As the undisputed king of “poetic complications,” Van Cleef & Arpels is one of only a handful of watchmaking companies that could get away with the extravagant creativity of the Lady Arpels and Midnight Zodiac Lumineux Watches. Before you declare how silly a mechanical watch with constellations lit by tiny LED lights powered by an electrical module is, ask yourself how badly you really need a tourbillon or a world timer, or for that matter, a mechanical watch at all when all you really need is your smartphone to tell the time.
The most compelling mechanical watches are the ones that convey some romantic interpretation of the heavens, a work of art, or the beauty of nature. This has long been the particular specialty of Van Cleef & Arpels, with its ongoing procession of fairies, butterflies, romantic narratives, and celestial spectacles. The Van Cleef & Arpels Lumineux watches, like all of the brand’s Poetic pieces, combine metiers and mechanics to achieve what is defined at the high end of watchmaking as poetic.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Zodiac Lumineux is a set of 12 men’s watches, each representing a sign of the zodiac and 42mm 18k white gold cases. The dials are made of blue glitter enamel for the background and translucent blue enamel for the beads representing the stars that form the outline of constellations, with sculpted white gold or enamel tracing the images or lines that connect the dots of the constellations. But the real show on the dial is the glow behind each of the dots in the constellations, which light up for a few seconds by pressing a button at the 7 o’clock position on the case side.
The watches contain the automatic caliber Valfleurier Q020, with a “light-on-demand” module, which uses the principle of piezoelectricity to power tiny LED lights behind the blue enamel dots. The power is derived from the vibration of a small ceramic strip, and the energy used for each lighting of the dial comes purely from the pressing of the button, not from the watch’s power reserve.
The Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux employs the same concept of backlit enamel dots that form a constellation, but the dials are embellished with elaborate depictions of the signs of the zodiac, using colored enameling as well as colored gemstones and diamonds. For example, this series features depictions of the zodiacal representatives of Earth’s elements: Scorpio for water, Taurus for earth, Leo for fire, and Gemini for air. Leo depicts a lion using yellow gold, yellow sapphire, blue sapphire, spessartite garnet, yellow enamel, and gold foil. The Taurus bull is created using white gold, diamonds, blue sapphire, and translucent green enamel. The Scorpio scorpion uses white gold, diamonds translucent purple enamel and silvered foil, and the Gemini twins are made of white gold, diamonds, and an opaque blue enamel that looks like fine turquoise.
The case of the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux series is 38mm, with diamonds on the bezel and case side. The snow setting on the case side is particularly impressive, with diamonds in seemingly random sizes set side by side. These zodiacal watches are strictly for lovers of true works of art for the wrist that are also somewhat eccentric and if you’ll forgive the pun “out-there” in terms of design. The Van Cleef & Arpels Midnight Zodiac Lumineux watches are priced at $113,000 each, and the Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Zodiac Lumineux are priced at $148,000 each.