Whimsy And Fancy: Van Cleef & Arpels Lady Arpels Ronde Des Papillons
I am whimsy.
Let me rephrase that: I like to personify whimsy in my daily life. I believe that the ability to live in a whimsical manner is one of the secret virtues of being human. No, seriously, I truly believe that. Too often in the world people grow up and forget what it means to allow your imagination to run wild, creating magic and fun around you.
The propensity to see faces in places or imagine fanciful scenarios; the desire to make jokes almost constantly; and the tendency to jump, laugh, and act strangely odd and oddly strange is really what makes me who I am (see Chopard L.U.C. Perpetual Chrono: Who Do You See?).
It almost seems as though most people forget what it’s like to be a creature of fun and passion, a being in search of happiness. Whimsy, by definition, is playfully quaint or fanciful behavior or humor.
This means that all those dads who make silly dad jokes are finding a bit of whimsy in their lives. All of those uncles pulling quarters out from behind your ear or the office prankster filling a coworker’s cubicle with packing peanuts are examples of humans letting out their inner whimsy.
There are many serious, sad, or painful moments in life. I have experienced many of them myself. But the one thing that pretty much always helped me get past those times was being able to laugh, smile, and find joy in something small, reminding us that life is still a wonder. This is why I am always excited when I see a new example of whimsy in the world.
Van Cleef & Arpels is always a good source of whimsy, and the brand’s latest Poetic Complications creation, the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons, exemplifies this. It uses a very serious and complicated new movement for a fanciful display of beauty and cheer.
Time for butterflies
The idea for the Ronde des Papillons began with a symbol of whimsy. Now-familiar imagery for Van Cleef & Arpels, the butterfly is an emblem of lightheartedness and play. The Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons, so named because of the Lepidoptera that fly around its dial, comprises three butterflies as minute indicators and a swallow for the hours.
If this was the extent to which the display incorporated these creatures, it would be considered cute and fun. But when the actual motion of the butterflies and swallow are taken into account, this watch enters the realm of fantastically whimsical: the swallow is a retrograde jump hour hand sweeping an impressive 120 degrees across the bottom of the dial, while the three different butterflies flutter out from behind mother-of-pearl clouds at different speeds at different times and covering different distances to indicate the minutes.
Serious horology must be at play. Hmm, seriously at play; sounds like applied whimsy to me.
How does this seriously whimsical horology work? That would be the result of our old friends, the non-circular gears (see Round, Schmround! The Maurice Lacroix Square Wheel Cube). Not counting the retrograde rack and the snail cam for the hour indication, there are three non-circular gears – ellipses in this case – that drive the motion of the three butterfly minute indicators.
These elliptical gears aren’t simply used for showmanship, they are intricately connected to the movement and design of the minute display.
Elliptical gears were necessary to have minute hands that travel at different speeds and cover different distances relative to each other. The 0–30 minute indication (one-half of the total time period) needs to cover 240 degrees of rotation (two-thirds of its total rotational distance). The 30–45 and the 45–60 minute indications both need to cover 120 degrees of rotation (one-third of their rotational distances) in only one-quarter of the total time period.
Obviously, only a variable-speed solution would allow a pair of gears to travel the remaining rotational difference during the rest of the period. This means that each butterfly needs to speed up and slow down at different points in its rotation, but move accurately when it reaches its designated minute markers. This is where the power of the ellipse comes in.
Elliptical gears allow for a sine wave-esque speed of rotation, with the longer and flatter portion of the ellipse producing slower rotation and the more pointed ends producing fast peaks in the rotation speed. This is due to the fact that two meshing ellipses are constantly changing gear ratios when the driven gear is moving faster or slower based on the diameter ratio between the two gears.
Let’s remember, though, that the driving gear is rotating at a constant pace as it is connected to the regulated gear train; only the meshing, driven gear rotates at a variable speed.
In the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons movement, the different minute indicators take advantage of this feature to accomplish the varied rotation speed needed as a result of the dial design. The 0–30 minute butterfly, when visible, is being driven by the pointed end of the ellipse producing the fastest sweeping motion in the middle of its range. This can be confirmed by checking the spacing between the minute markers, which are closer together at the beginning and end of the range and spread out the most around the fifteen-minute mark.
The same approach goes for the other two minute indications, but the phase of the rotation is 50 percent offset from the first indication (high point meshing) to now have the low spot meshing with these other two. This is where it gets a little more complicated. The two fifteen-minute indications are driven off of the same meshed elliptical gear (instead of each having their own elliptical gear) and are 50 percent out of phase with each other as well.
One speeds up, one slows down
This fact of gearing produces the same motion for the two fifteen-minute butterflies since they both travel the same distance during their turn as indicators, but in a mirrored fashion. The 30–45 minute indicator (when visible), driven just after the low spot (slow speed), gains speed throughout its path. Again, this can be seen in the spacing of the minute markers.
