand. That includes engraving of the gold figurines and mother-of-pearl clouds, as well as painting and assembly. Few “maisons” do this type of work other than Van Cleef & Arpels. The detail on the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons is stunning even if there are scientific questions about whether or not birds and butterflies would ever be fluttering about in such a friendly manner – and at such altitudes…
The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons dial indicates the time with minutes and hours using a series of retrograde dials. The bird acts as the hand for the hour indicator scale, and there are three other retrograde scales for the minutes, as the total minutes in each hour are separated. This gives the dial a fascinating look as well as the opportunity to have three butterfly figurines as minute indicator hands. Using elliptical-shaped gears, the butterfly minute hands also move at different speeds – which is interesting.
This latter concept begins to make more sense when operating the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons watch’s “on-demand animation.” When the pusher at about 8 o’clock on the case is pressed, an animation involving the figures on the dial goes into motion as they “fly around through the clouds.” To get a better idea of what this is like, I recommend viewing the video above.
This complicated mechanical feat is based on a module which was designed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels which goes over a base Swiss automatic movement that has 40 hours of power reserve. Apparently, Van Cleef & Arpels also has a patent pending on the “animation mode.” All this so that a few lucky collectors are able to enjoy this French “aerial ballet” on the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons watch dial.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons isn’t a limited edition watch, but rather produced as part of their “permanent collection” in small quantities as a numbered series. Museum-quality and emotionally charged, this is the exact type of watch I like to see being produced for female watch lovers, even if it is far removed from the typical Rolex or Cartier timepieces which exist as much more common (and accessible) typical luxury watches for women. Van Cleef & Arpels prefers the “price on request” approach to explaining the matter of cost, as these timepieces are usually in the several-hundred-thousand-dollar range.