January 28, 2014
by Ariel Adams
Van Cleef & Arpels dedicates the entire dial to displaying the planets and sun, but it also tells the time – though only in 24 hour format. Time telling legibility isn’t exactly a major focus of the design. A small comet on the dial moves along a 24 hour track to indicate the hour. There is no minute hand – so consider the Midnight Planetarium to be among the few “single-handed” watches. The rear of the watch has magnifiers over the two windows that offer the calendar data. This is in fact the first ever watch I’ve seen with magnifiers on the back as opposed to the front of the watch on the sapphire crystal.
The rear of the watch also has a legend to remind you what stones on the front of the watch represent in terms of planets. It is a clever and effective way of promoting practicality in an otherwise rather beautiful albeit impractical timepiece. Then again, that is really what Van Cleef & Arpels is all about. The concept of “Poetic Complications” is really a statement about its timepieces being emotionally versus functionally charged. Van Cleef & Arpels is adept at doing this with women, but doing it with men is a more complicated feat. No one else in the industry would call a planetarium an “emotional complication” because it represents an indication of something that is actually going on. Then again, if you think about it, Van Cleef & Arpels is totally right as the knowledge of where the planets are in relation to one another is purely emotional in its utility.
In other words, this is perhaps the most successful Poetic Complication watch for men even though Van Cleef & Arpels didn’t need to invent anything. What they did was include their own twist on the traditional concept of a planetarium watch and gave it a sense of French refinement and beauty. On the wrist the sky-style aventurine and lovely dial is stunning and looks unique but also very attractive on the wrist. It may not feel like any other Van Cleef & Arpels I’ve put on my wrist, but there is nothing wrong with that.
Size-wise the Midnight Planetarium is a larger watch (it needs to be given all the dial discs) at 44mm wide. It wears large given the bezel, but that isn’t “huge” in the scheme of high-end watches these days. The case is in 18k pink gold (only) for now, but it is possible that in the coming years Van Cleef & Arpels will present the Midnight Planetarium in different case colors. It is wise for them to be prudent now because it is such an experimental product for the company.
I do wish that Van Cleef & Arpels focused on men’s watches more because they clearly have the ability to release clever, beautiful watches with a very high degree of refinement. Currently, the standard men’s collection for Van Cleef & Arpels is the Pierre Arpels range. Even though Pierre Arpels’ pieces often contain slim Piaget mechanical movements – they hardly draw the attention of dedicated watch aficionados. The Midnight Planetarium, like other prior complicated Midnight watches have a much better chance of attracting the type of audience that normally doesn’t look at Van Cleef & Arpels products.
Lovely and very limited, the Midnight Planetarium Poetic Complication watch will be part of a limited edition of just 396 pieces total. Price is $245,000 in 18k rose gold and $330,000 in 18k rose gold with diamond decoration. vancleefarpels.com