The opposite is true for the 45–60 indicator butterfly. When visible, this indicator is being driven just after the high spot (faster speed) and slows down during its path, which can be seen, once more, in the spacing of the minute markers. It follows then that these two minute indicators speed up and slow down during their 45 minutes of 240 degrees in hiding to get back into position, but oppositely from each other.
The larger 30-minute indicator butterfly basically just slows down as it flies along its remaining 120 degrees during the next thirty minutes before reappearing and speeding around the dial. That is because it is meshing with the lowest point on the main elliptical gear, and the ratio is the inverse of what it is during the peak in its path.
All of these variations in the elliptical gear train create the different speeds of the butterflies during their visible paths.
These variations might not seem too noticeable at regular speed, but Van Cleef & Arpels has added an animation function that allows you to witness the entire 60-minute cycle in ten seconds. Activated by a push button on the case band, the mechanism uses a set of pins, a spring catch, and a lever catch to release the gear train and allow a half rotation of the main elliptical gear (which causes one full rotation of the butterflies). This rotation’s speed is limited thanks to a weighted regulator wheel meshed with the gear train on the opposite end, resulting in a smooth and deliberate flight of fancy for the butterflies.
Not the only thing that flies
While the butterfly dance takes place (during normal use), the swallow at the bottom of the dial is slowly fluttering from right to left across its 120-degree arc, pointing at the individual hours along the way. This is accomplished thanks to a snail cam driven off the main gear train (via a jumping ratchet wheel), which subsequently “pushes” a rack that meshes with the hour indicator wheel. This wheel has a spiral spring attached, which helps the retrograde hand instantly fly back when the snail cam reaches the end of its ramp.
The swallow doesn’t fly smoothly thanks to the jump hours during its path, but it does fly back to zero every twelve hours to start its journey again. Of course, since it is a jump hour it makes the list of one of my favorite jump hour watches (see The Jump Hour: A Love Story), yet the jump hour mechanism does play second fiddle to the awesomazing triple elliptical gear train driving the minute indications.
Still, all of these elements combined make for a watch full of happiness and whimsy. This even continues onto the rear of the watch, where a solid rotor hides the movement but features three more butterflies fluttering around without any motion.
There is even another swallow “flying” around the case back in case you didn’t get enough of the one on the dial.
Adding to the playfulness of the watch is the superb hand-painted blue mother-of-pearl dial with multilayered mother-of-pearl clouds accentuated by white gold filigree.
The butterflies and hand-engraved white gold swallow are miniature painted. The case, whose bezel and crown are set with diamonds, helps to emphasize a light feel for the watch.
This is probably the most traditionally serious aspect about the watch, while the rest is pure poetic whimsy to me. It simply radiates fun and happiness – and it doesn’t let a little thing like timekeeping get in the way of being playful with indications.
Like most Poetic Complications from Van Cleef & Arpels, the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons stands out from most things in the horological world, most specifically since it was developed and designed for women and for fun. No wasted effort on having the fastest, most waterproof, lightest, and most scientifically advanced piece of wristwear out there.
No, the sole purpose of this piece was to make people smile.
Maybe you won’t smile at this piece, and that’s okay. But I am whimsy, and so the Lady Arpels Ronde des Papillons by Van Cleef & Arpels just gets me, and I understand where it’s coming from. It’s coming from a happy place.
But that won’t stop me from breaking it down! (In a nice, happy, and whimsical way, though.)
- Wowza Factor * 9.95 For its extremely on-point use of whimsy with very complicated mechanics, it borders on a perfect score.
- Late Night Lust Appeal * 112.3 » 1,101.28 m/s2 The acceleration from gravity is insane with this piece! It must be thanks to those variable-speed elliptical gears.
- M.G.R. * 71.1 The movement design work in this watch is straightforward yet incredibly clever. I simply adore it!
- Added-Functionitis * N/A Technically it is a time-only watch. And there is never anything wrong with that, especially based on the unique display! Nevertheless, there is no need for any Gotta-HAVE-That cream even if it makes your eyes and smile swell.
- Ouch Outline * 11.8 A paper cut underneath your fingernail on three fingers! This is a nightmare situation! No amount of whimsy can prepare you for that pain. And, yet, I would gladly accept that fate if it meant this piece was on my wrist.
- Mermaid Moment * Just press the button and watch! Variable-speed gears and a retrograde jump hour with an animation on demand would make anybody book a chapel!
- Awesome Total * 1,008 Multiply the number of flying creatures on this watch (8) with the hours of power reserve (42) and the number of elliptical gears (3) to find an awesomely whimsical total!
For more information, please visit www.vancleefarpels.com/the-lady-arpels-ronde-des-papillons.
Case: 38 mm, white gold with diamond-set bezel and crown
Dial: mother-of-pearl, hand-engraved gold, miniature painting
Movement: automatic movement (not specified) with patent-pending animation mode mechanism
Functions: retrograde jump hour, variable-speed minutes; on-demand animation