Van Cleef & Arpels probably makes the world’s most beautiful watches… that I would not wear.  Of course they have plenty of watches I would strap on in a heartbeat, but they are just too nice. Too much work goes into making this art. Plus, many of them are for women. I wouldn’t want to even risk a cosmetic interruption. If I had the money I would get them to sit in cool little displays on my desk to appreciate what watch dial art is really all about.

For 2012, Van Cleef & Arpels will release a limited edition set of watches that not only have extremely beautiful dials, but also innovative movements. This is all part of their ongoing collection of “poetic complications” that stress emotional interest versus convenience or functional enhancements. These are the 2012 Poetic Wish watches – for him and her.

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There is a love story that Van Cleef & Arpels likes to play with. It involves a couple in Paris that prefer to look longingly at each other from a distance or occasionally meet on bridges to kiss at midnight. This shy duo has been the inspiration for a range of watches that keeps getting more interesting. This time the story is furthered in a duo of watches. The men’s watch has our lovestruck protagonist standing on the Notre Dame cathedral on a starry Paris night. In the background you see the Eiffel Tower. You can see how the platform he is on doubles as an hour indicator and how the star in the sky indicates the minutes – but only on demand.

Our lonely lass is standing on the same Eiffel Tower on the ladies’ piece. In the background is the Notre Dame – complete with stained glass windows. The watches are meant to serve as perspectives from the man and woman in the story. The dials are gorgeous creations. Totally handmade with hours worth of engraving, painting, forming, and setting on each. One dial can take weeks or months to completely finish. The dials are mostly engraved gold, with enamel work, mother-of-pearl sculpting, and miniature painting.

The principle complication here is a five minute repeater. The trick is that activation of the repeater is the only way to see the time – on the dial that is. Turning one of the crowns activates the five minute repeater, which also activates the dial animation. The figurine moves along a linear path indicating the hour, while either a star (men’s Midnight model) or kite (ladies’ model) moves across the sky to indicate the minutes. A five-minute repeater will use a series of gongs and hammers to sound a song that tells the time to the closest five minute mark. Charming.

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Turn the watch over to see the beautiful movement and you’ll find a few surprises. The first of which is the gong system. Rather than be attached to the movement, the gongs are actually attached to the rear sapphire crystal caseback window. This was done to increase resonance – and thus the volume of the minute repeater sound. You can also see the time back here on a few separate dials that allow you to view and set the time. The exclusive Swiss mechanical movement is manually wound with about 60 hours of power reserve. As you can see, the complication is fun and emotionally charged versus being “useful” per se. Certainly the hallmark of a “poetic complication”.

The watch cases fit the typical men’s and women’s Van Cleef & Arpels design aesthetic. One lug for women, two for men. The cases designs are elegant and serve to showcase these wonderful art creations so well. Though in the future I would like to see some new cases from the brand. Both watches are in 18k white gold and the cases are fitted with diamonds on the bezel and lugs. There are lovely mother-of-pearl cabochons in the crown. The result is a luxurious creation that focuses more on the art and effort versus the bling. For the amount of precious stones used on your typical Van Cleef & Arpels, this is a very elegant and down-to-earth brand.

The two Poetic Wish watches go together thematically but are sold separately. They also come with special wooden boxes that recreate the dial designs on the boxes in a beautiful way. Van Cleef & Arpels watch presentation boxes are stunning collectors items unto themselves. I hope they come out with a book on this (hint, hint). Van Cleef & Arpels will create a limited amount of the Poetic Wish watches, but I am not sure how many. Word from them was that buying the pair together will cost about $1,000,000.

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