Blending high-level technical expertise with a poetic rendering of timekeeping, Van Cleef & Arpels is known for creating theaters for the wrist. Lovers meeting for a kiss on a bridge, dancing ballerinas and orbiting planets have been utilized to mark time at the French maison. But its latest, the 38 mm Lady Arpels Heures Florales and Lady Arpels Heures Florales Cerisier (prices upon request), stage a horological first with its most complicated dials to date.
The watches show the passing of time via the opening and closing of flowers. Instead of operating around the circumference of the dial, they bloom in a seemingly random pattern in a series of three different cycles. The hours are counted by the number of flowers that unfurl at each hour, while the minutes are read on a horizontal rotating disc, viewed via an opening on the side of the case.
It may look like a simple performance, but the complex movement involved about five years of research and development. A system, which is currently pending a patent, sets the flowers in motion via a wheel that charges a spring in the barrel that feeds the power to trigger the animation. The barrel uses a centrifugal regulator that controls the speed of the flowers’ movement. They are slow to close and quick to pop open—a cycle that takes up to four seconds.
Surrounded by hand-painted butterflies, golden branches, diamonds and gems set in mother-of-pearl, the flowers take inspiration from Carl Von Linné’s 1751 book, Philosophia Botanica. In it, the Swedish botanist envisioned a hypothetical garden with blossoms that opened and closed to tell the time. More than two and a half centuries later, Van Cleef & Arpels realized his dream in miniature, creating the concept for the wrist.