On the occasion of the SIHH 2017, Van Cleef & Arpels is delighted to unveil its first Extraordinary Object: the Automate Fée Ondine. The fruit of long years’ work and an intense collaboration with automaton maker François Junod, the project also owes its existence to the savoir-faire of the numerous craftsmen who have taken part in its creation.
Bringing together the jewelry and watchmaking traditions, this unique piece marks a new chapter for the Maison, in keeping with precious objects such as carriage and table clocks.
The highly complex mechanism – which animates various elements and also tells the time – gives pride of place to an ephemeral poetry: movement and lightness, the beauty of nature, the grace of a fairy waking from sleep and the nuances of precious stones and enamel. This bejeweled tableau comes to life with infinite delicacy. The Maison’s imagination, creativity and attachment to ancestral crafts have come together in this Extraordinary Object to instill a dreamlike sense of wonder.
A collective work
Creating the Automate Fée Ondine called for the excellence of the most expert craftsmen in their respective fields. After imagining such an unprecedented piece in its history, Van Cleef & Arpels enlisted the services of some 20 workshops in France and Switzerland, including holders of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France) and Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Establishment of Living Heritage) titles. The experience of the automaton maker François Junod, based in Sainte-Croix in Switzerland, was complemented by that of lapidaries, jewelers, stone-setters, enamelers and cabinetmakers.
Day after day, these virtuosos communicated and shared their skills, each of them surpassing themselves to respond to the project’s specificities. The challenges were constant: miniaturizing the mechanism inside the fairy or shaping petals that were sufficiently light to be borne along by the movement, for example. They implied a continuous process of research, from design through to the final finishing touches.
The Maison is proud and delighted to have brought these rare and precious crafts together and to have made it possible to accomplish this unique feat. After originating as a dream, Van Cleef & Arpels’ first Extraordinary Object thus developed into a collective human adventure, beneath the watchful eye of the Fée Ondine.
A fairylike scene
Combining a retrograde hour display and animation on demand, this creation provides the gaze with a dual spectacle. On the side of its ebony-colored base, a ladybird in Mystery Set rubies moves peacefully along the time scale. Reaching 12 o’clock, it returns to its starting point to begin its journey for the next half-day.
When activated, the automaton comes to life for about 50 seconds, revealing a scene worthy of a fairy tale. First the water lily leaf begins to ripple, as if blown by a gentle breeze. Chimes ring out a crystalline melody and the water lily flower slowly blooms. The fairy awakes and raises her head to admire a butterfly at the center of the corolla: it rises into the air, beating its wings and twirling about. After moving simultaneously, the butterfly returns to its shelter, the fairy goes back to sleep and the water lily’s oscillation comes to an end.
The Fée Ondine
The remarkably graceful silhouette of the Fée Ondine was first produced in white gold – using the lost wax casting technique – before being dressed in glittering finery. Her bodice and skirt are set with a gradation of sapphires, while her face is crowned with a diamond headdress. Her features display the gentle hue of aquamarine, which the lapidary has faceted by hand and by eye to evoke a feminine expression.
The blue tones are prolonged on her translucent wings, magnified by the plique-à-jour enamel technique. The light passes through the different shades, from navy blue to turquoise, while the fairy beats her wings in an irregular rhythm. Lines of brilliant-cut diamonds illuminate the spectacle. Hidden inside the figurine, a miniature mechanism brings her to life in fluid movements.
The water lily leaf
Forming the top of the Automate Fée Ondine, the large water lily leaf is made up of some 60 strips assembled together, which ripple during the animation. Engraved to suggest veins, they are also adorned with a gradation of green enamel and sprinkled with drops of dew. Small flowers and delicate lotuses in diamonds and pink sapphires complete the tableau.
The water lily flowers
One of this project’s technical challenges consisted in making the elements of the automaton as light as possible, so they could be animated by the mechanism. Exceptionally thin, the petals of the water lily flowers therefore had to be entirely shaped by hand before being enameled. This last stage was particularly delicate, due to their large dimensions and the risk of the metal being deformed during firing. Their coloring also called for a specially adapted method, in order to render their subtle gradation from white to powdered pink.
A true High Jewelry creation in keeping with the Maison’s Papillon clips, this piece required special research due to its movement of taking to the air. The body was designed to house a hidden mechanism, while the wings can be viewed from different angles. Spread on either side of a glittering heart, they are adorned with white opal that has been carefully cut, then assembled within an ethereal structure.
The ensemble is accentuated by a lacy openwork of rose-cut diamonds, enabling the stones to be admired from both above and below. Echoing the opal’s fires, four pink sapphires enhance the composition with their feminine sparkle.
The ladybird, which so exquisitely keeps watch over the hours, is notable for its delicate proportions combined with the refinement of the Mystery Set. Emblematic of the Maison, this technique makes the metal disappear in favor of the warm color and velvety gleam of the rubies. Each stone has been buffed by hand to endow the piece with a smooth and rounded relief effect, punctuated by diamonds that evoke the dots of this lucky creature.
Automate Fée Ondine Extraordinary Object
Top: engraved and enameled silver strips, white gold, pink gold, diamonds, pink sapphires
Fairy: white gold, diamonds, sapphires, milky aquamarine, plique-à-jour enamel
Water lilies: silver, enamel, yellow gold, diamonds, yellow and orange sapphires
Butterfly: white gold, diamonds, pink sapphires, Australian white opal
Ladybird: pink gold, white gold, diamonds, rubies in Traditional Mystery Set™
Base: ebony veneer
Automaton mechanism: manual-winding mechanical automaton movement with animation on demand, 5 cycles of 50-second animation are available when the mechanism is fully wound.
Watchmaking mechanism: manual-winding mechanical movement, retrograde hour, 8-day power reserve