Each year, as we get closer to Valentine’s Day, I ask myself which watch would symbolize best this celebration of love. As I reflect on the different candidates, I systematically discard the candy-pink models as well as those full of heart decorations, all a bit to evident and even caricatural. Unmistakeably, the Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux by Van Cleef & Arpels comes back to my mind.
This is no coincidence. Apart from being one of the iconic watches of the Place Vendôme House, it also has an advantage that many (if not most) horological pieces do not have: it tells a story. Rather, it depicts a scene that each and everybody can interpret in his own way. The scene is played by two characters: a lady holding a sunshade and a man holding a rose, obviously destined to be offered to his heart’s desire. They move on a dreamlike representation of the Pont des Arts in Paris with one objective in mind: to meet. However, the lovers’ encounter is not that straightforward! The man moves from right to left and the rose he is holding indicates the minutes. The lady moves in opposite direction and the tip of her sunshade covers the hour graduation. The miracle of love finally happens, and the lovers end up meeting at noon as well as at midnight. Unfortunately, their encounter is very brief and the retrograde system animating the two characters sends them back in a fast and cruel way to their respective starting points.
Only rarely have I seen a time-indicating system so perfectly integrated on the dial of a watch. Its primary function, to tell the time, fades away without you even noticing and leaves the leading role to the movement of the characters. The latter evolve in a radically different way, which I personally interpret as a nice comparison with the differing characters of men and women. As she indicates the hours, the lady moves slowly but steadily and only comes backwards at noon and at midnight. The man, in turn, is much more impatient and fast but needs to cover a much longer distance since he jumps back to his starting point and the end of each hour. A pleasant little nod to how serenity copes with ardour and passion. In my eyes, this story also illustrates the paradoxical side of love, which is both ephemeral (the moment when the two characters are together) and eternal (nothing can prevent them from tirelessly reinitiating their romantic get-together).
This is the simple reason for which I like this watch so much. It breathes emotion and subtlety as each detail was imagined and developed in view of enabling a successful staging of the characters and the setting in which they evolve. The watch finishing is flawless and true to the reputation of the Van Cleef & Arpels House. Nonetheless, it remains discrete in order to not distract from the observation of the main elements. But what is it then that creates such a particular and magical atmosphere? The scene takes place at night and the specialized teams from Van Cleef & Arpels have achieved to recreate the intensity of the moonlight, which bathes the façades of the Parisian buildings. Such a monochrome effect required the usage of the “contre-jour” enamelling technique, which provides incredible depth to the dial. The diamonds delicately set all around the bezel can therefore be seen as an additional source of light enveloping the dial, yet never in an ostentatious manner.
Our eyes are attracted to a star from the Ursa Major constellation: this single golden star scintillates in the sky and is a reference to luck, which will be needed by both lovers. I am sure this lucky star will also protect the fortunate owner of this enchanting timepiece that nevertheless requires a small daily ritual. Indeed, the magic within this 38mm case operates thanks to a manual-winding movement based on the Jaeger-Lecoultre calibre 846, whose small size accommodates perfectly for the double-retrograde module developed by Agenhor. The downside of using such a movement and energy-thirsty module is that the watch features a power reserve of only about 30 hours. But who could possibly forget to wind the watch and give life to the characters? Just a few rotations of the crown are necessary for the marvellous and slow get-together to begin. In a way, the watch owner herself creates the spark of love…which is the reason for which I cannot think of a watch that embodies Valentine’s Day better than the Lady Arpels Pont des Amoureux!
– François-Xavier Overstake, Equation du Temps