Van Cleef & Arpels, usually associated with those little clover earrings and necklaces, has expanded its Poetic Complications collection this year with the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons watch (you may have read Jack’s review of the Midnight Nuit Lumineuse, which was another addition to the collection this year). The Ronde des Papillons is a highly complicated and “feminine” watch that indicates the time with three butterflies (yes, you read that correctly). Now, before you click away because butterflies “aren’t your thing,” this watch was one of the more technically advanced watches seen this year at SIHH and deserves a closer look.
The Lady Arpels Ronde is another impressive poetic complication. The watch features a 38 mm white-gold case with the bezel set with diamonds and an intricate engraving on the case back (of more butterflies).
Okay, so first things first: the dial. The base of the dial is made of mother-of-pearl that has been painted a pale shade of blue with darker clouds scattered throughout. The dial is further decorated with four fan-form dials (listed clockwise from traditional 12 o’clock): one for the minutes 30-45; a second for minutes 45-60; a third for hours 0-12; and a fourth for minutes 0-30. You got all that? The dial is further layered with white gold and mother-of-pearl clouds that conceal three pink, yellow, and red butterflies that travel around the dial indicating the minutes. The hour is indicated by the wing of a swallow at the base of the dial.
So how does this all work? Well the automatic winding movement has a retrograde jumping hour. The swallow, which indicates the hour, is always visible moving across the fan-form hour display and then jumping back to the beginning (hence the retrograde). The three butterflies serve as minute hands that travel across their corresponding minute track. The butterfly displaying the correct minute travels across as time passes; however, if you press the activation button on the left side of the band all three of the butterflies will “fly.”
For example, if it is 6:49 (as shown in the above picture), the activation button causes the butterfly (0-30 minutes) on the left to fly across the minute track and disappears under the clouds; the second butterfly is then activated and moves across its relevant minute track (30-45 minutes) and further disappears behind the clouds; and then the third butterfly flies to the correct minute time (:49 in this case). The total time that it takes for all three of the butterflies to “dance” across the dial is 10 seconds, and each butterfly travels at different speeds.
The movement gives a hint as to how all this is accomplished. You can see the activation lever for the butterflies on the upper-left-hand side, and if you follow the yellow gears, you can see the inertial regulator that controls the speed at which the butterflies move. The variation in the speed at which the butterflies move seems like it would be tough to do with ordinary gears, and it is, which is why Van Cleef & Arpels used those elliptical gears you can see in the gearing for the butterflies. It’s a pretty clever way to do things, and as you can see there’s quite a bit of additional complexity necessary to produce the flight of the butterflies.
Okay, so after all that I would like to say that this is a fairly complicated “ladies” wristwatch, which is refreshing in a world of quartz movements (no need to beat that dead horse again). Now, is this complication a necessary one? Absolutely not. But that’s not the point. The point is to show that Van Cleef is up to the challenge of making elaborate, if not totally obsolete, complications – and they do it really well. I can’t think of many women who could wear this watch everyday, but for the right person, looking to make a really unusual impression with a piece of beautiful horological animation, it’s a wonderful piece of both engineering and design. Beauty on the outside and complexity beneath might be a cliched expression of femininity, but in the case of the Ronde des Papillons, it’s also true.
For more information on this watch and other Van Cleef watches, you can visit their website here.
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