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When activated, the automaton comes to life, revealing a tender scene. The water in the basin starts to ripple, as if in a light breeze. A water lily slowly blooms while a dragonfly rises into the air, beating its wings and slightly whirling about. The birds at the edge of the basin wake, and their song ringing out. They raise their heads and move their wings to begin their courtship display. As they move closer together, their articulated legs rise one after the other in a strikingly realistic movement. When the scene is finished, the dragonfly returns to its hideaway, the birds take up their original positions, and the water lily gracefully closes.
Driven by a particularly realistic movement, the birds were designed in yellow gold before being adorned with brightly colored stones.
The male, recognizable for his crest that unfurls during the animation,also stands out for his back incrusted with lapis lazuli, his chest set with a gradation of blue and purple sapphires, emeralds and garnets, and his wings punctuated by sapphires.
The female is recognizable for her turquoise plumage and her chest adorned with the gentle shades of purple and pink sapphires, garnets and rubies. Her wings – also punctuated by sapphires – echo these delicate hues.
Subtle details – such as a slight fluttering of the wings, the beat of an eyelid or a raised foot – have been made possible by mechanical expertise of great precision. Each quiver contributes to the magic of the scene, drawing the spectator into a gentle state of contemplation.
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The water in the basin – which provides an enchanting frame for the automaton – undulate during the animation.
Opening the dance for the object’s animation, this piece’s ascent into the air required extensive research. Its two pairs of wings, each beating at a different rhythm, can be admired from different angles as the creature whirls about.
The ethereal petals of the water lily flowers were entirely shaped by hand before being enameled. Each element was made as light as possible, so as to be animated by the mechanism.
The water lily leaves were also the objects of special attention. Each one made by hand, they exhibit cloisonné lacquer work, a blend of gold sculpture and meticulous coloration.
The base of the object, in the form of a basin, is made up of a wooden chest, its upper portion covered with eggshell marquetry. This technique, known as Rankaku in Japan, was in vogue during the Art Deco era. It calls for highly intricate work, since each element is positioned by hand on the base. To achieve a smooth surface when combined with the eggshell technique, some eight layers of lacquer are required, each one calling for a long drying time and hand-sanding.
After imagining such an unprecedented piece in its history, Van Cleef & Arpels enlisted the services of some 20 workshops and virtuosos in their domains.
Breaking down and articulating the movement of the birds, shaping wings and wavelets sufficiently fine and light to be carried along by the movement… The challenges were never-ending, implying a constant process of research.