Automaton watches are very hard to produce and extremely rare. Even today, creating a mechanical animation that can tell time is a feat only a handful can do.

However, the famous French jewelry house Van Cleef & Arpels has all the resources in the world to recruit the best of the best. Last year, the company did the practically impossible: it presented three automatons designed as high-end jewelry at once. These masterpieces – entitled Planetarium, Fontaine aux Oiseaux, and Reveries de Berylline – follow different design philosophies and use different techniques. Each of them was created by a different dedicated team of experts.

Planétarium Automaton

The tabletop Planétarium is a logical extension of Midnight Planétarium, a wristwatch with an exceptionally complex structure, unveiled in 2014. The wristwatch features six miniature planets of the Solar System that move across the dial and perfectly follow their celestial colleagues. This 50-mm high automaton does the same. At the center sits the Sun, woven from more than 500 golden threads. It is orbited by a moonstone Mercury, an agate Venus, a cornelian Mars, a chalcedony Jupiter, a jasper Saturn, and a chrysocolla Earth accompanied by its ever-present moon, the opal Moon. When the animation is started, a diamond-ruby star pops out of a tiny door and circles around the 24-hour dial accompanied by music composed specifically for this timepiece. The 15-day power reserve mechanism is also responsible for displaying the minutes, the day/night indicators, and the perpetual calendar.

Fontaine aux Oiseaux

Fontaine aux Oiseaux presents an incredibly picturesque scene – two songbirds walking along the edge of the fountain, opening their beaks and flapping their tail plumage. Nearby, a dragonfly flaps its wings and a delicate enamel lily blossoms, while the lacquered water surface moves with life-like ripples. Despite the complex scene, this is still a timepiece. Its ebony pool-shaped base features a retrograde dial with a “hovering” jeweled pointer that looks like a feather. Besides the elaborate engineering work behind the scenes, the timepiece features hand-placed precious stones and utilizes the rarest ornamental techniques, such as the Japanese egg-shell engraving style called Rankyaku. Creating a smooth surface with this technique requires about eight coats of varnish, each drying over a long period of time and polishing by hand.

Rêveries de Berylline Automaton

Mother nature is a popular theme with jewelers. The authors of the third automaton picked a fantasy-inspired scene: a blossoming bud, out of which emerges a tiny hummingbird with fluttering wings. The animation is accompanied by music, a graceful finishing touch to this thrilling performance. Not only is the entire central piece covered in gems, but the hummingbird is also holding a sparkling lilac sapphire in its beak. A clock dial encircles the base, which is carved from red porphyry and lapis lazuli. A golden petal covered with diamonds serves as the pointer here.

Photo: press-office