Van Cleef & Arpels and the iconic Pierre Arpels watch Featured

A new version of the supremely sophisticated timepiece
by 16 March 2012

At Van Cleef & Arpels, each watch tells a story, and the Pierre Arpels in particular is part of the Maison’s watchmaking heritage. Created specially for Pierre Arpels in 1949, the watch that carries his name has become a legend. To celebrate SIHH 2012, Van Cleef & Arpels presented a new, more contemporary, interpretation of this watch.

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In the video at the bottom of this page, you get an idea of the style so effortlessly expressed by Pierre Arpels (1919-1980). He appears in the opening scene of the French film “Fantômas”, shot in 1964. Van Cleef & Arpels agreed to lend the place Vendôme boutique for the filming of the first scene which is set at a prestigious jeweller’s. Pierre Arpels plays himself. “A Rolls Royce stops at number 22, place Vendôme. A couple comes out: Lord and Lady Beltham. Behind the man’s aristocratic allure lies the famous thief, Fantômas, played by Jean Marais. The woman accompanying him is Marie-Hélène Arnaud, one of the most sought-after models of the 60s. Pierre Arpels, impeccably attired, greets them. He kisses Lady Beltham’s hand with the perfect manners of a gentleman. He then discreetly leaves his clients in privacy to pick out a fabulous array of jewellery.”

Creation of the Pierre Arpels watch

It is this natural sophistication that led him to create, in 1949, the watch he had always dreamed of. Pierre Arpels was 30 years old and his ideal watch was very different from the excess of the 1930s, when he was a young and carefree man. The watch he imagined was a perfect circle, the most ancient and fundamental of geometric figures. A perfect line with no beginning and no ending. In Feng Shui philosophy, the circle is a heaven for the spirit, a place of wellbeing and spiritual peace.

The absence of the two lateral attachments that usually secure classic watch cases to their bracelets gives the impression that the circle is suspended in space. The only attachment is very thin and Pierre Arpels later made it even thinner, so that it practically disappeared. He applied the same elemental approach to the case and dial. The latter is white, with a slightly matt finish. The two hands are represented by simple black batons. The Roman numeral hours are positioned on the circle of the dial with perfect geometrical precision.

The case is extra thin watch, because Pierre Arpels wanted it to sit discreetly under the cuff of his shirt. It doesn't catch on the fabric of his clothes, and it was the ideal companion for his active lifestyle. He wore it at the helm of his yacht. He wore it for business, and in the evening, whether he was greeting actress Romy Schneider at the Film Festival, or Princess Grace at the Sporting Club in Monaco. He wore his watch on his right wrist.

Pierre Arpels reluctantly accepted to have his watch replicated for members of his family and a few close friends. Later, it would be marketed from 1971 under the name PA 49. Its fundamental lines would never change; the watch is part of the Maison Van Cleef & Arpels’ watchmaking heritage.

The 2012 version of the Pierre Arpels

Now, in 2012, the watch has become a timekeeping icon. For SIHH 2012, Van Cleef & Arpels created a new interpretation, whose pure lines have been rendered more contemporary, while still celebrating the original model and Pierre's spirit of sophistication. An extra decorative motif on the white lacquer dial takes the form of the Van Cleef & Arpels hallmark and the honeycomb pattern of a black-tie shirtfront. The case has a new, slightly bevelled profile, enhancing the watch’s discretion as it slips even more easily under the shirt cuff.

The extremely thin, rounded attachment, located at the top and bottom of the watch, is still present. Its simplicity accentuates the quiet elegance of the watch which sits so lightly on the wrist. The bracelet is in patent black alligator skin, exactly as Pierre Arpels required. The innovative feature of the strap lies in the assembly of the leathers. They are manually glued to each other, so that there is no visible stitching.

Technical specifications
The Pierre Arpels is a mechanical manually-wound watch, with a Piaget 830 P movement. It is available in two sizes: 38 or 42 mm, in pink or white gold. The crown is set with a diamond. There is also a diamond version; the bezel is set with DEF/VVS diamonds. Other versions have steel case, and yellow gold case.

Pierre Arpels, a brief character sketch

Of the three Arpels brothers, Claude, Jacques and Pierre, the latter, born in 1919, was the most extrovert, and was most involved in the creative design of the maison's watches and jewellery. He personally checked all pieces leaving the workshops. Passionate about new ideas, he said that, had he not become a jeweller, he would have been an architect. Extremely demanding in his professional life, he savoured the moments when he can get away to travel or practice adventurous sport.
At the beginning of the 1960s, on the French Riviera, he was one of the first to practice the sport of parasailing - being towed in a parachute behind a motor boat. In 1963, he set a world record for the longest time in the air.

Every summer, Pierre Arpels moved to his yacht, "Le Clair Matin", and shuttled between Cannes and Monaco, the two towns on the Côte d’Azur, where there were Van Cleef & Arpels boutiques. That time of the year was always intensely busy, beginning with the Cannes Film Festival and continuing with glamorous parties, ending spectacularly with the Monaco Red Cross ball.
Sailing was essential to Pierre Arpels’ wellbeing. His first boat was a sail-boat named "Caroline", after his daughter. He often climbed up the mast so that he could think in peace and quiet and gaze over the infinite blue of the ocean. "Le Clair Matin 1" and "Le Clair Matin 2" were both built by the Riva shipyards. He supervised their construction himself and modified the drawings several times.