A new collection of high jewellery watches celebrates the highs and lows of mythical love.
By Carol Besler
High jewellery meets high romance at the Van Cleef & Arpels watchmaking workshops. The Maison’s Mythical Couples collection featuring eight haute joaillerie watches was inspired by legendary lovers from the worlds of mythology, opera, and lore. The watches, priced in the seven-figure range, are set with statement gems, including five, six, and seven – carat Burmese and Madagascar sapphires. All are secret-style designs with dials hidden in tiny drawers or under hinged covers, and every surface is set. The theme is love — undying love, unrequited love, illicit love, tragic love.
“We don’t have a marketing approach to product development,” says Van Cleef & Arpels marketing director Jean Bienaymé. “We aren’t targeting a certain age group, or the millionaires or the millennials. We just try to have an idea for the collection, and then we go from there.”
The result is a dramatically poetic approach to watchmaking that sets the brand apart from its more quotidian competitors. At Van Cleef, high complications have been used to animate kissing couples, fluttering butterflies, and fitting fairies. And unlike other watchmakers, it is actually the brand’s quartz-driven high jewellery watches that hold their value and drive sales. Ladies’ watches set with large gems or rare gems in unique, imaginative designs are in demand at auctions. “We are Van Cleef & Arpels, and we are a high jewellery Maison,” says Bienaymé. “And in the world of high jewelry, everything is a question of detail. We select one stone among many. Our gemstone standards are the highest of any Richemont brand.” Each of the eight Mythical Couples watches has a corresponding story.
Amytis & Nabuchodonosor
The Amytis & Nabuchodonosor (also spelled Nebuchadnezzar) is inspired by the mythic Hanging Gardens of Babylona, which were a gift from King Nebuchadnezzar to his wife, Amytis. It is set with a 6.75-carat Burmese sapphire with a sugarloaf cut, along with emeralds, turquoise, and diamonds. The hinged cover reveals a diamond-set dial.
Ulysse & Pénélope
The Ulysse & Pénélope model represents the husband and wife characters in Homer’s Odyssey. The curved cover is entirely set with diamonds and sapphires. The bands of sapphires and diamonds are meant to evoke the waves and white caps of the Aegean Sea, which Ulysses crosses during his mythic voyage.
Philémon & Baucis
The Philémon & Baucis watch is inspired by the lovers in Greek mythology who, upon their deaths, are turn into a pair of intertwined trees so they can be together in the afterlife. The hinged cover is set with two pear-shaped emeralds totalling 2.88 carats, along with diamonds, invisibly set sapphires, and emeralds.
Tristan & Iseult
The Tristan & Iseult (also spelled Isolde) piece is inspired by the tragic, adulterous romance between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult. The showcase gems include a 5.59-carat cushion-cut pink sapphire and a 1.13-carat pear-shaped diamond, surrounded by blue and pink sapphires. A hidden mechanism raises the cover, which is designed as a leaf, revealing a mother-of-pearl dial with the inscription: Ni vous sans moi, ni moi sans vous.
Flore & Zephyr
The Flore & Zephyr watch is named after the love story between Flora, the goddess of flowers, and Zephyr, her husband, who represents the west wind. According to the myth, Zephyr wanted to surround his wife with the flowers of eternal spring, represented here by pink and mauve sapphires, pink spinels, and diamonds. The dial, revealed by a rotating mechanism, is paved with pink and mauve sapphires.
Aphrodite & Adonis
The complex Aphrodite and Adonis watch is inspired by the narrative of Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Adonis, her lover who is fatally wounded in a hunting accident. The goddess’ tears of sorrow drop onto the wound, bringing a delicate anemone into flower. On the bracelet, the bonds of love that unite the protagonists are represented by interlaced diamond-set motifs. A gradation of blue sapphires echoes Aphrodite’s tears, and appears to make a flower of pink and mauve sapphires bloom, the dial being underneath.