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Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels

by Philip Kaspar
5 October, 2012
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About the author

Philip is widely travelled and has worked as a freelance journalist covering several topics including fashion, travel and watches. He also spent five years in the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry in La Chaux de Fonds. Philip reports on all the latest watch news and is our WatchCrime reporter.

Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels grey strap

Pierre Arpels joined Van Cleef & Arpels at the end of World War II. He contributed uniquely to the history of the Maison when in 1949 – in total secrecy – he designed a watch of rare quality and timeless beauty. He wanted to create “an exceptional piece” to which he gave his own name: the Pierre Arpels.

Pierre Arpels

A businessman, designer, traveller and sportsman, he lived a life of order, fine taste and refinement, living on his yacht in the summer and cruising the Riviera taking in all the key social occasions such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Red Cross Ball.

Originally in yellow gold with a white enamel dial and black leather strap and presented in a multitude of versions over the years, it has always personified the same combination of tradition and modernity.

Original sketch of the watch

Rakishly elegant and extra-thin, the Pierre Arpels is immediately recognisable for the two straight bars which frame its dial, with single attaching pins at the 12 and 6 o’clock positions.

The Pierre Arpels remains a symbol of discreet sophistication, and the essence of the Van Cleef & Arpels style. It’s a watch designed to be slim enough and light enough to wear and forget, tucked under the shirt cuff, for Pierre Arples would never be caught looking at his watch in the company of friends and clients.

This elegant slimmed down look is starting to make a comeback in men’s dress watches.

The concept is disarmingly simply. A thin perfectly round case suspended apparently in thin air due to the lack of the lateral attachments (lugs) commonly used to secure the case of a watch to its strap or bracelet.

The discreet, rounded strap attachments at the top and bottom are meant to be similar to the Earth’s central axis that runs from North to South Pole. The original watch design watch had a white dial with matte finish, simple baton hands, precisely geometrically placed Roman numeral hour markers, a yellow-gold case, and a simple, black leather strap.

After many years when he kept the watch exclusively for himself, he later duplicated it for a few family members and close friends. Finally the watch was released on the market in in 1971 with the name “PA 49.

A new interpretation

Van Cleef & Arpels Pierre Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels have now released a new interpretation of the watch. It bears its originator’s full name, with a few contemporary touches. The dial is still in white lacquer, with hours represented by gold Roman numerals and simple black indices. But the dial’s centre is embellished with a honeycomb pattern which echoes that of a dress shirt  complete with a Van Cleef & Arpels logo.

The watch case remains extra-thin, but slightly bevelled, making it even easier to slip under a shirt cuff. The rounded attachments at the top and bottom of the case enable the watch to be worn lightly on the wrist.

Strap

The black strap is, as with the original, in patent alligator leather, but now two layers are manually glued together so as to do away with visible stitching.

The gold crown of each watch is set with a single diamond, the ultra thin movement, is Piaget‘s manual-winding Calibre 830 P.

Prices start at $15,500 for the rose gold 38mm version rising to $41,500 for the 42mm version with diamonds.

 

Philip Kaspar | Website

Philip is widely travelled and has worked as a freelance journalist covering several topics including fashion, travel and watches. He also spent five years in the heart of the Swiss watchmaking industry in La Chaux de Fonds. Philip reports on all the latest watch news and is our WatchCrime reporter.

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