Most watch complications are displayed for their own sake, showing off the dance of a tourbillon or the plethora of precise information on a perpetual calendar. With the Van Cleef & Arpels Pont des Amoureux (“lover’s bridge” in French), the kiss is everything. At midnight and noon, two sculpted gold lovers come together for a kiss in the moonlight on a bridge in Paris. It lasts precisely three minutes, after which the couple separates and the woman returns to the beginning of a jumping retrograde hour scale on one side of the dial and the man to his retrograde minutes on the other. Twelve hours later, they meet again in the middle. When it’s over, the movement accounts for the three-minute kiss, and returns the indications to the correct time.
The original Pont des Amoureux was introduced in 2010, but in the new version, modern love being what it is, the kiss is longer and the couple can now be united on demand at any time of the day for a quick 10-second kiss before returning to their timekeeping posts. Van Cleef introduced the new model in Paris on Wednesday, along with a new daytime version, a men’s non-diamond model and four high-jewelry versions, each representing a season.
The Pont des Amoureux is driven by a complication developed exclusively for Van Cleef & Arpels by Jean-Marc Weiderrecht of the Swiss boutique movement firm Agenhor. The module that triggers the kiss was redeveloped for the new versions, in part to amplify the romantic narrative. It prolongs the kiss at midnight and noon from 10 seconds to three minutes; it adds a suspenseful “poetic pause” before each kiss; and it makes a kiss on demand possible at the push of a button. The new movement is automatic, with a Valfleurier Q020 base rather than the manual-wound Jaeger-LeCoultre base of the original.
“It is a petit complication, so it is a work of high watchmaking, but like all of our poetic complications, it was developed to serve the story,” says Van Cleef & Arpels marketing director Jean Bienaymé. “For a luxury maison, there are two challenges. One is how to be different, to offer the customer a unique proposition.” As the world’s only watch with kissing automatons, it is certainly that. You can find other brands making automaton couples doing other things, but this one replicates an action that appeals universally. “The second challenge,” says Bienaymé, “is how to base this unique proposition on a foundation of strong craftsmanship, to offer something that has high value because it’s based on a high level of expertise.”
The dials are hand-painted in the grisaille enamel technique, using white enamel powder, known as “blanc de Limoges,” on a dark background, and using a tiny brush to create light and dark shades in a composition that is more representational than the precise lines and contours of colour blocks used in creating traditional enamel. For the new models, colour was added to the mix, and the result is a soft, blended depiction of the surroundings, like an impressionist painting. The original dials were created by Dominique Baron, Switzerland’s foremost enamel artist. Baron worked closely with Van Cleef, and when she passed away seven years ago, her workshop, including all its tools and paints, was incorporated into the brand’s Geneva atelier. “Her spirit is still with us,” says Bienaymé. All of the enameling is now done by a staff of 20 in-house enamelers.
The genius of the new movement is that the kiss on demand is activated by a spring that desynchronises the automatons from the movement so the action is independent of the time. The energy is generated by pushing the button, so it doesn’t affect the movement’s 36-hour power reserve. Thus, the couple can kiss at any time of the day, as often as the wearer chooses. The dial of the new night-scene Pont des Amoureux differs in subtle ways from the original: the moon is repositioned above the indexes so as not to obscure the kiss, and the dial is brighter, with more demarcated hour and minute arcs.
The bracelets of the seasonal jewellery watches are set with gemstones to match the colours on the dials: yellow sapphires and spessartite garnets for summer; pink, mauve and purple sapphires for spring; yellow sapphires and spessartite garnets for Autumn; and blue sapphires for winter. There are 734 gems in each bracelet, and between the four of them, they use gems in 64 different cuts and shapes. The woman and man on the dial change clothes each season: in winter, the woman’s dress is longer and the man is wearing a coat and hat, for example. In summer, the dress is sleeveless. It takes 40-50 hours to paint each scene. All cases are 38 mm in either white or rose gold, with diamonds on the bezel, crown and center lugs. The back of each watch has an inset of the lovers on the bridge. Prices begin at around £95,000 for the winter version of the Pont des Amoureux—prices for the rest are on demand. Each piece is individually numbered but not limited.