The fairy wakes

Art July 17, 2017 01:00


Van Cleef and Arpels unveils the Extraordinary Fee Ondine automated table clock

TO THE technical innovation and masterful craftsmanship that mark the startling jewellery of Van Cleef and

Arpels, add patience as a key quality.

In time for the annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, the firm has just unveiled the “Automate ้e

Ondine: Extraordinary Ordinary Object”, the fruit of seven years of labour in collaboration with the automaton

maker Francois Junod.

In a merging of jewellery and watchmaking traditions, the unique table clock adorned with precious stones

and enamel has a complex mechanism animating various elements as it tells the time. 

It’s been likened to a work of poetry, a sonnet on movement and lightness, the beauty of nature, the grace

of a fairy waking from slumber. 

Elise Gonnet-Pon, managing director for Southeast Asia, said on a recent visit to Bangkok that Van Cleef and

Arpels has always drawn inspiration from nature, femininity and elegance.

The automaton genius Junod, who’s based in Sainte-Croix, Switzerland, finds his work complemented by that

of lapidaries, jewellers, stone-setters, enamellers and cabinetmakers. 

They faced constant challenges in miniaturising the mechanism that wakens the fairy and shaping the flower

petals that had to be sufficiently light to be borne along by the movement. The production entailed a

continuous process of research, from design through to the finishing touches.

The fairy-like scene is spectacular – a dual spectacle, in fact, with its combination of a retrograde hour display

and animation “on demand”. 

On the side of the clock’s ebony-toned base, a ladybird formed of Mystery Set rubies moves peacefully

along the time scale. Reaching 12 o’clock, it returns to its starting point to begin its journey for the next half


When activated, the automaton comes to life for about 50seconds. First the leaf of a water lily begins to

ripple, as if blown by a gentle breeze. Chimes ring out a crystalline melody and the water lily’s flower slowly


The fairy awakens and raises her head to admire a butterfly at the centre of the corolla as it rises into the

air, beating its wings and twirling about. The butterfly then returns to 

 its shelter, the fairy goes back to sleep, and the lily’s oscillation comes to an end.

Clearly an enormous amount of work goes into creating such unique pieces. The Fee Ondine’s remarkably

graceful fairy was formed in white gold using the “lost wax” casting technique, and then dressed in her

glittering finery. 

Her bodice and skirt are set with a gradation of sapphires, while her face is crowned with a diamond

headdress. Her features display the gentle hue of aquamarine, which the lapidary has faceted by hand and

by eye to evoke a feminine expression.

The blue tones are prolonged on her translucent wings, magnified by the plique-a-jour enamelling technique.

The light passes through the different shades, from navy blue to turquoise, as the fairy beats her wings in

an irregular rhythm. Lines of brilliant-cut diamonds illuminate the spectacle. 

The water lily flower was one of the major technical challenges. All ele

 ments of the automaton had to be as light as possible so they could be animated by the mechanism. 

Exceptionally thin, the petals had to be entirely shaped by hand before being enamelled. This last stage was

particularly delicate due to their large dimensions and the risk of the metal being deformed during firing. 

Their colouring also called for a specially adapted method in order to render their subtle gradation from white

to powdered pink. The large lily leaf is made of some 60 strips assembled together, which ripple during the


The butterfly is a true high-jewellery creation, in keeping with the firm’s Papillon clips. It required careful

research to ensure realistic movement as it takes to the air. 

In a coat of white gold, diamonds, pink sapphires and Australian white opal, the butterfly’s body was

designed to house a hidden mechanism, while the wings can be admired from different angles. 

The ladybird, which so exquisitely keeps watch over the hours, is notable for its delicate proportions,

combined with refinements in the Mystery Set. The tiny insect is pink gold and white gold, decorated with

diamonds and rubies.

“Each and every detail requires a true high-jewellery mindset in terms of craftsmanship,” Gonnet-Pon

explained. “It’s all finished and polished by hand, and this is what we wish to offer to every lady who wears

Van Cleef and Arpels – to have the high-jewellery spirit in a quest for excellence.”

The jeweller’s new Frivole collection is quite specific in terms of style. Yellow gold paved with diamonds makes

its appearance in small earrings, a large pendant and a “Between the Finger” ring. 

Floral motifs have always been at the heart of Van Cleef and Arpels creativity. Enthralled by nature’s

constant metamorphoses, the firm transposes the vitality of its movement and its myriad nuances and


For the Frivole line, architectural forms and the orientation of the petals have been worked with care to

reproduce the random quality of nature. 

Mirror polishing – a technique it has used since the 1920s – provides a way of highlighting the glitter of gold

and creating particularly intense reflections, suffusing each piece with unique vitality. 

This is seen in the openwork – openings the jeweller pierces in the gold structure to enable light to pass

through the diamonds. All of these techniques combine with rigorous attention to detail.

With lightness of touch, the flowers unfurl their stylised petals in single corollas or bouquets. Yellow gold,

evoking the style of the 1950s, sparkles with a sun-like glow, enhanced by the luminosity of a diamond heart.

“During the ’40s and ’50s there was a lot of polished yellow gold with diamond centres, so this new collection

is a reinterpretation utilising plain yellow gold,” Gonnet-Pon said. “With the gold-plated petal, it helps reflect the

diamonds, so it’s very lively, as well as mirroring the geometry in nature. 

“The petal will grow in volume as it’s turned around, because nature is very asymmetrical, and we wanted to

convey this in a collection that’s very joyful, very light and very luminous, to give the impression that the

flower has just landed in your hands and is very lightweight. 

“You can appreciate how comfortable the ring is to wear too, and we worked very carefully on the intricate

setting. The diamonds are enhanced by the way they’re set, and to enhance the design is to make it

extremely pure and light. 

“‘Frivole’ refers to a lot of lightness, and that’s the positive vision of life at Van Cleef and Arpels. This

philosophy is, like the craftsmanship, passed on from generation to generation of jewellers.”