Poetry For The Wrist: The Van Cleef & Arpels Heure d’Ici & Heure d’Ailleurs
Poetry . . . WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! Don’t go anywhere yet, hear me out first.
Poetry is an ancient tradition that uses the elements of language, rhythm, and phonaesthetics (originating from the Greek for “voice-sound” and “aesthetics”) to produce combinations that hold more meaning than the makeup of words might suggest.
In high school I could not have cared less about poetry. But as time has aged me and added the wisdom of heartbreak, loss, joy, passion, and fear to my psyche, I have come to appreciate the spoken word and the written stanza.
Strings of pearls that drip off the tongue, poetry lines have the ability to transform your emotions with the cleverest drop of a rhyme, or even a pause, surprising you and releasing something deep.
When I think of great poetry I usually don’t find myself gravitating toward the old standby…
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I really like watches,
I hope you do too!
…but prefer something that makes me meditate more on the long term – often mortality and life – such as this excerpt from the bard himself, Bill Shakespeare.
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt swift-footed Time…
…Yet do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
Now that is just lovely. And for me, it inspires thoughts of summer sunsets and walks along the Seine. It evokes stories told to the next generation about love found atop the Pont des Arts…perhaps when grandfather first recognized grandmother from the glint of her diamond necklace as the sun shot its last ray over the city’s skyline.
The astute among you might have realized I am alluding to much more than just today’s timepiece; I am actually alluding to all of Van Cleef & Arpels’ recent history in haute horlogerie.
Van Cleef & Arpels is known today in the haute horlogerie realm as the “maison” producing Poetic Complications, little love stories on the wrist. It has always produced beautiful items of the highest quality, but in recent years the Richemont-owned brand has sincerely added high watchmaking to its goals as a luxury house.
Which is where Agenhor enters the picture since the lion’s share of the Poetic Complications line is developed in collaboration with Jean-Marc Wiederrecht and his specialist company, Agenhor, which develops complications and – now – movements for an exclusive clientele.
Agenhor, too, can be said to also have its roots in love and partnership as Jean-Marc’s wife Catherine is the co-owner.
The wonderful relationship between Van Cleef & Arpels and Agenhor – a bit of a love story itself – has resulted in many amazing timepieces and accolades from the industry. Wiederrecht was asked to work on an extension for the Pierre Arpels line, which has largely remain unchanged since its eponymous inception in 1949.
The result, as you will see, is one of the most poetic and functional dual time watches that I have ever seen: the Pierre Arpels Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs.
Time here, time there
Let’s begin with the reasoning behind the piece, which is a great story in itself. Pierre Arpels joined the company at the end of World War II and assumed the duties of seeing to customers around the globe and sourcing some of the finest jewels. This meant he traveled constantly, and seems to have loved the adventure of it.
In 1949, he secretly designed a very clean and elegant watch for himself, which he consistently wore on every trip to every location he ever went. It seriously never left his wrist.
That watch became just as iconic as Pierre, so the company eventually decided to make it into a line in itself, releasing it in 1967 to the general public.
In the spirit of that watch, those travels, and on the success of the Poetic Complications collection, Van Cleef & Arpels decided to make the first significant departure from Pierre’s design for a watch that he would have loved and found most useful; the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs was born.
A most useful complication
As a traveler, one of the most useful complications in a watch is, of course, a second time zone. This piece gracefully and, true to form for a Pierre Arpels, cleanly displays the home time and local time with two separate jump hour apertures. These apertures are separated by a now-classic – thanks to retrograde specialist Wiederrecht – Van Cleef & Arpels retrograde minute hand.
The rest of the composition is kept very similar to the standard Pierre Arpels design, but has the name of the piece in flowing script offsetting the minute markers for an asymmetrically balanced dial. It is clean, clear, to the point. And remarkably poetic.
Poetic how? Well, Pierre preferred unadorned luxury, hence the simple design of the watch he made for himself representing one of the most famous jewelry houses in the world. He worked daily with precious metals and jewels; he constantly interacted with royalty and created crown jewels for more than one family. He wasn’t in need of any more adornment than necessary.
This follows the ideas of poetry perfectly. In poetry, one uses simple words to express grand meanings and evoke beautiful images and emotions with expertly placed nouns and emphasized pauses.
There is no need for six words when four will do, and the same goes for details on Pierre’s watch. His clean and straightforward watch design embodies those characteristics: slender hands to point to the time, minimal verbiage keeps the focus in the right place, and a super simple case allows the mechanics to be the jewelry. Nothing more than is needed, and nothing less than to make it perfect.
While the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs is beautiful, and poetically inspires thoughts of travel, it is also a technical marvel thanks to Jean-Marc Wiederrecht’s Agenhor. In case you hadn’t noticed, it has two jump hour indicators on opposite sides of the movement that are synced and activated by the retrograde minute hand.
