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Renowned for its jewelry and watchmaking savoir-faire, Van Cleef & Arpels has been prominent in a lesser-known field: that of the objects and automatons of exception. These unique creations have the particularity of combining an aesthetic of great refinement, rare and precious materials and a true function. Since 1906, several objects have been made such as table clocks, combs, powder compacts or bag mirrors.
Some pieces were the subject of specific orders, including the miniature Varuna boat (circa 1906) in ebony and enamel that concealed a bell, or la Cage à oiseaux (1930), a small cage in gold and precious materials intended to house the frog of an Indian prince. It was later modified to accommodate two beryl birds.
The Maison’s watchmaking objects accompany the passage of time with elegance and ingenuity. The mysterious clocks of the 1920s, followed by the more contemporary versions of the 1990s, portray a menagerie inspired by far-off horizons: monkeys carved in intense amethyst, pandas in contrasting ornamental stones, and bears paved with diamonds. In the 1970s, the taste for rough minerals and organic materials such as wood gave rise to paperweights incrusted with watch dials, surrounded by braided threads of yellow gold.
From office and decorative ware to beauty or smoking accessories, the techniques and stones used for Van Cleef & Arpels’ objects bear witness to the customs of their time and the Maison’s savoir-faire. Remarkable for their associations of materials, each piece is the theater for a dialogue, at the crossroads of jewelry, watchmaking and traditional craft skills.