By Katherine Arteche
There can only be so many Buzz Aldrins and Neil Armstrongs of our time to travel the infinite universe and tell the tale. If we all were to get on board Sir Richard Branson’s commercial spaceline to discover the vast expansion for ourselves, we could forget about life on Earth. So it is fair to say, everything that we know of the cosmos is secondhand knowledge passed on to us from scientific discoveries by explorers and their legacies displayed in museums, books, on TV, and perhaps from the genius mind of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Providing an aerial perspective, eight beads of semiprecious stones, each representing a planet of the solar system, rotate around the central point of the dial.
So when Van Cleef & Arpels produced the Midnight Planétarium in 2014, it was like a solar-system science project brought to life. It was a familiar sight with the planets as we know it, in orbit around a pink-gold sun. Providing an aerial perspective, eight beads of semiprecious stones, each representing a planet of the solar system, rotate around the central point of the dial. It was the most elegant and moreover minimalistic presentation of the cosmos within a 44mm dial… until we got to SIHH 2018. The celestial model was revised into a 38mm ladies’ version, creating the Lady Arpels Planétarium Poetic Complications watch. The semblance is clear. The decorative use of the aventurine glass is laid out in separate margins of different diameters, only this time, the system displays three planets, with Earth as the last turquoise bead in rotation. The downsize is solely for a physical purpose, bearing in mind the dial size reduction; and the outer bezels with a month indicator in the Midnight Planétarium are now displaced with a fully diamond-set bezel in the ladies’ piece. Main hours also line the circumference, unlike its predecessor with an extensive 24-hour chapter ring.
Van Cleef & Arpels is a high jewellery house first and then a watchmaker, not because its watchmaking creations are inferior, but because audiences are first and foremost women.
So this second Planétarium edition in the Poetic Complications collection for the ladies is somewhat a no-brainer, yet also very much anticipated. However, astrology is still very much a man’s world in spite of the cosmic beauty it possesses, which probably answers why the concept for the Planétarium was first imagined by Christiaan van der Klaauw. The Dutch watchmaker made his first clock in 1974 with a moonphase complication, which eventually earned him the reputation as the best watchmaker in the Netherlands, after which he became an honorary member of the AHCI alongside the likes of Vincent Calabrese, F. P. Journe and Franck Muller. He ventured into wristwatches in 1994, and in 1999 debuted the CVDK Planetarium CKPT3304. The use of aventurine glass in the dial’s entirety was already in place, and the miniscule scale of the solar system is shrunken down to size — about four times smaller in his own watches where it was displayed as a counter alongside a date and month complication. Hence, in replicating the planetarium in its likeness, van der Klaauw was commissioned by Van Cleef & Arpels to design the module for the Midnight Planétarium, which became the brand’s most complicated wristwatch since 2014.
The white-gold case is sizeable in thickness, with every inch set in white diamonds.
Unlike most celestial timepieces, the Van Cleef & Arpels Planétarium watches are surprisingly easy to read. While the level of precision is unlike van der Klaauw’s inception where the Earth made a complete orbit in 365.24 days, compared to just 365 days for the Poetic Complication pieces, the presentation was undeniably simplistic. Placed on separate aventurine rings, the planets orbit independently of the others, already determining one’s position on Earth wherever you are, against the Sun or otherwise. Whether it’s on or off the wrist, it is an extravagant display of show and tell. Hollywood actor Matt Damon would know this — he was conveniently spotted wearing the Midnight Planétarium at the premiere of The Martian in 2015.
With the Lady Arpels Planétarium, it is a complete merger of high jewelry and fine watchmaking.
Even on a miniscule scale, the finer details are not compromised. The pink-gold sun is given additional sunray details, while the Earth is encircled by a rotating moon depicted by a single brilliant-cut diamond. Orbiting in real time are a pink mother-of-pearl Mercury, green enamel Venus, and a turquoise Earth. The diamond theme continues on the caseback with a crescent moon in snow-set diamonds decorating the oscillating weight, providing a power reserve of 40 hours, along with a calendar display.