Setting of the second time zone (the Heure d’ailleurs) via the triple-position crown is accomplished in the middle position: one turn moves the jump hour two positions for a quick adjustment when you arrive in your new locale.
It also has bi-directional winding via a platinum micro-rotor and superlative finishing throughout the entire movement.
The bi-directional winding is accomplished by use of a “magic lever” system similar to that developed by Seiko in 1959. A clever lever (see what I did there?), it utilizes an eccentric pinion and a double-hooked lever to allow winding when moved in either direction. For those versed in historical horology, it works sort of like a grasshopper escapement only in reverse.
But let’s get back to that double-jump-hour-retrograde-minute-hand-ulator, because it’s definitely something to talk about. As we all know, I love clever complications and ingenious mechanisms. They make me squeal like a teenage girl at a Justin Bieber concert.
Umm, I take that back. I think that is physically impossible for my vocal cords, but you get the idea.
The mechanism developed by Agenhor for the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs is actually quite amazing. The problem faced was moving three indicators simultaneously and instantaneously, which is quite taxing on a movement and its timekeeping consistency.
Usually power for date wheel jumps builds within the last hour, many times in the final five minutes. The same goes with many single-jump hour complications. Some single-jump hours build energy over the course of the entire hour, which makes it easier to deal with when regulating the balance.
Building energy for three jumps would be a very large amount of power to drain from the gear train, plus there is still the issue of timing all the jumps to occur simultaneously. Even a small difference in timing would prove disastrous in the effect of the complication.
It’s an annoying problem to say the least, but Wiederrecht laughs in the face of such adversity. (He probably doesn’t, but he is certainly a guy with a good sense of humor.)
Simultaneous complexity and simplicity
The solution for this issue is one that I love in its simultaneous complexity and simplicity. Instead of setting three complications to do the same thing, why not just tie them together with one part so that they all act in unison and become one single complication?
This is the question answered by Agenhor and the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs. The retrograde minute hand works like a normal retrograde hand with a slight adjustment: it rides on a snail cam that rotates once an hour. This builds energy over the entire hour with generally equal force.
At the end of the hour, a spring pushing on the semi-circular gear rack meshed with the minute hand pinion snaps the rack back to the lowest position of the snail cam. This rotates the “sector” (as Van Cleef & Arpels calls it) back to its starting position instantly every hour.
Extended off the sides of that sector are two arms, one for each jump hour wheel, with what I will call spring catches on the end of each. When the sector moves from right to left over the period of an hour, the spring catches slide past a ratchet wheel attached to each jump hour wheel.
I call them spring catches because they are springs shaped similarly to swan-neck regulator springs but with a hook cut into the trailing edge. At the end of the hour when the sector snaps back to its original position, these hooks catch a tooth on the jump hour ratchet wheels, which click them over to the next hour.
Bam, instant and simultaneous multi-jump indicators, all cleverly designed to function off of one complicated-in-design yet simple-in-function component.
To me this is the true poetry to the piece, distilling down the required components into a much more functional and simple layout. Granted that one part is highly complicated and has many critical edges that must be very precise, but it solves so many other issues that the extra effort that must go into producing that piece is well worth it.
Engineering built on the principles of poetry, or more accurately, “Poemgineering.” Now that is my kind of wordination!
What time is it now?
The moment we all wait for:
My awesome breakdown.
How about that for a perfect Haiku?
• Wowza Factor * 7.4 The sheer simplicity and excellent proportion of this watch almost overshadows the amazing complication.
• Late Night Lust Appeal * 61.2 gn » 600.167 m/s2 For something so entirely calm and subdued, it has more force than five times that of a fighter jet in a sharp turn.
• M.G.R. * 66.8 A very strong showing, made stronger by the cleverest* multi-jump mechanism in a dress watch ever. *My designation
• Added-Functionitis * Moderate The Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs’ addition of a second time zone makes for a nicely complicated piece and requires a standard strength tube of Gotta-HAVE-That cream for some linguistically beautiful swelling.
• Ouch Outline * 9.54 – Spilling a box of thumb tacks and then falling tush first onto the pile I have been stuck in the finger, and had one almost stick me in the bum, but falling onto an entire box would be terrible! Not too terrible that I wouldn’t do it to ensure the Heure d’ici & Heure d’ailleurs would be on my wrist so I know what time it is at home and at the hospital where I’m having my tacks removed.
• Mermaid Moment * Instantaneously every hour Every single hour you can watch three indicators jump in a split second simultaneously! I would be going cake tasting before the next jump.
• Awesome Total * 649.67 Take the year the original Pierre Arpels watch was designed (1949) and divide it by three, or the number of instantaneous jumps that occur every hour. Good score, Van Cleef & Arpels, good score.
Case: 42 mm, white gold
Movement: automatic caliber designed by Agenhor exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels
Functions: hours (jump hour), minutes (retrograde); second time zone (jump hour)
Retail price: $41,000